Book of the Month: Amanda Leduc’s Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space
Author: Clémentine Beyens Université de Lorraine
Our book recommendation of this month is Amanda Leduc’s Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space. This book questions the use of disability and disabled characters mostly fairytales whether they are ancient tales or modern Disney movies and goes as far as discussing Marvel movies and the tv series Game of Thrones. Is disability an obstacle to having a happy ending? Are disabled characters always punished, outcasted and unhappy? Amanda Leduc shares her thoughts and observations on the matter while sharing autobiographical parts of her own story as a disabled child and woman with cerebral palsy.
The book is composed of nine chapters, an introduction and an afterword. The introduction describes how the idea of this book came to the author and her intentions writing it: “To reclaim disability narrative in storytelling, we need to understand why stories like fairy tales have been fascinated with it right from the very beginning, and how the stories we tell have maligned difference – and disability – in order to make sense of the world” (12). Quite similarly, the afterword discusses the phenomenon of happy endings in stories creating real-life expectations and thus potentially excluding disabled people from what is considered social success. Throughout the book, in between each chapter, are autobiographical pages intertwined with doctor’s notes recollecting the author’s life experience and struggles as a disabled person. In its core, Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space tackles the issue of disability in western fairy tales while reflecting on the place of disability in current society and also giving her perspective as a disabled child growing up surrounded by negative portrayals of disability.
Most people grew up with fairy tales. From the Brothers Grimm to Disney movies, one can hardly go through childhood avoiding tales of princesses and witches. Consequently, many scholars studied them within the scope of literature, cultural studies, more recently feminist studies etc. However, very few resources exist on disability in fairy tales, which is one of the reasons why Amanda Leduc decided to take the matter into her own hands. She not only uses her experience navigating childhood and adulthood with a disability, she also uses her experience as a fiction writer and storyteller to dissect well-known tales from a brand new approach. In addition to that, this book gives substantial visibility to disabled people in general. There are recollections of conversations about disability and fairy tales the author had with disabled friends and acquaintances, she mentions several non-profit organizations and quotes numerous times the work of other disabled writers and scholars. She does make space for them.
Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space was greatly needed in the disability studies field and is relevant to approach any other sci-fi, magic or fantasy work in the spectrum of disability. In fact, the book allows the reader to question disability representation in general for they are given basic literary as well as social and political tools to do so. Amanda Leduc’s point of view as a disabled person and the impact negative representation – or lack of – of disability had on how she perceived herself as a child and even as an adult really underlines the importance of an accurate and diverse representation. It delivers a message of hope and demands change.
Amanda Leduc. 2020. Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space. Toronto: Coach House Books.
Clémentine Beyens is a master’s student at the University of Lorraine, France. As a disabled woman, her work focuses on disability studies and more specifically on disability representation in pop culture.