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The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  501 ratings  ·  136 reviews
Reveals the diversity crisis in children's and young adult media as not only a lack of representation, but a lack of imagination

Stories provide portals into other worlds, both real and imagined. The promise of escape draws people from all backgrounds to speculative fiction, but when people of color seek passageways into the fantastic, the doors are often barred. This prob
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published May 21st 2019 by New York University Press
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Stephanie Toliver
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’m going to write a longer review for Research on Diversity in Youth Literature, but I want to put a shorter one here since I just finished it about 30 minutes ago.

As a Black girl nerd, I was beyond excited when I heard that this book was going to be a thing. I truly felt seen, like someone was going to finally present some of the conversations that me and my friends have been having in private or in closed social media groups. I want to say that I was NOT ready for this awesomeness.

First, the
Meagan ✊🏼 Blacklivesmatter ✊🏼Blacktranslivesmatter
#2 out 12 for my non fiction goal for the year

This was brilliant. I will definitely have to reread this and try to apply some of the concepts to adult media as this focused on the YA genre exclusively. The only downside was the emphasis on fanfic. I wasn't expecting it and while it was interesting and added depth, I wish the focus wasn't so narrow.

My favorite chapter was the one on Bonnie Bennett from the Vampire Diaries. At the time of watching the show I didn't have the words or knowledge to
Monica **can't read fast enough**
3 1/2 stars

THE DARK FANTASTIC points out the shortcomings, failures, and the too slow expansion of diversity and authors of color getting much needed exposure and support. This did read much like a timely academic study with a few personal anecdotes added. If you are a fan of literary criticism and/or looking for an academic exploration of the impact of race and racism on fan art and fan fiction this is one that I would recommend, it's readable literary criticism for anyone.

Where you can find m
Julie Bozza
I came to this book for two reasons. One is that I’m a fan of BBC "Merlin", and I was happy to see the show finally being considered in an academic work. The other is that I’m a writer, and a White person, who is interested in writing non-White characters and mixed-race relationships – and the more I learn, the more I realise I still need to learn.

Back in 2008 when "Merlin" first screened, I was delighted by the ways in which the showrunners mixed things up. Arthur wasn’t a noble and just king,
Seema Rao
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Exceptional ~ Thought-provoking ~ Important
tl; dr: Forget you! Read this.

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas is a well-known scholar, so I am not surprised her book is fantastic. She does what the best of academics should do--reframe what we think we know. The book is ostensibly about literature. But, really, it is about our society, and the ways literature reaffirms social norms, many of which are pernicious and racist. Her book is powerful and truthful. My favorite part of this book is how she subverts su
|| Reveals the diversity crisis
|| Explores race in popular youth fiction
|| Black feminism and Afrofuturism

This was really, really good! A collection of thoughts to put together an academic work that explores the creation and development of Black characters in young adult literature is authentic and definitely sparks a discussion for the progressive set of readers, as well as act as a realization of how such literature is being consumed. From Rue in Hunger Games to Hermione in Harry Potter,
Irene (Read.Rewind)
Nov 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you like SFF I highly recommend.
It’s a critical look into beloved works such as Harry Potter etc...
there’s also a breakdown of TVD’s Bonnie Bennett (the show did Kat Graham so wrong).
Review to come on IG
Debbie Gascoyne
May 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Both engaging and scholarly, this is a passionate, urgent, and extremely timely study of the depiction of race in young adult fantasy. One aspect that I find particularly useful for adoption in a college curriculum is the fact that Thomas does not limit herself to the written word; she investigates fandoms and both television and film in popular culture. She is an avowed fan, but she is a literature scholar, as familiar with theoretical terminology as she is with social media. This book cannot h ...more
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

I was totally drawn to this title by the beautiful cover, and by the fact that I to fangirled hard over Harry Potter and the Hunger Girls. The other fandoms covered here (Vampire Diairies and Arthur) I honestly have not been able (or interested) in watching more than the pilots which I thought were cheezy and lame. Though I didn't care for the last two fandoms Thomas' writing on the subjects was strong
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
I have mixed responses to this book. On the one hand, it's a very important study of how race is used, viewed, and created in children's and YA literature. Thomas discusses various authors' approaches to race in their works and in the adaptations and fan creations made of them, with studies on Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Merlin, and The Vampire Diaries. This discussion can be nuanced and thoughtful, but at times it is repetitive and superficial, relying on single statements by fans that are ...more
Never Without a Book
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Dare I say it? The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games by Ebony Thomas is my second favorite nonfiction of the year! First off, this cover is stunning! Now that I’m done drooling over this cover let’s get to this review.

