trouble: Meg from Disney's Hercules.  "You'd think a girl would learn." (You'd think a girl would learn)
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I started reading Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books at exactly the right time in my life. I was a pretty angsty teen who, as I tell people, sat at the side of the lake in my town and threw rocks into it, thinking about life was just like rocks being thrown into a lake. Reading "Ha ha, unaccepting family/peers! I'm an Important Person with a horse that talks in my head, but I'm so good and awesome I'll never wield my powers against you for evil, even though I could!" was rather cathartic at that age.

I've noticed I haven't really enjoyed anything she's written that I've read since I grew out of that phase, which may just mean that the books are exactly the same, but I am very very different. (Now my "ha ha revenge!" self-told stories are all about getting Published in an important academic journal, because that way lies fame and fortune, obviously.)

And, of course, Lackey woke up one morning and decided that trans* people were subjects of mockery and ridicule and-- yeah.

The short form of the above is: I'm not Lackey's target audience anymore, and haven't been for some time.

Lackey has three stories that I'm aware of that explicitly include people with what would now be called cognitive impairments, but who she describes as "simple", "child-like", and "slow". In addition, she has a second-tier character in another series who is a Gryphon who is equally child-like, considered "misborn", and is a Very Special Lesson In Love to the main characters.

Below the cut I start talking about sexual abuse of people with disabilities.

One is a short story in the Valdemar collection Sword of Ice and Other Tales of Valdemar. "Blue Heart" is the story of a tragically beautiful simple-minded child-like girl who becomes the object of the lust of an evil man. She is, of course, petted and praised throughout her village, until a bad man decides he lusts after her and tortures and torments everyone in the village trying to get to her, but she's been told to hide. I can no longer remember the details of how the village is saved, but I do remember that the tragically beautiful "simple" girl is turned into a butterfly.

I don't like the trope of tragically beautiful disabled girl because it plays into a really nasty eugenics idea: that people who will pass along "bad genes" are often beautiful because they are traps set for the unwary. If you read a lot of eugenics literature (which, sadly, I do) you see the fears of beautiful "simple" girls ensnaring good strong men through their beauty and then whelping (yes, whelping) litters (yes, litters) of degenerate babies. Hence why they must all be sterilized and kept away from the public.

That said, I guess I could overlook this if it were the one short story, which she wrote with another person, but for reasons that escape me, the "simple-minded girl who is sexually abused by the men around her" has become somewhat of a trope in Lackey's writing. She appears, albeit looking plain and dull, as the victim of repeated rape of Skif's uncle in "Takes a Thief". She also appears, explicitly called ugly and unappealing but still the subject of abuse by men, in "Bardic Voices 1: The Lark & The Wren". (I have only just started reading this book, and am at Chapter 3. I don't know if I'm going to finish it.)

On the one hand, I am well aware that sexual abuse of people with cognitive disabilities is a horrible and tragic reality and happens far too often. I appreciate that Lackey has talked about this in multiple books, although I could wish that she was a bit less heavy-handed about it. On the other hand... wow, do I ever not need to read more descriptions of how these "simple-minded" girls are so "simple-minded" that they don't even notice what's happening to them. I also don't want to read about the heroes of the story basically turning away from the abuse because it's just "poor simple-minded" co-worker. In "Takes a Thief", Skif's uncle is eventually charged with rape, although it's because Maisie is underage, not because she's "simple-minded". I haven't gotten far enough in Lark & Wren to see if anything happens to the villagers that are fondling the girl in that story.

The other stories that I've seen this trope show up in Lackey's work are the Black/Silver/White Gryphon books. In these, the main characters discover a "misborn" gryphon, protected and hidden from the other gryphons. She's been given the name "Kechara", which is a word that means "dear" or "beloved" in a friendship type way. On top of being "poor simple-minded Kechara", she is also incredibly gifted with a strong form of telepathy.

Of course she is.

Kechara essentially becomes the mascot of the characters, and is the "proof" that the main characters have become giving and caring people, because they are willing to care for her. (She is also the proof that their master is a giving and caring person because he didn't kill her at birth.)

I feel a bit weird talking about these books in this way. For one thing, the inclusion of people with cognitive impairments isn't exactly common in books, so on some level I feel I should praise - or at least acknowledge - that Lackey has included characters with cognitive impairments as the background of her world. As well, I generally think basically good things about some of the depictions of disability I've read in Lackey's work: I found her description of King Randall's degenerative and unknown pain condition to be realistic, although a bit of tragedy pr0n. I found her depiction of the disabled Herald that sang to Talia in the first Arrows books pretty simplistic (he just needed someone to love him!), but that whole series is pretty simplistic. I feel, perhaps unwarranted, that Lackey at least makes an effort to include disability in her stories.

I just find the way she goes about it to be difficult to deal with, because it seems to both brush up against reality and then act like reality isn't important. I don't know, your mileage may vary.

Date: 2011-12-25 11:53 am (UTC)
elialshadowpine: (Default)
From: [personal profile] elialshadowpine
I know this is a really old post but I stumbled across the community and wanted to comment as far as a disabled character that I didn't see mentioned. Kethry's love interest Jadrek very clearly has rheumatoid arthritis, and speaking as someone who has RA herself, it's handled very realistically. (I don't recall whether he is cured at the end of the book, but I don't believe he is. I'm pretty sure the situation is that it can be relieved some but not cured.) My impression is that Lackey probably either has experience with RA herself or a family member does, because some of the details that she touched on are not ones that most people notice. Most people know about the pain in the joints, but they often do not describe the inflammation and swelling that goes along with it.

'tis not a defense of the other things she did poorly, but it's at least something I was glad to see, because pain conditions are rarely described in fantasy fiction.

Date: 2012-01-12 06:18 am (UTC)
recessional: a small blue-paisley teapot with a blue mug (Default)
From: [personal profile] recessional
Another "this is a really old post but - ":

I just find the way she goes about it to be difficult to deal with, because it seems to both brush up against reality and then act like reality isn't important. I don't know, your mileage may vary.

I think that nails the way Lackey touches on a lot of stuff, really, and it makes a lot of her stuff problematic - she's AWARE of $issue and puts it in her books, which is way more than other people do, but then it's all . . . in her happy fantasy land where anything bad is Tragedy Pr0n, not just . . . bad. So on a lot of stuff she's what I tend to think of as a second level writer: I can't point to her and say "this! this is a good example of X!", but it's way more often THERE in her stuff, and usually before anyone else.

So Arrows and The Last Herald Mage and so on look very iffy now, but she was usually doing stuff among the first. If that makes any sense!


Reading Challenge Community: Disability

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