Mark Lawrence on special needs in fantasy

Jo Zebedee

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A very thought provoking piece. I have no idea what it's like to be a carer and to cope, or how that would translate into a book (there are some mainstream books, I think, by the way.)

It would be good if something could open up the world and make it more understood -- Mark Haddon's Dog in the Nighttime did it with asperger's (a secret disability, one that often happens behind closed doors and requires a different type -- and level, thankfully for my family -- of caring), and changed it, a little, from something invisible into something that could be talked about.

The only sff writer I can think of who does do anything like it, possibly, is Bujold with Miles.
 

chopper

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good piece. another example: Orlando, in Tad Williams' Otherland opus, is physically disabled, and that disability even manifests itself in the virtual world.

for myself, i'd love to see more reasoned representations of mental health issues in genre fiction too. Thomas Covenant believed he was mad, but what about more recent stuff?

(at this point i'll also point out that sometimes we immerse ourselves in fantasy to escape the reality of illness and/or caring; and that sometimes fantasy is a less than welcome distraction. Mrs C, on viewing The Truman Show, said to me: "This is what it's like for me all the time".)
 

Gumboot

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I can think of plenty of great fantasy that features disabled or impaired people.

I think, though, there's a danger in special interest groups raising the issue of lack of representation in genre fiction. As the author rightly points out; the purpose is to entertain, and tell a story, not to promote some issue.

In the specific instance of fantasy, most of these stories tell of heroes performing extraordinary feats in difficult times. The simple fact is that disabled people in pre-modern society have a hard time just surviving to adulthood, let alone destroying the evil dark lord and his minions. While a fantasy novel from the POV of someone caring for a disabled person might make carers feel happy, frankly it would be a pretty boring book, and I wouldn't want to read it, because someone whose time is taken up looking after a disabled person doesn't have time to perform the amazing feats that we expect when we read fantasy novels.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Certainly no one who suffers from a severe depression would go out and perform any great deeds.

It's only fantasy by a hair (one of the characters repeatedly has a vision that turns out in the end to be prophetic), but I can think of a Juvenile/YA book that deals with mental illness, and that's Black Jack by Leon Garfield, where the hero is distracted (in a way that advances the story) by his need to look after a girl who escaped on her way to a madhouse. It wasn't boring at all, the way it was handled. It was moving and terrifying. The first thing she says to him, apparently not understanding the words, is "Would I really be better off dead?" because that's what family members and servants who take care of her have been saying since her mental breakdown -- as if she can't hear them, as if she's not a person anymore.
 

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My gothic fantasy The Rat & The Serpent is about a cripple whose disability means he can't be considered for citizenship of the Mavrosopolis (a soot-shrouded city). I deliberately chose a disabled character because I wanted to explore how people overcome - or try to overcome - the obstacles placed before them by a largely uncaring society. In the end this main character does get somewhere, through a combination of sheer effort and some magic...

http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/books/sp/ratandserpent.htm
 

Connavar

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An important and thought provoking piece, i specially like the end about showing us broken heroes and doing it well,right.
 

Kissmequick

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Certainly no one who suffers from a severe depression would go out and perform any great deeds.
I don't know....

(note, I'm bipolar so I'm , um, very conversant with varieties of depression)

I read a book a while ago (a thriller type IIRC, I can't recall which book though) where the main character was suffering from depression. Yet his job was basically 'face the danger', so he did, because doing his job was all he had left to stop him sinking completely. And hey, if he died on the job...problem solved. It was very realistically done, and the guy still did the hero stuff, because it was his way of fighting back against the grey fog.

ETA: Actually it was a very fine book. I really wish I could recall title/author!

EETA: In two of my romances, the heroes are physically disabled. It can be done, and it's certaintly something that can be done without imparting a 'message'.
 

Darth Angelus

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That was a quite interesting read. It was a good thing to point out that Daredevil and Charles Xavier can't really be considered disabled, because their special powers overcompensate. I hadn't really thought about it, but it is true.

However, I am with Gumboot for the most part. I any kind of action/adventure oriented kind of genre, a disability can create too many problems and limitations. Unless the author can work it well into the story (Tyrion Lannister) so that the character can play the role unhindered, it can really complicate things.
Actually, I think Stannis Baratheon shows some Asperger personality tendencies (though probably not full syndrome), with rigid thinking and lacking social graces. I have no idea whether that was intentional on George R. R. Martin's part, but it is possible.

There is also the danger of belittling the problems faced by a disabled person if they can perform anything a normal person could, in fiction. I think there is a worrisome tendency to take certain disabilities too lightly, to expect the individual to overcome them (in order to not burden society with too great extra cost, says my somewhat cynical analysis)*. Therefore, I think a disabled person performing amazing feats in fiction could actually do more harm than good, to real disabled people, by furthering such an agenda. Sorry, it seems diversity of representation is not neccessarily good. Unfortunately, I see that having role models could be a double-edged sword for disabled people.

* Let us just say I do have some reliable input on what disability means, in real life.
 

Nerds_feather

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That was a really interesting piece, and underscores the depth and breadth of stories that can be told through the medium of fantasy. As Mark says, it all comes down to execution. I can imagine stories featuring disabled protagonists being pretty terrible, but if written by someone with experience, understanding and skill at the craft of writing, they could be fascinating and powerful.
 

Dozmonic

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Certainly no one who suffers from a severe depression would go out and perform any great deeds.
I don't know....

(note, I'm bipolar so I'm , um, very conversant with varieties of depression)
Glad you mentioned this, because I thought of BPers as soon as that was mentioned. Especially a BPer whose meds aren't sorted!

Marvin the Paranoid Android manages great things, or at the very least great things happen to him while he's severely depressed (37 times older than the universe is a pretty good achievement) :)
 

lauren$77

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I found this to be a really moving piece - my eyes are all watery now. I have some friends with MS and I worked as a care assistant looking after people suffering from the later stages of the disease. 'Slim' one particular man I cared for in his mid forties had a profound effect on my life - always keen to make you laugh no matter how much pain he was in. I will always think of this man as my hero. :)

But Slim was my hero in a subtle, understated way. The problem in fantasy is everything is a greatly exaggerated version of our world and I'm not convinced it's the best genre to portray the disabled in a protagonist role. As mentioned the author ends up having to compensate the lack of ability to move, talk etc. with physic powers, or some other kind of prized skills. When truthfully people with disabilities can be truly inspiring without any of these add ons! Just as some people with disabilities can be incredibly uninspiring - I've met a few of those too!

Mark mentions exploring the carers pov which I find more compelling. I know people in that role tend to develop a dark sense of humour, and I think this could make a book highly entertaining! I have lots of 'funny' stories having worked in nursing homes, but for some reason when I relay them to 'non carers' I usually get a look of shock - so I won't.

Still I would be really keen to read Mark's books 'The Arithmetic of Magpies' and 'Gunlaw' - does anyone know when these might be published?
 

Kerrybuchanan

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I have come late to this but found it extremely moving.

I am about to severely cripple one of my main characters at a time when his wife, gifted in healing, is absent and unable to help him. By the time she returns it is too late and an athletic fighting man is going to be dependent on her for nearly everything for a long time. I was in two minds about writing this part of the story, but Mark has given me the confidence to give it a go. As carer for two children with different disabilities, one of whom has periods of paralysis, I hope I can bring some perspective and love to it.

My heart goes out to Mark and his family.
 
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