Headscratchers / Thirteenth Child

This is about the book by Patricia C. Wrede.

All the talk about "Race Fail" in Thirteenth Child
This troper is going to switch to first person, if nobody minds. I first read Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede about a month ago. I rather liked it, to be honest. It was one of the few Patricia C. Wrede books I have read outside the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and I found myself enjoying the tale of a mid-West populated by Mammoths and Dragons. Only recently did I discover that there were many people who didn't like the book- for one reason. There are no Native Americans in Columbia (America). I have to admit it, I did not know anything about the controversy- or realize anything was "wrong" until this point in time. See, the thing is, I can kind of see how that might come about. Go with my theory for a sec, okay?
  • The world is populated by ginormous buggers who might eat you. They're not "friendly".
  • You/your family/your nation attempt to cross a land bridge from your home (Thirteenth Child's Asia) across a land bridge to a place where there is more land.
  • You don't make it/you don't survive/etc. for one of several reasons.
    • Giant animals of some sort ate your family/race/you
    • The giant animals have diseases that you/your family/your race succumb to, and you die off or sicken and get eaten.
    • Due to many people dying, if anyone survives at all, you end up retreating back across the land bridge- telling everyone you know about the horrible new land. The story spreads, and no one wants to take the chance. Eventually the land bridge vanishes, but the story continues. This leads many people in that world's "Asia" to decide to focus their attention inward. Any stories that reach the west (if at all) are regarded as "mere superstition"- or the stories are forgotten, or something- I don't know what might come about.
And, please don't think that I mean any disrespect toward the Asian culture by saying Europeans would think of their stories as "mere superstitions." Europeans were mostly annoying buggers who believed that they were the only ones who could possibly be correct. I don't much like those kinds of people as a general rule, but sorry. Anyway, I can understand people are (justifiably) angry at the lack of Native Americans, but it kind of makes sense given the world Patricia C. Wrede has (attempted) to create. Now, if she had included Native Americans, but she had made them horrific stereotypes, I would understand the anger, and I would be angry too. But, I can see too many ways that what she has done made sense. And, didn't she say that her world's "Asian" culture was different because of the lack of travel between "Asia" and "North America"? Does anyone else see this, or is it just me?
  • I agree with you. The wildlife in North America is so hostile that the people who traveled from the land bridge to North America wouldn't have had a chance. She also doesn't get into if people where able to settle more northern regions like Alaska. Really, the book is so short an equivalent "Native American" culture could exist, but we just don't see them.
  • The problem is that Native American cultures are turned into just an obstacle to the story and "solved" by being erased from it. It's made even worse as Native American cultures in many media and sometimes in the public consciousness are thought to be dying out or already gone. This story took it one step further, by not even allowing the Native American cultures to have ever existed. To a lot of the people angry about Native American erasure, all of the "justifications" you give are just variations on Manifest Destiny, but put in more "socially acceptable" terms.
    • I agree with what you're saying here, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the book I wondered very much about the omission of Native Americans. I am willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt, though, because she has made it clear that there is a very large portion of the continent that remains unexplored by the heroine's culture, and that the next two books in the trilogy will involve exploring that currently unknown portion. Since a major part of this book is about looking at things in different ways, and how different cultures - Avrupan (European), Aphrikan (African), and Hijero-Cathayan (Asian) - have different manners of looking at things that are not necessarily better or worse than the others, I would be willing to bet that in the next two books we'll find out something about what the "Native Columbians" have been up to in this alternate history. But of course, I could be wrong.
      • Aaand, yup. I was, indeed, wrong.
    • I disagree. Why assume that she invented all the dangerous magical creatures in order to "solve" the "obstacle" of having to reinvent Native American cultures? It is simple worldbuilding: What would the American frontier have been like if there was magic, and magical and ice-age creatures roamed North America? One obvious result is that ice-age humans would probably not have survived the journey over the land bridge, and therefore there would be no human population there when European explorers arrived. There are creatures called "ice dragons"; 'nough said.
      • See the quote below. She outright says that the megafauna gave her a convenient reason to erase Native American history from her universe's backstory, because she thought it was easier than trying to write them in a balanced fashion. And "ice dragons" is not 'nough said, as the land bridge explanation is only one of several, some of which don't require travel along the land (i.e., traveling by boat following the coast). The absence of Native Americans isn't necessary for the setting, it's a cop-out.
  • The problem is that it erases the many First Nations peoples entirely, and that this is a common form of racism in media. In this case, it's not an issue of the ability to construct a narrative. It doesn't mean that there can't be an entertaining story, or that a work isn't otherwise well-written. Erasure of First Nations people does mean that it's contributing to the body of literature that deals with people of color by pretending they don't exist. You can argue whether erasure is better or worse than falling into the Savage Native or Magical Native American tropes, but it's still problematic. Racism isn't just about active physical violence against people who are not like you; ignoring the existence of many, many people in order to make a story where you don't have to deal with the serious and real issues that historically occurred is racism too. Any First Nations person reading the book is blithely informed that they, their history, and their family's history don't exist in this alternate universe because it would have been too much of a hassle to try to write balanced First Nations characters, and so the author wrote them out of existence. Wrede says as much:
    "The *plan* is for it to be a "settling the frontier" book, only without Indians (because I really hate both the older Indians-as-savages viewpoint that was common in that sort of book, *and* the modern Indians-as-gentle-ecologists viewpoint that seems to be so popular lately, and this seems the best way of eliminating the problem, plus it'll let me play with all sorts of cool megafauna). I'm not looking for wildly divergent history, because if it goes too far afield I won't get the right feel." (See http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.sf.composition/msg/6c3699f30a22dc08?pli=1 )
  • This is what Wrede said in a comment on her blog:
    "The prehistoric people who, in our world, emigrated across the land bridge and through the Arctic Circle didnít even try to get past the ice dragons; their descendants are all still back on the eastern Pacific rim, and the history of Asia is far less recognizable than that of the Mediterranian area. Unfortunately, my narrator is not particularly interested in global history or politics, so most of that is only present in the text by implication."