Diversity is actually very important to me, and while I have honestly been working hard to include as much of it as I can, I do also realize that it’s something I can always improve upon. But it does get a little tricky when it comes to “culture.” I’m not writing about human characters. In fact, I’m writing about characters who find humans… kind of unworthy. So elements of “human” culture don’t fit in the world. (If you’ll notice, the elves don’t follow any human traditions or holidays. They eat different foods. Have their own clothes and style of architecture. Even their own language).
As I said, I have been working harder to be clearer with my descriptions of the characters to make sure readers understand the cast is definitely not all white–and never has been. But I won’t be including any elements of human cultures in the elvin world because it simply isn’t consistent with the world of the story (with the exception of the culture Sophie experienced while she lived with humans, and even then, only in brief mentions. Or perhaps if they visit a human “forbidden city”, there would be mentions of the setting and their reactions to it and observations).
I would also recommend checking out http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com. The team there does an AMAZING job of helping readers discover new books they might not have realized existed.
Again, diversity is something I am always striving to be better about. But again, I do also want to remind you guys that I am VERY intentionally avoiding attaching my elves to any human “culture.” There is no such thing as an American elf, or an European elf, or a Chinese elf or an Indian elf or Vietnamese or Korean or any of those things. Those are human cultural terms that do not apply to the world of the Lost Cities, and things like names and last names are chosen–NOT to connect the elves to any particular culture–but because the meaning or feel fits the character. The name Sencen is not meant to attach Keefe to any form of white culture. It’s a name I invented because it felt appropriate for a family with a heritage of Empaths (given that it has the word “sense” in it). I chose the name Song for the same reason. It has a connection to their family. Additionally, I picked it because–in my research (which admittedly was limited to the internet) it was a name that was attached to several Asian cultures, including Korean, Chinese, and actually Vietnamese. And I chose it to make it clear that Tam and Linh do not belong to any particular human culture. They are simply *elves*.
I’m not explaining that to try to argue I’ve handled diversity perfectly. Obviously I’m a work in progress on the issue (it’s also an issue where it’s impossible to make everyone happy). That being said, I really really hope that my readers understand that my characters are NOT human, and are intentionally separate from human categories of culture and race. They have ONE race. Elf. And they all have blue eyes (except Sophie). But that does not mean they all look like caucasians.
And that’s intentional because one of the themes I wanted to explore in the books is the idea that it’s never right to separate people. The elves only have one race: elf. So skin color or appearance does not make a difference to them. They also only have one culture and one socio-economic class. They all start with the same amount of money. But they DO still discriminate. They discriminate based on talent–something they feel is fair, because someone with more abilities (in their opinion) should naturally have more power and responsibility. But it’s still unjust. And their world is slowly crumbling because of it.
So again, while I definitely consider myself a work in progress when it comes to diversity and always appreciate feedback and guidance to help me do better, please please please also understand that there are no human cultures being represented in these books very specifically because I am not writing about human characters.
Oh, also, as I said–my research on the last names came from Google, so I do realize it’s possible some of it was inaccurate. I do strive to find at least five websites verifying something before I decide to trust it, but still, I *am* aware that the internet can be wrong. But I also was specifically trying NOT to pick a name that was limited to only one culture, so all I was truly Googling was surnames attached to multiple asian cultures so that no one could claim Tam and Linh belonged to any particular one (just as I strive to never have elvin last names belong to any specific European cultures or American cultures).
I also love when I can find a name where all or part of it is a word that means something to the characters. I haven’t told you much about Tam and Linh’s family yet, but we will learn more as the story goes and perhaps then you might see why the name especially appealed to me.
Just wanted to shed some further insights on the naming process. Honestly, I spent an entire WEEK reading websites and baby name books and trying to find names for Tam and Linh that fit with both the elvin world and their characters. For instance, I chose the name “Tam” because it has multiple meanings. According to the websites I found, In Hebrew and Scottish, it means “Twin.” In Vietnamese, it means “heart”. So it had meanings that matched his character in multiple cultures and therefore felt properly disconnected from all of them, matched the pattern of the elvin names I use, and fit his personality.
Shannon Messenger, about diversity in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, November 8, 2016
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An excerpt from a story that describes witch balls, similar to elf-shots, which are thrown at victims and cause them incredible pain, illness, misfortune or death. These are gifted to witches by the Devil, using ingredients they collect for him. If they fail to acquire their ingredients they are whipped viciously with a switch of rose thorns by the Devil.
“‘When we met at the crossroads down nigh the graveyard, the Devil fust drawed a big ring 'bout nine feet acrost. The witches rounded up some firewood and built a big fire in the middle of hit. When hit started burnin’ good, the Devil poured a mess of thing on hit to make the blue, green, red and yeller flames. Then, he put a pot on to bile, and threw into hit a bottle of weazel’s blood and a handful of dried baby’s flesh. Then, each witch throwed in the stuff she’d brung into the pot, and the Devil throwed in any stuff they failed to bring. Atter this, we all joined hands and danced 'round the fire while the Devil chanted:
A pair of dead spiders’ legs, Guts and bladder of a black cat, Dead baby’s toenails, buzzard’s eggs, Blud of a weazel and tail of a rat.