Thomas is straightforward in her research and observation in the adventure to dystopian futures. She highlights the race cycle that appears throughout each chapter in The Hunger Games (Rue), Merlin (Gwen), The Vampire Diaries (Bonnie Be
Jun 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Essential reading on the relationship between race, identity, and the imagination, through the lens of children's and YA fantastic fiction, Black fandom, and the cultural history of whiteness.
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, research, earc
I read this book courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for a review.

I am not entirely sure that I found each example used by Thomas to advance her argument equally persuasive: for instance, is Gwen the best choice for who/what haunts Merlin (and if not, just acknowledge it and make your point regardless)? In addition, I didn't really enjoy the chapter on Harry Potter, which felt incomplete and cut short while still containing what seemed to me to be a too long and somewhat misleading preamble conce
Dec 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Essential reading, especially for any fan of speculative fiction. My only challenge was that the book is, at points, heavily reliant on literary terms that were new to me. These terms, though likely self-explanatory to some - especially the main audience for which this book was written - slowed me down at times. That said, the main points that the author made are clear enough.
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
I definitely feel like I learned something. But it was written for people within the field, so it felt more dense to me than it might actually be.

Wish there was more to the Harry Potter chapter. But going thru the dark fantastic cycle with the other fandoms was helpful!
Aug 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
There's a big chance this is the most important book I've read all year, and one that will inform me as a writer / reader for years to come.
Anna Tan
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Dark Fantastic is a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in how race affects the character development of people of colour in fantasy, as well as their reception by readers/viewers regardless of race.

Thomas analyses Black characters in four fantasy narratives (books & shows) [Rue in The Hunger Games; Gwen in BBC's Merlin; Bonnie Bennett in The Vampire Diaries; Hermione & Angelina Johnson in Harry Potter] and unpacks the impact of these depictions in society. I have to admit I don't
Oct 27, 2019 rated it liked it
I've been wanting to read this for quite some time and have a curriculum guide that someone created to go along with it that I'm going to take a peak at now.

The research and depth that Thomas goes in to got me far, especially with the Merlin and Buffy chapters because I have not watched either of them, but she gives enough examples that I understand where she's going and obviously the overall message about how society views people of color especially when in fictional settings such as Harry Pot
A big thank you to NYU Press for allowing me to read a review copy of this marvellous book. It took me longer than expected to get to it but once I started, I devoured this with only some breaks in between because of important stuff.

I could rave for hours. This book is an experience. From start to finish, it's an absolute blast. I knew from the start that I was in good hands because Thomas writes beautifully, her prose engaging, smart and easy to understand.

In The Dark Fantastic, Thomas analyses
Jun 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended for anyone interested in fantasy literature. Thomas compellingly turns the lens of the genre to consider things from the perspective of the othered & marginalized, demonstrating how, despite its devaluation, the Dark Fantastic has been key to creating the power of such literature. I also appreciate the emphasis Thomas gives to transformative media and its role in shaping the trajectory of fantastic lit. This book has not only widened my perspective, but also provided multiple ...more
This isn’t really a review, so much as it is me gushing over Thomas’ excellent analyses of her three (or kind of four) case studies, the diversity of her sources, and effective frameworks to give a compelling argument.

So many things to pull from this book for my dissertation!
Jul 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for any writer/reader of fantasy.
Alison Sea
Mar 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: arcs
Thank you to NetGalley and NYU Press for providing me with an eARC!

