“He was a man of about fifty, but from his appearance might well have been taken for at least ten years older. Small and skinny, with eyes bright and cunning, a hooked nose, a short yellow beard, unkempt hair, huge feet, and long bony hands, he presented all the typical characteristics of the German Jew, the heartless, wily usurer, the hardened miser and skinflint. As iron is attracted by the magnet, so was this Shylock attracted by the sight of gold, nor would he have hesitated to draw the life-blood of his creditors, if by such means he could secure his claims.”
Well, that’s pretty a pretty harsh casting of a Jewish character in a story. And where do you think I found this? In some self-published manifesto crap as common as mud online?
No, its Jules Verne. Out on a comet.
Now I’m not going to berate this sort of anti-Semitic rubbish because I’m a forward thinking author of 2013 and that Verne didn’t know his Asteroid from a hole in the ground back in 1911. I’m going to despise it because it’s lazy writing. And it is. Isaaac Hakkabut doesn’t amount to anything in this story. He screams, he cries, he wheedles. He never changes and serves as a butt for all the anti-Semitic jokes and viewpoints Verne dredges up. He typecasts this merchant as greedy and self-centered, relying on everyone’s prejudices to handle the heavy lifting of his character development. The character remained in type for the entire story, and even I was tired of him by the end of the book.
I expect better from Verne, not this sort of ass-clownery. I’m not sure why he’d engage in such sloppy writing but there you go.
And if there is someone I really thought more of, it was my hero H.G. Wells. Here’s a guy who was an atheist, a forward thinker, a man looking into the future with honest eyes. So you wouldn’t think he’d find any reason to preserve the typecast of the Jewish miser, not on religious grounds anyway. But no, in War of the Worlds, on the exodus from London, a “hawk-faced man” (clearly labeled “The Jew” in some editions) dives after his spilled gold coins, groping for them even as a cart wheel crushes his spine. I mean, really, H.G. – back then you had bankers who were just as greedy and ruthless as those in our times. Why go for the cheep straw-man when you could have actually written the story objectively pure?
At least there is Ivanhoe, where Sir Walter Scott introduces a Jewish character who at least has some redeeming values. Further, the character’s daughter, Rebecca, actually takes over the role of the heroine in the end, nearly burned as a witch by the Templars. She was a far more interesting character than Lady Rowena, a dull white-bread damsel. The thing was, Scott was taking a controversial position with this novel (written during the emancipation of Jews in England). It makes the book interesting and thoughtful, in a way that Verne’s and Well’s books failed at. They had cardboard cutouts of Jews. Scott cast his as realistic characters in perilous situations.
As writers, we need to think ahead with our stories. No, not in that fearful PC-guarded way that the left worships and the right mocks. No, we need to make sure we build our characters from the ground up, giving them motives and reasons and goals in their fictional lives. Anything else, you’re simply calling Central Casting and telling them to send over a Jew. And then you’ll earn the ire of future bloggers who will out you for being a lazy hack, too.
In closing. I’ll mention that I know plenty of Christian, Moslem, and Hindu dickheads, as well. I am advanced in my thinking.