Bookish Musings: Disabilities Being Magically Cured in Books

 
 

We already have so little diversity in books, and we have even less diversity of the disability kind. Then, on top of that, the portrayal of disability is often riddled with problems—a big one being disabilities—whether physical or mental—being magically cured or turning out to be something paranormal.

I feel like some people may not fully understand why this is so harmful though, so I wanted to make a post to explain my thoughts on the topic!

 

 

What Am I Talking About?

– Books in which the disability is flat out cured, either with magic or science fiction technology or the power of love.

– Books in which the character has been diagnosed with an illness but later finds out it’s actually something paranormal (e.g. a character thinks she has a chronic illness but then finds out it’s actually just because she’s from another realm).

(I’m tempted to include cases where the character has a disability the whole time but has some sort of power that basically cancels it out or simply doesn’t seem to have any symptoms, but that’s a different topic. Keep in mind that those types of portrayals are harmful for many of the same reasons, but the rest of the post doesn’t apply.)

 

Why It’s Harmful When Disabilities in Books are Magically Cured or Unrealistically Removed

The one big giant reason is that it’s an unrealistic portrayal and gives people the wrong idea.

In certain scenarios, it kind of gives the message that a person can only be successful at their goals or go on adventures or find love or do whatever it is they’re doing IF they’re able-bodied. Yes, some people’s disabilities do prevent them from doing certain things, I’m certainly not trying to downplay anyone’s struggles or limitations—I mean, *I* couldn’t go on the adventures that many characters go on in the books I read, so I definitely know about having limitations because of your body—but there are also many people with disabilities who are successful and can do all the same things that able-bodied people can do. I’d be willing to put money on it that every single person reading this has at least one person (probably more than that) in their life, whether it be a friend or an acquaintance or a coworker or a fellow student or a cashier at the grocery store you shop at, who has a disability you don’t even know about.

In some cases whatever the character is doing might be more difficult or take more time/effort or require help or be interspersed with more than your average number of trips to the hospital/doctor, but that’s just yet another reason the magical cure trope sends the wrong message—it doesn’t show any of those obstacles I just mentioned.

It also takes away from the seriousness of disabilities and spreads misunderstandings. It makes it seem like they aren’t that bad because Hey, it was cured and it’s gone now! We no longer have to think about that unpleasant thing and put ourselves in the shoes of a character who suffers or struggles or has any hardships that make us uncomfortable and can pretend everyone is able-bodied and has an easy life! I’m not telling anyone that they have to read books about things that make them uncomfortable. What I am telling everyone is that when an author takes a serious topic and makes it less serious, it trivializes it and completely undermines the experience of anyone who deals with that serious topic in real life. And the reality for most people with a disability is that there is no magical cure, it doesn’t go away, it’s something you live with forever, and it’s a struggle to either simply live with it or to figure out a way to keep it under control.

Another thing, it’s a disappointment to anyone who actually wanted to read about that particular disability when it just gets removed from the story. And imagine how especially disappointing it would be to have a disability and think, “Finally! I’ve found a character who’s like me! Who I can relate to!” only to then have that taken away.

 

Why I’m Becoming More Lenient About It
(i.e. Here’s Where I Try to See Things from Another Perspective)

The thing is, I do recognize that sometimes that’s just part of the story, that the story wouldn’t exist or be the same if the disability weren’t cured or if it didn’t turn out to be explained by something paranormal that looks like a disability at first. And should those authors just not be allowed to write their stories? That hardly seems fair.

And if a disability is portrayed realistically while it is in the book, it’s still doing something good and helping people understand what that disability is like, isn’t it? The fact that it’s cured doesn’t actually detract from how well it’s written up to that point. Having an otherwise realistic portrayal that gets cured is probably better than not having any representation at all. For example, I read a book about a character with epilepsy, and his epilepsy disappeared at the end, but I still gained a new understanding of what it might be like to have that.

There’s also the fact that some disabilities can potentially go away. That’s usually with treatment, even with treatment many disabilities never go away, and cases of spontaneously disappearing ones are definitely rare, but it has happened to some people. I would not consider this a good reason for doing that in a book, I’m simply trying to see all possible points on the other side of the argument.

