Finding myself in fantasy


I was (I mean I am!) a big fan of fantasy fiction especially when I was younger. I wanted to escape from everyday reality, and fantasy provided the outlet. I also indulged in the odd game of Dungeons and Dragons, the latest game ran from when I was 30 to 32. This short essay will be a reflection on my racial identity and engaging with fantasy faction. It is meant as a springboard for comments and discussion, so read away and post your comments!

I noticed early on in my reading career that most fantasy I was coming across was Anglo-Celtic with sword swinging and sorcery under northern hemisphere oak trees. The Oriental fantasy that I read included the Bridge of Birds and the Plum Rain Scrolls, both set respectively in ancient Chinese and Japanese worlds that never were. The strongest female character I read was of the mother in the Plum Rain Scrolls whom was a fox fairy whom spent most of the narrative frozen in stone needing to be rescued.

When engaging in Dungeons and Dragons I fell prey to the same banana tendencies that I had in real life, I wanted to be blonde and blue eyed so my characters were composites, black hair with blue eyes or silver haired with green eyes. My best friend when I was fifteen was envious that I had “elven” eyes- almond shaped dark eyes. The worlds I was adventuring in were made by Anglo-Australian men, based again in the northern hemisphere.

But when it came to my writing I wanted Australia to be portrayed in my work. My first (unpublished) fantasy novel was set under gum trees in a post-nuclear world with the protagonist being a woman of Asian descent. I missed strong Asian women in fantasy work, and I remembered when reading an (unknown) fantasy book feeling surprised when the main character was black- how white washed my fantasy world had become! By the time I wrote Vixen it was clear in my mind that I wanted to subvert the mythology of the fox fairy being a monster and a bitch- strong women could exist and challenge the dominant paradigm.

Since then I have read Larissa Lai’s “When Fox is a Thousand”, a brilliant playful work around the fox fairy and cheered! The success of Lian Hearn’s Across the Nightingale Floor trilogy shows that the demand for Oriental based fantasy is still strong. The challenge is to come up with work that does not fall into the easy escapist route of Oriental fantasy, but worlds and racial depictions that do us justice. Fantasy fiction can be a projection of what we want to be rather than just a poor reflection of the dominant paradigm. We need to rise to the challenge!

Hoa Pham

Author: Hoa Pham

Hoa Pham is the founder of Peril. She is the author of seven books and a play. Her novella The Other Shore won the Vive La Novella Priize, and her book Wave is being adapted to film. For more information please visit

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