Some time ago I realized with horror that the storybooks at my children’s school had all been written by Adolf Hitler using a range of pen names! This had to be so, because their main theme was The Triumph of the Master Race.
The first clue was when my daughter brought home a book called: “The Three Brothers”. Plot: Two black-haired brothers are brutish but are defeated by their clever blond Aryan brother.
The next day we read: “The Swan Princess”. Plot: Once upon a time, there was a blond, fair-skinned princess, but an evil black-haired stepmother turned her face BROWN so the horrified king threw her out.
The third day we read “Naima, Daughter of the Desert”. Plot: All the children in a family had dark eyes except one who had blue eyes. “Everyone loved Naima… Her parents loved her much more than her three older sisters who had black eyes.”
The dark-eyed children turn out to be evil and cast the blue-eyed girl into the desert. She gets picked up by nomads (yes, with dark eyes) who treat her as a slave until she is rescued by someone with green eyes. A handsome prince then marries her after noticing her “big blue eyes”.
See what I mean? It’s Nazi eugenics for toddlers.
I found my colleagues at the Asia-Pacific writers’ association grumbling about the EXACT SAME THING in books for adults.
The worst offender was international sci-fi books, which are tales of the colonisation of the universe, not by humans, but by Westerners.
Eventually I met my friend Isagani Cruz, a writer from Manila, in a coffee shop to sketch out a cunning plan to fight back. We decided to create a prize for writers called the World Readers’ Award.
I phoned a reporter, and the conversation went like this.
ME: “The prize will be given to the best book which is recognizably set on a certain planet. On this planet, the average height of the inhabitants is 5 ft 4 inches, or 164 cm.”
HER: “Wow, a planet of pygmies!”
ME: “And 90 per cent have black or brown hair.”
HER: “Wow, like India or China.”
ME: “And the average bust sizes for women are A and B.”
HER: “(Giggle.) So what’s the planet called?”
Reader, you may have guessed.
The planet is Earth. Those are the statistical mean figures for humanity on this planet.
The mean height of homo sapiens is 5 ft 4 ins tall.
More than 90% of humans have dark hair. Blonds and redheads are rare.
And the average bust size for women is NOT “C” to “D” but “A” to “B”.
The vast, vast majority of human beings are tiny, slim, dark-haired creatures, the sort of people you find in Indonesia or China or India or Sri Lanka or Vietnam, etc.
But you’d never think of it from the books and movies you see, full of 6 ft. 2 in. fair-haired men romping around the galaxy holding massive guns and speaking fluent American.
The idea started as a bit of a laugh, but people loved the idea of creating stories of the world as it actually is, and the prize is now real.
(Look up the newly launched World Readers’ Award on the internet, here: http://www.worldreadersaward.com.)
The writer of the best book with a global perspective will be given fame, fortune, and a golden egg trophy in a ceremony held inside the giant golden egg (a massive thing which seats 300) at the Hong Kong Science Park in November.
Start writing. Make me happy, make yourself famous and let’s give our kids something to read.
One evening, I spent half an hour going through my children’s storybook shelf with a thick black marker pen.
One of my daughters arrived home from school and asked: “What are you doing?” I told her: “I’m giving all the princesses black hair and black eyes.”
She peered at the revised illustrations. “Now everyone looks like bad guys,” she complained.