 

For Authors:
How to Include Cured/Paranormal Disabilities in the Best Way Possible

I don’t like when disability is cured or paranormal or unrealistically removed in some other way, it’s always disappointing to me when that happens, but I feel like authors are becoming more and more limited. Some may disagree with me on this, but I don’t feel that it’s my place to tell an author, for example, that they can’t write their story just because it starts with a character thinking she has a disability but then finding out it’s actually something magical. So, if you’re thinking of using the trope, here are some questions to ask yourself and tips on how to use it in the least harmful way possible.

1) Ask yourself if removing the disability, or including it in the first place if it’s just going to be cured, is absolutely, truly integral to the story. Seriously think about it. Oftentimes there are other ways to make the story work, they just require some brainstorming and adjusting. I know this because I’ve been planning some books myself with disabled characters and have sometimes come up with ideas and thought, “Well, if that happens, then the disability will end up cured, so no, I’ll have to find another way/reason/explanation.” Don’t take the easy way out just because it’s easier. If the story is still possible with the disability sticking around and staying a real thing, then it should stay. Curing it just for the sake of curing it is not ok. Curing it just to make things easier for the character or to make it easier to make the plot work is not ok (that is NOT what I meant by “integral to the story”). Curing it just because you think it’s required for a happy ending is not ok. As I said before, most people in real life don’t get a cure. It doesn’t do those of us with disabilities justice to portray it otherwise in books if there’s not a legitimately good reason for it. I’m not even saying you have to give disabled characters happy or unhappy endings—I personally am fine with whichever the story calls for, whether it has disability or not—just that, if you want the book to have a happy ending, do it with the disability.

2) While the disability is still in the story, portray it as realistically as possible. Do research. Read blogs. Watch YouTube videos. Talk to people. Hire sensitivity readers. Have people who have that disability read your book and tell you if it’s harmful or offensive. At least if the portrayal is accurate, it could potential do some good by spreading awareness and understanding.

3) If the disability is going to be cured or removed early in the book, make that clear in the blurb. That way people know what they’re getting into and know they won’t be getting a book that actually portrays disability.

4) Maybe even include a foreword or afterword or message somewhere to talk about the disability in your book and explain that it doesn’t disappear for people in real life. Include some links to resources where people can learn more. That could at least possibly help make anyone who doesn’t realize that be more aware.

 

For Readers:
What to Do About These Types of Books

1) Mention in your review if the disability was cured or not something real, even if you have to use a spoiler tag to hide it. At least that gives people the chance to find out ahead of time that the book won’t actually be about that so they can decide if they still want to read it.

2) If a book has a particularly problematic representation, talk about it in your review. Explain what the problems are so more people can learn.

 

Final Thoughts

I’m not telling anyone what to read or not read—I myself have enjoyed some books that used this trope—just that it’s important for everyone to be aware of the reality of disabilities and why magically curing them is not a good portrayal.

*P.S. If you’re looking for more books to read that have disabled characters and haven’t seen it yet, check out my Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books with Disabilities List!*

 
 

Talk to me!

Have you noticed a lot of magically cured disabilities in books?
Do you think it's ever ok to include disability in a book that gets cured/turns paranormal?
What other positives or negatives can you think of for books with disabilities that get cured?
*I recognize that this post could be controversial and welcome genuine discussion, but please be respectful.*

 

Like this post? Don't forget to follow me for more!
Bloglovin' | Twitter | Goodreads | Pinterest | Tumblr

 
 
 
 

Let's Be Friends

 
 

Your Thoughts

 

56 thoughts on “Bookish Musings: Disabilities Being Magically Cured in Books

I'd love if you'd share your thoughts, too!

 

Reading your comments makes me a very happy blogger!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 
  1. Christy LoveOfBooks

    I totally agree with what you said. I take it case by case; how the author handled it. Because the thing is, I’ve actually discussed this a couple years ago with some kids/teens with disabilities that my son & I volunteered with. I wish I could remember the exact book that brought it up (I can see if my son remembers). Anyway, several said they like it because they can identify and imagine themselves becoming “bad ass” or whatever like the character. It’s an escape for them too. Like a boy in a wheelchair imagining himself no longer bound by a chair and becoming Superman – that’s a true example I’ve heard from a child who has cerebral palsy. However, they also said they like when there’s a character that “keeps their disability”. So I see it both ways. And I know my small sample size doesn’t speak for everyone, but it gives some different perspective. Everyone is different. And again, yes, it needs to be handled correctly. Great post, Kristen!

