Tuesday, April 5, 2016

D is for Disability

Welcome to the A to Z Challenge! My theme this year is Representation and Diversity in Traditional Stories. I am looking for rare and interesting motifs in folktales, fairy tales, and legends that add variety to the well-known canon.

Note: Today, I'm talking about physical disabilities. Neurodiversity and mental illness will come up later on.

When I polled people on what they would like to see represented more often in tales, one of the most common requests was "disability that doesn't magically go away." While it is a very specific request, it is also very understandable. Representing disabled people as something that needs to be "fixed" before the happily ever after can happen is not exactly the best way to go.
(I said it once and I am saying it again: Disability is also very often symbolic in traditional stories, rather than a representation of an actual physical condition. With that said, I do believe there is no reason why we couldn't have both kinds)

Let's see some examples:

The king's daughter who lost her hair
A beautiful Akamba folktale about a princess who goes bald, and a hero that has to bring her hair from a Magic Hair Tree at the end of the world. While the baldness gets fixed in the end, the male hero has his own condition: He limps, and therefore is slower than the other suitors setting out on the quest - but also more persistent and kind, and all that helps him succeed in the end.
(Read the story in African folktales)

The daughter of the shaman king
This is a folktale from Hungarian-Ukrainian storyteller Pályuk Anna. It tells about a princess who doesn't have feet and therefore can't walk - even her father the táltos king can't cure her. Eventually, however, she falls in love with the young king of the Cloud Kingdom, and learns to fly instead of walking...

(This story has never been published in English, but it will be included in my upcoming book of folktales soon! Actually, several characters in Pályuk's tales have different forms of physical disabilities - dragonslayers with one hand, princesses with no feet -, and they succeed without "fixing" any of them)

Tarva the Storyteller
A very well known Mongolian legend about how stories came into the world. A little boy is left to die during an epidemic, and as his soul travels to the Underworld, he is rewarded for his loyalty with a chance to pick a treasure. He pick stories, but when he returns to his body, his eyes are gone. Tarva the Blind becomes the most famous storyteller of the Mongols.
(Read the tale in this book among others)

Hoichi the Earless
Another tale about a famously talented blind storyteller, one that gets lured into a court of ghosts to sing his songs, until his friend a priest rescues him from his fate.
A very famous Japanese legend.

(Read it online here)
(Source of the picture here)





Teiresias
The famous seer of the Odyssey, Teiresias lost his vision the same day he gained his ability to see the future. He shows up quite often in Greek mythology. We'll also see him later in this Challenge, since he lives part of his life as a woman.
(Read about him here)

Hephaestus and Wayland
The image of the "limping blacksmith" is a very common one in Indo-European mythology. In Greek myth, Hephaestus creates treasures for the Greek gods, while in Norse myth, Völundr (Wayland) is known as a famous smith. The latter is crippled by a king who wants to keep him as a slave and takes horrible revenge; his son is one of the most famous knights in German legends.
(Read about the Thidrek saga, including Wayland and his son, here)

Ivar the Boneless
Okay, so he was technically a historical person, but his life has passed into Norse legend. There is some speculation around whether he was actually crippled, lame, or had some genetic condition that made his bones brittle - but he is still described as a mighty warrior and leader.
(Read about him here)

Sánta Kata
According to Hungarian folklore, Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is known as Sánta Kata (Limping Kate).
(Read my #FolkloreThursday post about her here)

Are there any other stories that should be included on this list? Let me know in the comments!

45 comments:

  1. I'd love to learn to fly like the Princess - my feet and ankles have never worked properly. Nice to know I could still kick arse in a traditional tale even as I limp around :)
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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    1. I admire your courage Tasha.
      akhymjanja.co.ke

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  2. Well, I actually think physical disability is quite common in forktales (maybe because physical disability was quite common in real life, once upon a time?). But maybe I'm thinking to the kind of 'symbolic' disability you spoke of.

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

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    1. It is! I just did not include any tales where it gets "fixed" in the end :)

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    2. Forget wheelchairs, flying sounds cool!

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  3. Excellent post, Tsenge, and some good stories. Thanks--I had never really thought about disabilities in stories before but I'd like to add a story like these to my school performances. There are always children considered "other" who seldom hear stories about people like them.

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    1. Exactly! That is why I wanted to build a resource for at least a start... :)

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  4. I have never thought about Disabilities in books and just read what I like. But now you have my mind trying to remember if I have read a book that had a disability in it.