The eye of a big, fat sow, The whisker of a wildcat, A tit of a milk cow, And the brain of a bat.
The foot of a toadfrog, The hair from a murdered man’s wig, The dried turd of a feiss dog, The hair of a Poland-China pig.
To this mystic myrrh, To make a witchball, I, the Devil, doth stir, To place curses on one and all.
We let this brew bile for seven minutes then, whilst hit cooled, the Devil handed us candles made outten human grease. We lit the candles from the fire and marched 'round the ring till they were 'most burnt up, then threw them into the fire. Then the Devil took up blobs of the stuff from the pot and wrapped each one with hair each witch had cut from her haid, and this made the witchballs. Witches who’d brung what they'se supposed to got thirteen balls, and those who jest brung part got seven balls. This wuz all I got. Them that didn’t bring nuthin’ got only three balls. The Devil told us these balls ’d have to last us till anudder Friday the thirteenth when we could make some more. Effen a witch lost one ore let somebody steal one, the Devil would whup her with rose thorns. Thet’s why people don’t find witchballs: the witch slips back to git 'em so’s she can use 'em agin.’”
Collected by Gertrude Blair, Roanoke, Virginia, June 10, 1939. Told to her by Aunt Lucy Skinner, who lived in Montgomery County, not far from Christiansburg, Virginia. This story has been handed down through at least four generations.
–Taken here from Hubert J. Davis’ The Silver Bullet and other American Witch Stories
Why aren’t people talking about the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series???? We have a dark elf that appears as an African American man, a deaf elf, and a girl who is Arabic and Muslim who wears a hijab. Samirah talks about people attacking her for her religion and ethnicity. She explains the hijab.
So… 16 years ago, back in 1999, I wrote this letter to a 9-year-old fan of my comics who I had never met but who was a relative of a family friend and undergoing a series of brain surgeries. Now he’s 25 years old, and he came to visit me in Vermont yesterday and take me out to lunch. And he turned out to be a pretty awesome guy, it was fun and we got along great.
Back then I hadn’t yet drawn the kids comics I’m currently known for (Johnny Boo, Glorkian Warrior, Dragon Puncher). But I was doing my Impy & Wormer strips in Nickelodeon magazine (see Impy in the lower right-hand corner of the letter).
Anyhow, he saved the letter. So here it is! I’m glad I wrote it, because it obviously meant a lot to him. And… It’s amazing how small gestures can make ripples far into the future.
With the huge increase in popularity in the Icelandic Children’s TV show Lazytown, I quickly noticed that the original drafts had some root into icelandic folklore, for instance, Sportacus was originally an elf. In the kid’s tv show, it seemed to have discarded those cultural roots in place of something more Americanized- making a trickster elf into a superhero. It seems that all trace of Iceland has been erased (except for Magnus Scheving’s accent), but there may be more down the rabbit hole.
I’m studying Anthropology, and have been a Storyteller for many years, with an emphasis in folklore from different parts of the world. When I noticed that the original Sportacus was an elf, I was quite intrigued. How much matched up with traditional Icelandic folklore? So, I looked it up.
The most common nordic/ Icelandic folk tale is about beings called huldufolk (hidden folk) which can be recognized as being fairies, elves, and trolls.
Sportacus matches up closely with the stories of the elves. In fact, he was one in the drafts that didn’t quite make it too far out of Iceland. However, Sportacus still has a lot of traits that match up with the elves from Icelandic folklore. One prominent story that comes to mind is a story about a town that loved to dance, and when the sheriff of the town banned dancing, the elves sided with the townsfolk who loved dancing to run the sheriff out of town. Does that sound familiar? An elf siding with someone who loves to dance to keep dancing and other activities alive in the town while stopping the person who gets in the way is essentially the plot of every single episode of Lazytown. While the original Sportacus was a lot more cruel in his tricks, the current Sportacus certainly bears resemblance to the original when it comes to motivation.
Now on to Robbie Rotten. Who is he? In the show he is a lazy, rude, disguise wearing, and antisocial man who looks very different from the majority of the citizens in Lazytown. He is also the tallest character, and has purposefully distorted features. Given these traits, we can compare them.
Trolls are creatures that are dim witted and easily outsmarted. They dislike most people and prefer to live in caves underground to avoid interaction. They are humanoid in nature, though often are shown as being larger than the average human. Their features are also distorted from humans, like having exceptionally long noses or chins. They are also considered to be clumsy, lazy, and poor mannered.
The hobbies of trolls are also quite telling- they enjoy kidnapping people (even if they do not know what to do with them afterwards) and disguising themselves to trick humans.
Robbie Rotten spends all of his time making poor schemes to trick the humans of Lazytown. Many of his plans involves kidnapping one of the citizens of Lazytown, though after they’re captured he often doesn’t know what to do next. He ultimately wants to be left alone in peace and quiet in his underground cavern. Most notably, he uses disguises to try and accomplish his goals, just like many trolls do in traditional Nordic tales.
The only Troll characteristic that Robbie does not possess is the aversion to sunlight, but hey, no theory is perfect.