Oh my goodness! This comic book just got racist, didn’t it? These unusual creatures are the Golliwogs, created in 1895 by a lady named Florence Kate Upton for her children’s book The Adventure of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwog. I had never heard of the Golliwogs when I initiated my Golden Age/Folk Culture Brainstorm Research outlined a few pages back in the comment section. Upon discovery my reaction was something along the lines of “what the fuck?!” The Golliwogs were very obviously influenced by the blackface minstrel tradition popular in the 19th century with maybe a hint of the Uncle Remus tar baby thrown in for good measure. Looking into it a little further I was surprised to learn that the blackface minstrel show, in which white musicians and actors dress as blacks to sing black cultural songs and spirituals, was the number one American Theatrical Entertainment of the mid 19th century! There were hundreds of traveling musician troops, some of which were virulently racist, as you might expect, others who were more sympathetic to the plight of the enslaved African. Inspired by this seminal cultural appropriation, Upton’s Golliwog was enormously popular, especially in England and Europe, evidently, and spawned a whole genre of little plushy racist grotesqueries.

Lest you have any doubt, I thought long and hard about the appropriateness of using the Golliwogs as characters. As noted in a previous post, I began developing The Enchanted Dagger shortly after the racial violence in Fergusson, Missouri. As I was plotting, America’s racial tensions became a major theme in the story (mirroring race’s role as arguably the central issue of American culture). Could these strange Golliwogs serve a symbolic purpose in our tale of intrigue? Digging deeper I found that Upton’s Golliwog, while initially frightening, was soon revealed to be friendly and noble. Maybe Upton’s intent was to create a favorable depiction of blackness? A Victorian Fred Barry, if you will?

(Okay, sorry about that one, I thought it was funny. Who doesn’t love Re-Run…)

At some point as I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that aside from the aforementioned Uncle Remus stories, black folk have been under represented in the Western Pop Fantasy Landscape, historically. These days you’ll get black vampires and whatnot, of course, but I’d argue that the fairy tales, Icelandic sagas and polytheistic legends that fueled the swords & sorcery of Tolkien and Howard(Conan) had their roots in the culture of old world Europe. Through some stretch of belabored logic, I came up with the notion that since Upton’s Golliwogs were created contemporaneously with the fantastic worlds of Burroughs, Howard and Tolkien, that they somehow had some sort of “Writ of the Immateraia” that justifies their rights to exist happily and freely as horrid little racist goblins in fantasy land. I know. That’s one of the stupidest ideas ever. But there is no doubt about it. The only black folk in that entire Lord of The Rings movie and all of those terrible Hobbit movies were evil warriors fighting on mutant elephants. They could have made Bofur and Bifur black, for Christ sake.

I’m making light, but don’t mistake me. If you except the notion that The Enchanted Dagger is a work of art, and I hope you do, then read on my intrepid friend! Maybe there is something redeemable about, uh… all of this.  All of this great cultural grayness that embroils us all, so…

I’ll spin it one more time with a great David Bowie quote that sums up my feeling on the matter.

“If you feel safe working in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”