    Christy LoveOfBooks recently posted: The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly, I try to take it on a case by case basis, though I have to say more often than not cured disabilities really aren’t necessary. But what you said about kids liking to imagine themselves being badass or reading for escape, I feel like disabilities still don’t need to be cured to do that. Like, why not make the character badass *with* the disability or something? I feel like that would be more inspiring for kids. But yes, however it’s done, it needs to be handled well. Thanks!

  2. Kei @ The Lovely Pages Reviews

    Funny you mentioned this issue, I was just reading a book the other day where the heroine got her entire arm eaten by a dragon and for a moment I though OMG this book is going somewhere Fantasy books never go to, I was so excited to read it and see what happens to that girl and then a few paragraphs later she got her arm back magically, literally the dragon’s blood – from when she killed him and lost her arm – healed her arm which was missing. I felt a bit disappointed, I was looking forward to reading something unigue like that and see how the author would present the character afterwards. Great topic!

    Kei @ The Lovely Pages Reviews recently posted: Defy by L.J. Shen

    1. Kristen Burns

      I did a major eye roll at your comment about how the arm grew back because of course it did -_- I read an urban fantasy last year in which the MC lost her arm at the end of Book 1, and I was so sure she was gonna get it back with magic in the next book because that’s just how these things always are, like what you described, but then she didn’t! And I was so happy she actually stayed an amputee. But I’m still not convinced she won’t get it back in Book 3 lol. I guess I’ll find out when it comes out. But yeah, it is disappointing when you get excited to read about a character with a disability only to have it disappear.

  3. Julie @ Happily Ever Chapter

    I was JUST complaining about this in my latest review on Goodreads….well, sort of. The problem wasn’t cured with magic or anything paranormal, but it is almost just as annoying. All problems being solved by finding a man. The girl in the book had severe anxiety and paranoia, but when she gets with the male MC she is all of a sudden able to “turn it on and off”. I hate that!

    Julie @ Happily Ever Chapter recently posted: Review: Single Malt by Layla Reyne

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yay! I’m glad you complained about it because problems being solved by love or relationships is just as bad and I definitely include that under the “magical cure” umbrella! That’s just as harmful and unrealistic of a trope.

  4. Lola

    On the one hand I still think those books with disabilities that turn out to be something paranormal should have a place too, but on the other hand I do get what you’re saying. Its unrealistic, especially as many of those things are forever and you can’t just fix it that easily. I also have read some books where the disability or mental problem got fixed by love, and while I do think love can make things easier to cope with it won’t solve it completely.

    I do think it would be important to have books that show the struggle of being successful and doing so even with a disability, instead of having it be fixed before they become successful. Your second point made me think of what you said about the series The Girl in Between how the disability was handled realistically at first even though it ended up being paranormal. And I do think there’s a place for those type of stories as well.

    Good points regarding if the disability gets cured there are good ways to handle it. I also think having readers beta read your book who have that disability is very valuable, especially if the author writes about a disability that they don’t have themselves. And like you said some things can be accidentally offensive to people with that disability without the author meaning to do so. If the disability gets cured early one it is a good idea to hint towards that int he blurb. For some people it might not matter, but if readers are looking for a book with said disability and then it gets cured I can imagine that would be disappointing.

    I’ve read some books with disabilities that got cured or turned out to be something paranormal, although in many cases it was obvious from the blurb that it would be something paranormal. I also have read books with a character or side character that had a disability that never was mentioned in the blurb as it wasn’t that big of a part of the book, it would probably be hard to find those type of books when looking for it. Although for popular books goodreads tags are a good place to look as they often will mention such disabilities as well. I don’t read as many books with disabilities so it’s hard to really say a lot about that from my own reading experience. Or if a book included a disability I don’t always remember later on, unless I am specifically thinking about that book.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly, there are some stories that really cannot exist any other way, and I can understand that. It’s just the others, where it’s not necessary to cure the disability, that bother me. Being fixed by love is also just as unrealistic and harmful of a portrayal since that doesn’t cure illnesses either, yet that happens a lot in mental illness books.

      I was thinking of The Girl in Between too since, even though the disability turned out to be paranormal, it was one of those books where the story wouldn’t be the same otherwise, and she at least portrayed the emotional impacts of the illness super realistically.

      Having people with that disability would definitely be a good idea for authors. And the blurb thing helps since I’ve avoided some books in which that was mentioned, whereas I would’ve been aggravated had I not known and ended up reading them.

