Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space

Coach House. (Exploded Views Series). Feb. 2020. 160p. ISBN 9781552453957. pap. $16.95. LIT
Leduc (The Miracles of Ordinary Men), a Canadian writer with cerebral palsy, has penned a remarkable exploration into the ways disability has been portrayed in fairy tales and, consequently, how those portrayals have shaped society’s treatment of the disabled. Referencing her own experiences, as well as those of other disabled writers and activists, Leduc shows how disabled children search for positive representation in fairy tales and other media, only to encounter depictions of disability as something to be pitied, feared, or corrected. In popular tales such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Snow White,” disability is either removed by magic or remains as a punishment for the wicked. Such themes, Leduc argues, have encouraged society to view able-bodiedness as the only acceptable state and conditioned disabled children to view themselves as an aberrant “other.” But Leduc further points to the reciprocal nature of the relationship between fairy tales and society: as the tales have influenced society, so, too, can society change the tales to depict better paradigms and, in turn, make for a more accepting world.
VERDICT Leduc persuasively illustrates the power of stories to affect reality in this painstakingly researched and provocative study that invites us to consider our favorite folktales from another angle.
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