This took me so long to read because I was annotating. I am not a fast annotater. I enjoyed a lot of this book. I am a black woman who reads primarily fantasy, for reference.
It articulated a lot of my gripes with the way that books with black characters are expected to operate, and do operate in literature.
One of the things that stood out to me was the idea that so many things with black characters are about… sad shit. Oppressio
Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I've been looking forward to this book's release since I heard a podcast interview with the author all the way back in 2015! The author examines the roles of black female characters in several of the biggest fantasy franchises of the past decade: Rue from The Hunger Games, Gwen from the BBC show Merlin, Bonnie Bennett from The Vampire Diaries and Angelina Johnson from Harry Potter. The author is incredible well researched and draws on a wide variety of sources and quotes, both in the academic re ...more
Breanne Gibson
Mar 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Thank you NYU Press and NetGalley for this review copy. The Dark Fantastic started out a bit slow for me, but it picked up with Chapter 2 when Thomas started addressing specific books and films. This book is well researched and organized. It explores characters of color in The Hunger Games, The Vampire Diaries, Merlin, and Harry Potter. Thomas addresses issues with problematic representations, invisibility, and long-held systemic racist views. This is an important book for librarians and literat ...more
Susie Dumond
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A really wonderful examination of black characters in white-led popular fantasy series, including the original text, adaptations, and fan responses. I love those critical examination of race in fandoms and the roles black female characters are assigned to by readers' biases. This book is a must-read if you're interested in diverse fantasy!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Erika Harlitz-Kern
Jun 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
We have all heard the saying.

Catch them while they are young.

Focus on the children and you will build the future you want to see. But what is that future you claim to be building? Are you building a future for change? Or is it a future that maintains a status quo that serves some groups over others?

In publishing, the issue of the future comes to the fore in children’s literature. In 2014, the non-profit organization We Need Diverse Books was founded in response to a publishing industry that publ
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Dark Fantastic is, if nothing else, a work that proves wrong classical notions of academic impartiality. Quickly into these four interbound essays you will realize that only a scholar who is involved (and has been, for her whole life) in these worlds and fandoms would have the background to ground a theory like the Dark Fantastic in whole.

For it is going beyond the text and even the author to examine the fandoms, communities, and broader populace as a whole that elevates this work far beyond
Liz Murray
I read this on the train from San Francisco to LA and I was blown by how much I loved where Ebony Elizabeth Thomas takes us. I found this to be highly readable with a strong analysis as its backbone. This is a must read for all critical race theory classes and for teacher ed programs. Through writing with specificity about the books and tv series she has chosen universal truths are made evident.
I'm reading this as a White reader so I'm not tied to the African American experience and I imagine t
The overarching argument--and the body of work this stands on--is unassailable: the role of the Black characters, bodies, and audiences in speculative fiction is marked by exclusion and objectification, but also undergoing meaningful transformation. The specific cycle that Thomas proposes (of spectacle, hesitation, violence, haunting, and emancipation) feels a little like a horoscope: it's broad but resonant, so it can support any close reading, but it feels more like a personal tool than the on ...more
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Ebony Elizabeth Thomas is Associate Professor in the Literacy, Culture, and International Educational Division at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. A former Detroit Public Schools teacher and National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, she is an expert on diversity in children’s literature, youth media, and fan studies.

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“Maybe it’s not that kids and teens of color and other marginalized and minoritized young people don’t like to read. Maybe the real issue is that many adults haven’t thought very much about the radicalized mirrors, windows, and doors that are in the books we offer them to read, in the television and movies we invite them to view, and in the fan communities we entice them to play in.” 0 likes
“When readers who are White, middle class, cisgender, heterosexual, and able-bodied enter the fantastic dream, they are empowered and afforded a sense of transcendence that can be elusive within the real world. If this is the case, then readers and hearers of fantastic tales who have been endarkened and Othered by the dominant culture can never be plausible conquering heroes nor prizes to be won in the fantastic. Unless the tale is meant to be comedic, tongue-in-cheek, a wink and a nod that breaks the fourth wall and assures audiences that this is a parody of the fantastic, not the real story . . . . . . the implicit message that readers, hearers, and viewers of color receive as they read these texts is that we are the villains. We are the horde. We are the enemies.

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