      Honestly, side characters having disabilities doesn’t often interest me because at worst they’re just the token disabled sidekick stereotype, and at best they’re portrayed realistically but without their POV I don’t feel like I actually gain any sort of understanding.

  5. chucklesthescot

    I hate the magical cure of a disability in books. I feel cheated when it happens. It’s like the author is yelling ‘Yoohoo! Over here! I write diversity!’ to reel you in and then a few chapters later the author can’t be bothered with the disability any more and magically gets rid of it. I agree with you that if the author plans a magical cure, the reader needs to be told before committing to the book. I find it more interesting to show what the person can achieve and that they can carry a story as MC or be a hero and role model while facing the disability and its effects. Great post!

    chucklesthescot recently posted: Book Review: Extinction Island by Catt Dahman

    1. Kristen Burns

      I agree. It’s like they just wanted to make their book diverse but didn’t want to put in the effort and then did more harm than good. I always try to mention in my review if a disability is cured or not because that’s something I like to know too. And yes! It’s definitely a lot more interesting of a book to see what kind of struggles the MC has but while still doing things, whatever the plot is. Thanks!

  6. Lampshade Reader

    I agree that reading about disabilities shines a new light on them. It puts yourself in their shoes. However, I also think that authors might take on a disability and find out that it would be hard to write around it. I don’t like it when they are suddenly cured either, totally not realistic. But I guess it would instill some sort of hope for anyone reading it who has a disability? Great discussion! ~Aleen

    Lampshade Reader recently posted: Comparing Covers #1: Jude Deveraux

    1. Kristen Burns

      That’s one of the best things about books in general, and especially when it comes to this! But the thing is, if an author realizes a disability is too hard to write about, then they shouldn’t write about it because misrepresentation does more harm than good.

      I wouldn’t say it instills hope. I’ve seen a lot of angry reviews from people with disabilities about books where the disability was cured. In some cases, it’s able-ism (like racism for disabilities) because of that first thing I said about sending the message that only the able-bodied can accomplish things or have happy endings. And if it did give hope, it would only be a false hope. Imagine having a son with an incurable disability and then him getting all excited because he read a book about a character with disability who got cured and now he thinks he might get cured. Or someone with depression reading about love curing it in books and then getting into a relationship only to find that nope, they’re still depressed. But that’s why I’m writing posts like this, so that maybe disability will start being portrayed better in books and no one will have these problems :-) Thanks!

  7. Melissa @ Quill Pen Writer

    I think you made some great points. If the author included a disability in the first few chapters just to make the book seem diverse, before they magically cured it, I don’t think that’s right. Diversity for the sake of diversity, in my opinion, isn’t the same as building a realistic universe where there are people of every race, every disability, every representation. I would honestly prefer to read about a character with a disability who conquered all the challenges in front of them, and didn’t get cured at the end, than if they did as a ‘reward’.
    Great post! :)

    Melissa @ Quill Pen Writer recently posted: Beautiful People: Couples Edition

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thank you! Yes, exactly, if an author is going to include diversity, they need to actually put effort into portraying it well, not just throw it in there for the sake of it. And I agree, I’d also rather read about a character with disability who conquers things and finds a happy ending just as they are, no cure needed.

      Thanks!

  8. Greg

    Yeah I don’t like it either- I mean I haven’t read a TON of disability books but I wouldn’t want to see it just waved away or magically cured. I mean what’s the point? If you’re going to represent it then represent it right, I guess. Shine a light on something or don’t, but I’m not sure why to do it like that? And good point- everyone has or knows someone w/a disability or a limitation, I’m willing to bet.

    And I agree, I like an HEA as much as anyone else, but if a person has a disability it shouldn’t be removed lightly. As you say, to have a disability represented and show how a fictional character lives with it, struggles and all, could be very inspiring to someone who has that disability (or a disability at all). So your first point towards authors I totally agree. I’d rather have the disability stay, the character has to surmount the challenge just like in real life. No easy way out. :)

    Your 4th point too. I see that more- in fact I just read Lost Girls and at the end the author has resources for people who have suffered similar hard times. I thought that was great. That author is making a difference if even one person gets help or support.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly, don’t pretend to include it in your book only to then take it away, unless, as I said, there’s good reason and it’s mentioned in the blurb. And yeah, a lot of illness are invisible, so people don’t even realize how much someone they know might be struggling but continuing to live and do stuff anyway.

