Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Colour-Coding

Fantasy novels, especially those designed for readers seeking the comforts of familiarity, present their worlds in black and white. Heroes and Heroines are easy to distinguish from Dark Lords; good Companions (though there may be a ringer) do not resemble minions; a well governed country is a different colour from one in the grip of a usurper. These CC distinctions have frequently been derived, perhaps unknowingly, from the works of J R R Tolkien, himself influenced by earlier models. According to the unwritten tenets of this form of CC, the mesomorphic body-type and "healthy" light complexion supposedly common to human beings of Northern European ethnic background are generally valued highly; while other body-types and complexions are deemed expressive of villainy, or of lower status, or of "Eastern" origin (whether or not the Fantasyland depicted is modelled on our own planet). Blue eyes, unless unnaturally pale, are valued; black eyes, especially in sexually active women, are signs of turpitude. Clothing and other gear follow the same principle: moderately bright but sensible is diagnostic of virtue; black connotes evil. Green fields are good (and hint at good governance), while swamps makes it clear the head of state is rotten.

More interestingly, CC is sometimes built into the explicit nature of the fantasyland, so that parts of the world may literally be limned in different colours. In tales set in Wonderlands, whose Reality is subject to the constant operation of arbitrary rules, this colour-coding comes as no surprise; a modern example is Nancy Kress's The Prince of Morning Bells (1981), which describes the land of the Quirks. L Frank Baum's famous Oz sequence has an underlying wonderland timbre; Oz is famously divided into four colour-coded provinces whose inhabitants share the colour of the land, the capital, Emerald City, being named after its own hue. Among the various homages to Oz in Amnesia Moon (1995) by Jonathan Lethem (1964-    ) is the colour-coding of its post-Holocaust world. Beast Fables (though not Animal Fantasies) tend to exhibit CC; an example is Brian Jacques's Redwall sequence. Fantastic Voyages – like François de la Mothe Fénelon's The Adventures of Telemachus (1699) – are often colour-coded, though tales set in this world tend to slide from explicit CC as an aesthetic device downwards into anthropological typecasting. Full Secondary-World fantasies may have been constructed with CC in mind, but are normally too complexly conceived for this to be more than a nuance, except perhaps in those tales set in Archipelago venues, where natural differentiation (as in the Galapagos Islands) may lead to moral distinctions. A recent example is Felicity Savage's Humility Garden (1995). [JC]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.