Julie Andrews (julieandrews) wrote,
Julie Andrews
julieandrews

Disabled Characters in Literature

Katharine Quarmby's top 10 disability stories

This is from the author of a new book, Scapegoat: Why We are Failing Disabled People.

That subtitle reads a little funny to me. Maybe it's the Us Versus Them of it.

Because of my bookfast, I can't read this book, or any of the books on the list (unless they happen to be in the house, which actually, several of them probably are).

I am puzzled as to why Gulliver's Travels is on there. The size difference is not related to a disability. Dwarfism and gigantism are not solely about size, there are often medical complications. And just.. yea.

"It's also interesting to note that there are fewer disabled characters in the canon nowadays, except in children's literature, where there has been a deliberate attempt to promote positive images of disabled children and adults, thanks to activists like Richard Rieser and Susie Burrows."

I'd say it's probably because it's gone beyond the careless use of disabled characters to 'I'd better not get it wrong and offend people, so I won't do it at all.' Except that I wonder what she's been reading? Because I can think of a ton of examples. And at least three of her examples are considered children's/teen books anyway.

Though I have to weed through my mental list to remove the children's books. (Odd. Why did I think Count Olaf had a hook? Was that one of his disguises?)

You can read most any of Bujold's books to find disabled main characters. Look at television and there's House front and center. And having just watched X-Men, there's Professor Xavier, and the whole extended mutant metaphor.

Blind characters make great superheroes and detectives, apparently. Deaf characters make great murder victims or witnesses. Characters on the autism spectrum (I know some have trouble with the label disabled on this one) are appearing more and more.

Then again, what's 'canon'? Maybe it's 'books everyone is supposed to read'.

Looking at my most recently read books, here's some:

Skyfall by Catherine Asaro - One of the main characters is epileptic
The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin - Main character is blind
The Colony by Jillian Weise - The book is pretty much about the main character's disability (a 'missing' leg + other stuff)
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (1960s) - Main character has mental retardation brought on by untreated PKU.

Those are all adult books, and only two are recent releases. But this is just my reading for less than 2 months. And while I might specifically read a book for the presence of a disabled character, that was not the case with any of these. Two were for Triple Take. One was because it made the Tiptree list, and the other was because I knew it would be awesome. I wasn't even aware there were disabled characters except for in Flowers for Algernon.

Now, it so happens that two of those are about disability. And all of these are generally positive portrayals, I think.

So, yea.. what have you been reading, Quarmby?

Other notable books I've read from this past year that would also qualify:

Among Others by Jo Walton
A Wizard of Mars by Diane Duane (perhaps iffy)
Babel-17 by Samuel Delany (also perhaps iffy)
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
Mean Little deaf Queer by Terry Galloway (memoir)
Forest Mage by Robin Hobb (if obesity counts, which it does according to Quarmby's list)

The iffyness because there are autistic characters that have been in some way 'cured', and I'm not sure if it's been done well or not.

If I go too far back, I find books I barely remember, so whether they had disabled characters or not isn't something I can easily answer!

But you can tell most of those are sf/f, even if they are adult sf/f. So maybe those don't count as 'canon'.
Tags: books, disabilities, fantasy, lists, science fiction, sff
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