      Yeah, an HEA is great, but that still be accomplished with the disability. And it’s definitely a lot better to have the disability stick around and show all the struggles and then show how the character still succeeds in the end.

      I’ve seen some authors do that too, include links or even talk about their own experiences.

  9. Puput @ Sparkling Letters

    This is suuuuch a great post Kristen! I agree that disability portrayal in books is extremely rare and even if there is, sometimes they get cured by the end of the book and that’s not only unrealistic but also offensive and condescending. The notion that a character could only be a hero if their disability gets cured is so harmful while a lot of disabled people thrived everyday. This is probably a different thing altogether but I also noticed a lot of cases where mental illness was magically cured by love interest or turns out to be a superpower. It’s just… no. It’s not only offensive to the people having mental illness but also the people/professions around it. Like I’m studying to be a psychologist and it’s difficult but I read a lot of books where therapists are portrayed as useless! The characters don’t get even remotely better after seeing a lot of therapists but then she/he met someone and that someone cure their mental illness. It’s annoying. Anyway, wonderful post again! :D

    Puput @ Sparkling Letters recently posted: Who am I? Let’s Find Out Through This Tag!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thank you! Exactly, misrepresentation is worse than no representation because it can actually be harmful with the messages it sends. I totally include “cured by love” under the magical cure umbrella! That’s just as harmful because it’s not realistic. I see that a lot with mental illness, and not only does it further the notion that people can just think their way out of an illness, it also might make someone with an illness think they could cure it by getting a relationship when the reality is that the added stress might even make it worse. And I hadn’t even thought about how badly it portrays psychologists/psychiatrists. I actually just read a book about schizophrenia and while I didn’t like how the schizophrenia ended up having paranormal stuff in it, it actually was a good portrayal of therapists since the MC really appreciated his and his visits to her were really important to him because of how much she helped him.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! I think it’s fantastic when authors include disabilities in their books, just not when they then un-include the disability by magically curing it.

  10. Uma @ Books.Bags.Burgers.

    Wow it’s so surprising that I haven’t read any such books so far! But from what I hear, this happens a lot in fantasy… I agree with you that it depends on how the author handles it. I’d have a major eye roll moment if a character’s disabilty is cured with a flick of a wand or a magic spell! That’s just bad/unfair disability representation. And going over to check out your list now :) Great discussion post!!

    Uma @ Books.Bags.Burgers. recently posted: The Blog Squad: Part 1

    1. Kristen Burns

      That is surprising since it does happen a lot! Even in contemporary though, mental illnesses are often cured by love. But regardless of how a disability is cured, unless it’s through actual treatment, it’s not good representation. Thanks!

  11. Molly @ Molly's Book Nook

    I’ve noticed this complaint coming up a lot lately and it wasn’t something I even noticed until I really started paying attention to the books I was reading. It actually happens quite a bit. I don’t think it really sends the right message to people who have a disability or people who don’t. Especially if it’s a book geared for teens & young adults. It can be harmful to basically tell them “just fall in love and you’ll be fine”. I can see what you’re saying with some people do get better with treatment so maybe that’s why it’s included. Personally, I’d rather read about the character getting better with actual treatment, though, not falling in love or it turning out to be magical powers. BUT THEN, and now I’m rambling, I wonder if it’s more fun for people with disabilities to imagine it is magical powers? I mean, we read to escape reality. Maybe some of them would rather read about it being magical? Does that make sense..idk. hahah

    Molly @ Molly's Book Nook recently posted: 9 Tips for Thinkin’ Up Post Ideas (+10 to get you goin’)

    1. Kristen Burns

      It does happen a lot, and it does send a bad message and is an inaccurate portrayal. If a character has something that can get better with treatment and they do get treatment and we see those struggles and whatnot, then yeah, that’s a fine portrayal. It’s just the sudden magical/power of love cures that are harmful, especially for disabilities that don’t have cures.

      I can’t speak for everyone, but, for example, if I want an escape and want to forget about my own chronic illness, I’ll just read something that doesn’t have disability in it. If you want a pure escape and don’t want to think about any sort of problem you deal with in real life, to me it makes more sense to just not read about it period. But if I pick up a book with disability, then I want to experience and learn about that disability and see it portrayed correctly. And I’ve never seen anyone write a review like, “I have the same disability as the character and I loved how he was magically cured!” whereas I have seen lots of angry and disappointed reviews about people’s disabilities being portrayed harmfully and misrepresented because of how they were cured and similar things. Maybe there’s a little more leeway for including magical powers in a children’s book or something, but even that would depend on exactly how it’s done. So I have to respectfully disagree and say that’s probably not how many people feel.

