Like practically everyone else, I have just read the Song of Ice and Fire books after getting hooked on the HBO series. And don't they have lots of disability stuff! I've just been rereading an old post of mine about how people with disabilities are looked at, and noticed a comment by storm_seller about the meaning of scars in the context of warrior literature. Definitely time to discuss all of this.
There are several major characters with disabilities, and oodles of minor ones who are missing an appendage, badly scarred, castrated or what have you. One thing the books made me aware of is how far the Lord of the Rings school of thought is sanitised in this respect. If you're reading heroic fantasy with constant wars, people really are going to get knocked about quite a lot, and it's not going to be pretty. Martin seems fascinated with this side of things, and is always describing how people look when they're disabled, or indeed how they look at any time. (He also has a thing about salads. Seriously, every time there's a meal, he describes the salad down to the last ingredient, which will usually involve red fennel. There needs to be more salad-oriented fantasy out there.) A big theme is how people work to gain or retain power when their disability has taken power away from them.
Sometimes this felt like he was harping on it unnecessarily. We really don't need to be reminded all the time that Tyrion is a dwarf, and I eventually grew offended at the way that he seemed to be incapable of any form of motion except waddling. On the other hand, Tyrion is a fabulous character, I liked the way Martin explored the practicalities of life in a world without disability accommodation when you're very short, not to mention people's responses, and my money's on this character lasting the course. Does anyone have thoughts on why the TV series chose not to give him the strongly mismatched eyes that are so often mentioned as making him unattractive in the book? A feeling that Martin was going over the top, perhaps? I wonder what it'll be like when his face gets mutilated? Anyway, Tyrion reminds me slightly of Graves' I, Claudius, in that people are constantly dismissing and underestimating him, and he uses that as a way to get the upper hand, including deliberately playing on the way that people can feel uncomfortable around him. (Though he does it consciously, where Claudius finds that it happens to him by accident and that other people have spotted it before he has.) The scene in the first book at the Eyrie where he demands trial by combat, and everyone laughs and agrees, and then he stipulates a champion to represent him when it's too late for Lysa to back down.
Bran - I don't know a huge amount about paraplegia, does anyone know how realistic this portrayal is? It seems like a reasonably good effort, anyway, though I suspect it's been neatened up to some extent. I liked the way Tyrion felt a burst of compassion and helped out a bit by providing an accessible saddle design, but didn't get involved to the point of being out of character. I also liked the dreams, because I too get dreams where I'm no longer disabled, and they are weird to experience. He's not one of the most exciting characters, though, and I'm not sure how much there is to him if you take away the paraplegia and the wolf dreams business. Not all of the characters are interesting, I don't think it's anything to do with this one in particular.
Jaime - again, I pretty much liked this, and he's another highly charismatic character. The exploration of what it meant to his identity as a warrior, the way he kept on forgetting and reaching for things with his right arm for a while, the struggle not to let himself look weak, his use of mental sarcasm to keep himself going. The gold hand struck me as unrealistic, surely the weight would be prohibitive? Then there's the way he takes his time getting back to swordfighting, due to mourning his loss and feeling too overwhelmed to get started, and then does it furtively with another disabled man, whom he's picked largely because Ser Ilyn's inability to speak puts him lower in the pecking order than Jaime and frees Jaime from the fear that he'll tell someone about Jaime's vulnerability. My main knowledge of this area comes from an excellent Sara Maitland novel called Home Truths about a woman who has just lost a hand, and both the protagonist of that novel and Jaime worry, but don't speak openly, about how they can make love with a hand missing. And of course Jaime's hugely dysfunctional relationship with his sister gets even more dysfunctional, as she is simply unable to cope and not interested in being nice about it all. I suppose it's unsurprising that someone who has achieved power through physical beauty and seduction should be so focused on appearances.
- Injured warriors and waddling dwarfs