It seems that the brouhaha over the form of the World Fantasy Award has arisen again. Many people believe that having a bust of H.P. Lovecraft, who is somewhat notorious for his highly conservative, racist and Antisemitic opinions isn’t really a sign of the world of Fantasy fandom being as inclusive as it is/should be. Which, to be perfectly honest, is true.
Nnedi Okafur, who won the 2011 World Fantasy Award for her novel Who Fears Death, posted a couple of years ago about the unsettling feeling of having someone like HPL’s bust presented to them as an award. She has suggested that Octavia Butler replace HPL. Some hack called Neil Gaiman has also suggested Mary Shelley. Others have suggested a palantir, a magical device from Lord of the Rings, be used instead of a person.
I quite like the idea of using Butler as a) she has made a massive contribution towards genre fiction and b) she will seriously upset the racist/sexist douche bags of fandom. Both very good thing in my opinion. However, Octavia Butler is primarily known for her work in science fiction rather than fantasy. It is true that the WFA isn’t strictly for fantasy fiction but can be awarded to any speculative fiction author/artist but she is too SF in my opinion. Mary Shelley is another nice idea, though she is unlikely to upset the douche bags too much. One thing that is in favour of Shelley is that her writing precedes the development of genre in fiction and so she, by default, spans the genres the same way that HPL does. The main reason that guy, whatshisname, suggested using Shelley was because she goes right back to the beginnings of the modern fantastic.
I realise that for the people who run the WFA the idea of pissing off the racist/sexist/homophobic douches may not be too appealing as it will just create unwanted drama around the awards. For this reason having the award be an object rather than a representation of an individual seems ideal. I’m not too keen on the idea of the palantir however. JRRT may be the biggest name in fantasy but he is, in his fiction, a specifically fantasy author. His work defines the genre for many people. As the WFA isn’t rigidly a fantasy award I don’t think a palantir could represent the breadth of speculative fiction. For this reason I have my own suggestion for the form the award should take.
The World Fantasy Award should be a replica clay tablet featuring the opening verses of The Epic of Gilgamesh.
The award would then symbolise the thousands of years of the tradition of people telling fantastical stories to one another. It is an object and so the personality of the author, who’s identity is lost to the sands of time anyway, is irrelevant and (for bonus points) it was composed in the middle east which would hopefully(for me) get up the noses of the racists who get all upset when anyone who isn’t a straight white dude tries to play in the sandpit that they think is theirs. So it would be a win win situation so far as I’m concerned. 🙂