      1. Molly @ Molly's Book Nook

        Yeah, I wouldn’t say I even agreed with myself about that, I was just throwing out an idea for maybe WHY authors still do it, you know? Kind of like insta-love, the “I’m not like most girls” and all the other things we all complain about but are still in books all the time. You’re right, though. I’ve never seen one saying “cool, it was cured” lol

        Molly @ Molly's Book Nook recently posted: 9 Tips for Thinkin’ Up Post Ideas (+10 to get you goin’)

        1. Kristen Burns

          Lol yeah, I get what you’re saying. I even considered the possibility that some authors might cure disabilities in books because they have one themselves and maybe just want to give characters a type of happy ending they’ll never get themselves or something like that. But truthfully I think the most common reason for both disability cures and instalove and other similar issues is that authors want to take the easy way out, and obviously that’s never a good reason for doing things, especially something that is harmful to people.

  12. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    Great discussion post. I know a lot of people don’t realise why it’s so frustrating when disabilities get cured in a book. I think you’ve covered all the point. I do agree that it’s still possible to read books when the disabilities cured, especially when there is a good representation in the book. I think it’s good to see a balance and not just have it being shown that the only way to have a good SFF book is to the have some explanation for the disability which is sorted as the story progresses as that’s so not accurate.

    Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity recently posted: My Blogging Problems // Do Your Reviews Ever Feel Repetitive?

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks :-) Yeah, if there’s good reason for it disappearing, I let it slide. And if it’s at least portrayed realistically up until it’s cured at the end, I might let it slide. But I still always mention it in my review, and I would definitely still rather have it not be cured unless it’s truly necessary.

  13. Jo

    Aaah, I am not for books that feature a disability that is either magically cured or goes away some way or another. I’ve read everything you wrote in this post, and I can see what you’re saying, but after reading a review on Disability in Kidlit about a book that had this kind of scenario, I’ve realised it’s not just problematic, it’s ableism, and ableism is never ok. I get what you’re saying with, “If you’re going to do it, do it well,” but I since the review I read, I can’t help thinking, “Have some respect for disabled people and don’t do it at all.” I don’t think it really matters if they’ve portrayed the disability while it’s there well, if the story is going to hurt and upset people, I think authors should rethink the whole thing. Just what I think. But a great discussion!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I mean, I do mostly agree with what you’re saying. That’s why I stressed so strongly to authors that they should really think whether it’s possible for their story to exist without removing the disability. It’s just that I have read some books in which the story really couldn’t have existed if the disability hadn’t turned into something paranormal. My advice to portray it well while it’s in the story was only IF making it disappear would be absolutely necessary. One of those books I was referring to (The Girl in Between), for example, portrayed what chronic illness feels like emotionally and how it affects your life amazingly well for an entire book and a half, and for that reason I do think it could still help people learn and understand even if it was something paranormal in the end. But I understand your stance of not wanting authors to do that at all. I’d also prefer them not doing it at all because, even if it’s necessary for the story and done well, it’s still disappointing to those of us who want to read about disability.

  14. Danya @ Fine Print

    As I’ve mentioned to you before Kristen, I haven’t read many books featuring protagonists with disabilities, but recently I’ve been trying to remedy that. I just read Handbook for Dragon Slayers (MG fantasy) and I was *super* worried for a while there that the protagonists’ disability was going to be magically cured and was incredibly relieved when that wasn’t the case. For me the relief came from seeing a heroine who has a very hard time doing things that many able-bodied people take for granted figure out how to approach problems from her own angle rather than simply wiping away the obstacle of her disability.

    The more that this is on my mind the more it makes me angry, haha. I’ll definitely be sure to call out these sorts of problems if/when I see them in books!

    Danya @ Fine Print recently posted: 5 Reasons to Read: Island of Exiles by Erica Cameron

    1. Kristen Burns

      You know, just the fact that we actually have to worry about disabilities being magically cured says it all, doesn’t it? I had the same experience recently. A character lost her arm at the end of Book 1 and I spent all of Book 2 expecting her to magically get it back and was so happily surprised when she didn’t! But I’m still not getting too excited until I read Book 3 since you never know. But yes, what you described is one of the reasons disability inclusion in books is so great. What disability did the character in the book you read have?

