sovay: (I Claudius)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote 2017-07-05 05:28 am (UTC)

Wow; I'm impressed that you were able to follow up and read the story, and I'm fascinated by the differences.

I couldn't have done it without [personal profile] nineweaving: I was otherwise looking at having to purchase a copy of Far Wandering Men off the internet, sight unseen, just to see what the original material was like.

From the original story, it seems like the author had a pretty clear view on Euro/American presence in the Pacific and what it meant for local populations, and that he was appreciative of those populations' cultures.

I agree with this. I think part of the unpredictable racism of Far Wandering Men is that this awareness does not automatically play well with the conventions of exotic adventure pulp, which is what Russell was ultimately writing.

Is it that he's playing favorites with various "other" groups (i.e., Pacific islanders are okay but African Americans aren't), or something else?

It doesn't feel like playing favorites to me, because it happens with almost every ethnic group that he represents—one story is full of casual anti-Blackness, but another has a Black character quietly turn out to be the smartest and most capable person in the plot; one story has a mixed-race villain, but another has a mixed-race heroine to whose happiness a white character non-romantically and rightly dedicates himself; one story uses Asian-ness as a punch line, but another concerns an interracial love quadrangle where three of the people involved are Japanese (the fourth is Irish) and all three are presented as interesting, complex, attractive people with private lives to which the white characters—the narrative knows it, even if the characters don't—have only partial access at best. I think he was most interested in Pasifika cultures, but otherwise Russell does not really seem to have ranked his prejudices. More to the point, he uses racism more than once to signal irredeemable villainy on the part of a white character, as he does with McEwen in "The Fire-Walker." Now that you ask me to think about it, it feels like people of whatever ethnicity were people to him when they were in the foreground of a story. When he wrote non-white characters as walk-ons, extras, or background color, however, they were much more likely to be not just stereotypes, but stereotypes of a particularly wincing degree. I don't know what causes that kind of double vision. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule and I have no idea what governed them, either. But I do think that when he stopped to think about his non-white characters as people in their own right rather than the standard-issue generic natives of Eurocentric adventure stories, he could do it. I wish he'd been able to do it all the time, of course. But we still got Kalita.

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