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Thursday, February 10, 2022

Its Time To Talk About The Anti-Irish Issues in That Popular Series

 I've said I would write this blog for a while, after discussing the subject in bits and pieces on social media so here we are. I want to preface this by saying though that this isn't an indictment of the author in question personally nor am I saying she did this consciously nor intentionally. This isn't me trying to bash the series; I'm picking it as one example out of many because its popular and because we need to have this conversation. This is me trying to get people to be more aware of a particularly insidious aspect of anti-Irish propaganda that has been around for centuries and continues because its almost a trope now, as much as the idea of Irish and Irish folklore as inherently fantastic (which Orla ní Dhúill discusses in depth in her article 'Do Fantasy Writers Think Irish Is Discount Elvish?).

So. Let's talk about the anti-Irishness of A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

First, establishing the Irish connection as it were, and no its not the folklore that may or may not have been used in the series. Or the use of Morrigan as a name for one of the secondary characters. Maas tells a tale of a world that has both mortal lands and lands of fairy and offers a map in the books which shows what the main areas of the story look like and are called. The map is basically a slightly reworked Ireland and Great Britain. Its not subtle:

my actual face contemplating the side by side comparison of these maps

Prythian is where the 7 fairy courts of Maas's story are, roughly everything north of Cornwall in Britain. Hybern is also ruled by the fae, but as we'll get to in a moment of a very different nature. Prythian seems to be a form of the Welsh Prydain, an old word for Britain; Hybern is obviously based on Hibernia, the Latin name for Ireland. Like the map this isn't particularly subtle and I am not the first person to make this connection. So we have a map that is basically Ireland and Britain and a name for those places that is also, basically, Ireland and Britain. Further to the Irish aspect of this the king of Hybern (who is never named) has a nephew named Dagdan, one letter off from the Irish god the Dagda, and a niece named Brannagh, a name that is often said to be from the Irish word for raven. The warriors of the Hybern king are called Ravens, a bird that features prominently in Irish mythology.
So this gives us, effectively, fantasy pseudo-Ireland, which isn't a bad thing in and of itself.

However, then we get into the backstory and story of Hybern and its people. To recap the series: At one time humans were enslaved to the fae, but there was a war to free them. Hybern was adamantly against freeing the humans and when the king of Hybern was forced to sign a treaty agreeing to do so he and all his people killed every human in Hybern instead. They were subsequently cut off from the rest of the world, plunging their people into centuries of  poverty and misery during which they became convinced that the whole human slavery thing was a golden age that had to be brought back to restore their kingdom. To this end the king of Hybern first sent out an emissary who enslaved the Prythian Lords (Prythian being ruled by a group of lords rather than a monarch) and when she eventually failed he sent out his niece and nephew to reconnoiter the area where a wall separated the fairy lands from mortals - because he had a plan to enslave humans again. His emissary was cruel and vicious; his niece and nephew (twins who were in an incestuous relationship by the way) were equally so. All three end badly because of their bloodlust. The king uses a primordial cauldron to both remake people and to break through that wall but (of course) is ultimately foiled and prevented from enslaving humans again. 
Generally speaking the Hybernians are depicted as violent, vicious, amoral, and evil. They use poison as a weapon against other fae, use torture, delight in killing humans, and want to subjugate not only humans but the other fae who sided with humans in the war.

So at this point we have fantasy pseudo-Ireland that is full of people who are backwards thinking, stuck in the past, cruel, and stuck in poverty because they lost their slaves. Which, for scholars of history, is awfully similar to anti-Irish propaganda since the 18th century, except the poverty was blamed on laziness - although I'd argue that's a fine line here since ultimately its the implied laziness of the Hybernians that keeps them from doing the work the human slaves did previously. Anti-Irish material often featured the Irish as animalistic, lacking self control, drunk, lazy, and dangerous. This is so persistent and so ingrained in popular consciousness that anti-Irish stereotypes often don't even get a notice from people today and still appear in various forms in tv shows and movies (I'm looking at you Wild Mountain Thyme). The king of Hybern is even physically described as less beautiful and less regal than the Prythian fairy lords, which is inline with older anti-Irish stereotypes. While Tamsin and Rhysand, main fairy lord characters, are described as heartbreakingly beautiful and well dressed, the king of Hybern is described in A Court of Mist and Fury as 'ruddy', dressed more practically, average height, and 'blandly handsome'.

What we end up with then is a very popular series like A Court of Thorns and Roses where the fantasy pseudo-Irish are all the bad things in the world and everything that has to be fought against, the ultimate antagonists. 

I'm not saying any of this anti-Irish coding was intentional but the thing is its undeniably there and it reflects a long history of seeing Ireland and the Irish as backwards, primitive, violent, and dangerous. Its the same thing we see with Harry Potter's Irish character having a penchant for blowing things up or American Gods Mad Sweeney perpetually suffering and fighting. Its a reflection of the way that many people have internalized a perception of the Irish based on stereotypes that are inherently anti-Irish. 
At best its very sloppy, lazy world building with cringey results. At worst its leaning into hibernophobia to intentionally bring those things to mind with readers. We can and must do better.




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