  15. Rebecca

    You discussed some good points here! Disabilities being cured is a tricky trope because the message it sends is harmful. To able-bodied people, it also probably makes them not take take disabled people seriously if they think on some level they can be cured or need x to be magically better. There aren’t a heap of books with disabilities, so it would great if the book could be inclusive and diverse instead. It must be frustrating for disabled readers especially to pick up a book, hoping to see themselves or relate with the character, and read about a character who’s then cured by the end. People deserve to see themselves in books as they are, not just when they’re able-bodied or beautiful or healthy or thin, which is why diversity is so important because it’s calling for better stories and authentic voices.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thank you! And exactly! You nailed exactly what I was trying to say about how it makes some able-bodied people not take disabilities seriously because it makes it seem like disabilities aren’t so bad or that they can be cured with some simple thing. And we do all deserve to see ourselves in books, regardless of what minority we might be in. But disability is the only one in which you never know if the character might be cured at the end, leaving you feeling disappointed.

  16. Wattle

    I’ve not read many books where disability is represented (at least, not that I can recall off the top of my head) but if I were to read one, I think I’d like it to be realistic, and not just taken away – because that seems like such a cop-out. If you’re going to do it, do it properly! Make it empowering, not something that is negative.

  17. Kate @ Parchment Girl

    I am SOOO glad you opened up this discussion! I have a chronic illness and it frustrates me to no end when characters are magically cured or have a disability/chronic illness, but it never really seems to affect them at all. One of the greatest things about fiction is that it promotes empathy, but it’s kind of hard to learn empathy for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses if their portrayal in fiction is totally unrealistic. I am thrilled that racial and gender diversity in fiction are things that readers are starting to pay more attention to, but unfortunately I feel like diversity (TRUE diversity, as in realistic portrayals and books actually written by people who live with this stuff) as it relates to disability and chronic illness is still waaay behind. I really hope this will change in the future. We need an #ownvoices for people with disability and chronic illness.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thank you! I also have a chronic illness, so it’s something that bothers me too. I have a whole ‘nother post planned about those books in which the character has a disability but then it doesn’t affect them about because that especially bothers me. But yes, I agree, the great thing about reading is getting to understand what it’s like for other people, but that doesn’t happen when a character’s disability is portrayed all wrong or cured. And disability is definitely lagging behind the other types of diversity. I’m glad it’s at least FINALLY being mentioned sometimes in diversity conversations. I got really tired of seeing posts about diversity but never seeing disability even being mentioned.

  18. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    You bring up some really good points here. I hadn’t really thought about disabilities being cured by magic until I saw your post asking for recs on books with disabilities and that was one of the questions you asked. I can definitely see both sides of the issue and I agree with all of your points. I guess I think there’s room for both types of stories, as long as they’re done well. When they’re done badly, I could see it being a major issue, though.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction recently posted: Sunday Post & Giveaways Galore – 2/12/17

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, that was one of the problems I kept running into with all the books I was finding and reading. And even if I understood the reason for it starting as a disability and then turning paranormal, it was still disappointing. And it’s definitely a major issue when it’s done poorly.

  19. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    Yeah, I don’t really like the idea of magically curing disabilities either. It seems not only harmful/offensive/problematic, but it also doesn’t really make for great storytelling either. Now, I have read one instance of a book where the disability ended up not being legit, and I did still like the book, but I did understand why others had problems with it. As a rule, that storyline isn’t my fave. Like you said, sometimes it *might* make sense, so I hate to say never, but most of the time? Yeah probably not a great plan to have “magic cures”. I actually don’t like magic as a cop-out for ANY issue in a book though, so maybe I am biased toward that in general? Idk. But either way, this is an incredibly thought provoking post, and definitely something that readers and writers should be more aware of, so thanks for sharing it!

    Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight recently posted: The 100 Episode 4×02: Heavy Lies the Crown

    1. Kristen Burns

      That’s a good point. I was so focused on the harmful aspect that I never even thought about the fact that it’s sometimes just very deus ex machina and thus crappy storytelling. But yeah, exactly, I hate to say it should NEVER be done, but I do think it’s used far more than necessary. In many cases, the authors could’ve figured out a better way to do things. Thank you!

  20. Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity

    This is such a good post. I honestly don’t like it when disabilities are magically cured in books, either. I kind of think about what the author was actually going for: why they included the disability in the first place only to erase that representation with a magic cure.

    Even though my decision on whether or not to continue the Throne of Glass series is still up in the air, I have a strong feeling that the author is going to pull this card. One of the main characters was injured at the end of the fourth book, leaving him paralysed in his legs, and then the book ended. It was inferred that he was going to try and go to this healer’s guild or whatever. I just really have a bad feeling that he is going to get there and then he’ll be magically cured and be able to walk again. I don’t like this because of the “magic cure” element, but also the portrayal that losing the use of your legs is the worst thing that could happen to someone. I think about what kind of message these two things send out to readers without full use of their legs and I wonder if the author knows how harmful these two elements in the story could be to those readers.

    If I could, I would tell all authors to shut down the magic cure trope because it’s so problematic and harmful, and like you said in your post, it tells disabled readers that to succeed and go adventures you can’t be disabled. Which is just really, really crappy to put it lightly.

    Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity recently posted: To Re-read or Not to Re-read

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! Same, I sometimes wonder why they bothered to include a disability at all if they were just going to cure it, or why they bothered to cure it if the book was ending and could’ve easily ended in the same way WITH the disability sticking around.

      Ugh, that does sound like he’ll probably be cured, but I haven’t read those books. I have that same feeling about this other series. The character lost an arm at the end of Book 1, and I was so surprised when she didn’t get her arm back in Book 2, but I’m still leery that Book 3 will somehow give her the arm back. But with your example, not only does it send a bad message, it doesn’t actually show able-bodied people what it’s like for anyone who does get paralyzed what that’s like in real life.

  21. Sam @ Sharing Inspired Kreations

    Wow, that’s really interesting! Honestly, I haven’t read many books with either mental or physical disabilities in them. (I’ll have to check out your list!) I completely agree with you. It is important to not mislead readers (especially in young adult books, because your target audience is easily influenced) by portraying disabilities in a certain way or magically curing them for one reason or another. And, oh, I totally get how frustrating it would be to pick up a book hoping to read about someone like you, only to be disappointed because it turns out that person actually is like that because of paranormal abilities, or whatever. How disappointing!

    Sam @ Sharing Inspired Kreations recently posted: Commenting on old Blog Posts

  22. Alice @ Arctic Books

    I definitely agree with you; I’ve only read a few books where disabilities seem like they’re cured in the book, and it does annoy me a bit because it makes it seem like the author is erasing that part of the character in favor of convenience, you know? I don’t really know how to word that but I really do like the different perspectives that you included!

    Alice @ Arctic Books recently posted: Monthly TBR: March 2017!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I think you worded it perfectly! That’s exactly how it comes across, that the author didn’t want to deal with the extra effort required to have the character accomplish their goals with the disability. Convenience is just the right word for it.

  23. Roberta R.

    Quote:
    “I don’t like when disability is cured or paranormal or unrealistically removed in some other way, it’s always disappointing to me when that happens, but I feel like authors are becoming more and more limited.”
    Amen to both statements. I don’t think the disability should be used as a bait and then “cured” or “removed”. On the other hand, a sci-fi or fantasy book is supposed to have content that doesn’t reflect our everyday reality, or hardly does. I think writers should be left some wiggle room in that case – as long as they do their research and actually represent the disability correctly while it’s there. Whereas curing a mental disability by having the character fall in love in a contemporary book is just plain unplausible and offensive.

    Roberta R. recently posted: Tell Me Again How a Hyped Book Is Born

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly. There are some stories that, for example, couldn’t be written if the disability didn’t turn out to be paranormal or something, and I don’t feel like it’s my place to tell an author they’re not allowed to write their story. So as long as there really was no other option for their story and they represent it correctly while it’s in the book, I can be ok with it. But yeah, curing a mental illness with love is a big no-no and a harmful idea to be spreading.

  24. Jessica

    I know you are talking about disabilities, but I read a book a few weeks ago about HIV. Two characters in the book had HIV. One character found a cure that cures everything especially HIV. Those two characters that had HIV were cured at the end of the book. I wish that cure existed in real life.
    Yes, it can be bad, but I think people to remember it’s fiction.