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    1. Books and modern tales fare a little better than traditional stories, although there is still work to do in terms of representation.

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  5. Interesting post. I wonder if part of the reason disabilities disappear in stories is because fiction is an escape. We are looking for all hardships and suffering to be eliminated because we deal with that in life.

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    1. Probably. Also, a disability in folklore is often symbolic of a "lack," something missing that needs to be fixed or filled for the happy ending to happen.

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  6. The daughter of the shaman king sounds like an amazing tale! Great post!

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  7. This is a fascinating list. I agree that showing disabilities in fiction and myths is super important; they're just another part of the human condition.
    @DoreeWeller from
    Doree Weller’s Blog

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  8. Great post, again! :)
    I think it is very important to include disabilities as a matter of fact, the way it is in life. It is what it is and people should be accepted for their human condition -- not accepted only after they're "fixed".
    I think it's very important to include the disabled into character development. Thanks for bringing that to light...

    I'd like to read some of these stories that your presented here, especially the first two...

    Michele at Angels Bark

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  9. wow, i learn so much from your amazing posts. theses are fabulous!

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  10. So many tales I've never even heard of here! Very interesting.

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  11. Though he's not exactly written as one of the good guys, there's the blind king Dhritarashta in Indian mythohistory. His wife Gandhari is so blindly devoted to him, she wears a blindfold around her eyes so she can't see anything either. It all started when she overheard her parents rejecting Dhritarashta as a potential husband, since he was born blind. To prove her devotion, she blindfolded herself, and her parents had no choice but to approve the marriage. There's only one incident where she removed her blindfold, to see her son Duryodhana during the epic 18-day Mahabharata war.

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    1. Oh right, I remember that one! Thanks! :)

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  12. I love this whole series so much, and this one is my favorite yet-I work in special education so I'm looking forward to your post on developmental disabilities as well!

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    1. Aw, thank you! :) I hope you'll find these useful! :)

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  13. Other than some Greek Mythology (one of the books on my shelf) I have read very little of myths in various cultures. I am learning a lot on your blog.

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  14. You've inspired me to find more of these tales and add them to my repertoire. It is so important to accept people as they are regardless of their disabilities. Stories are the way. Thanks for sharing all of the work you've done

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  15. this is such a useful theme - great resource, will need to keep coming back here. thanks

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  16. this is such a useful theme - great resource, will need to keep coming back here. thanks

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  17. What riches, you and Karen Chace have become my folktale guru's, I appreciate the research you do on our behalf.

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    1. Oh my! Being compared to Karen is a badge of honor! :D

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  18. Another terrific post. I'm quite impressed.

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  19. So many fun stories here! Loved "limping Kate" so Sirius in my mind forever will be the klutzy star.

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  20. Very interesting theme and post! Some wonderful references here for storytellers.

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  21. Very interesting theme and post! Some wonderful references here for storytellers.

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  22. These are great. Thanks for these posts! I just read the Akamba folktale last night, so that was timely! I look forward to your new book!!

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  23. Flying... more like soaring. I have had dreams of flight, I never want to wake. Very Nice Post... but you know that, that's why you posted it! Right!

    Welcome in the letter "D"... thank you!
    Jeremy [Retro]
    AtoZ Challenge Co-Host [2016]

    Stop over and find a free "SIX STRINGS: BLOGGING AtoZ CHALLENGE" Here: http://www.jmhdigital.com/

    HOLLYWOOD NUTS!
    You know you want to know if me or Hollywood... is Nuts?

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  24. Flying instead of walking - that's a better way to get around anyway!

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  25. These are some amazing stories.

    Blog: QueendSheena
    2016 A to Z Participant
    Joy Brigade Minion

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  26. Love this list, and love your theme. :)

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  27. Interesting there are so many too. You've researched this well!

    Pioneer Women in Aviation A-Z


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  28. What everybody has already said. :) I'm really enjoying this.

    @dSavannahCreate from
    dSavannahRambles
    #AtoZChallenge2016 theme: dSavannah Defects

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  29. Lovely post! Must read the one about the king's daughter who goes bald. Thanks for sharing.

    Joy @ the Joyous Living

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  30. Folktales remind me of a time long ago when my granny used to tell us ogre stories as we roasted maize!! I love your blog. I am on to Santa Kata!

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  31. I love these ones. The story about the blind storyteller reminds me a little of O'Henry's Gift of the Magi.

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  32. J here, stopping by from the #atozchallenge - where I am part of Arlee Bird's A to Z Ambassador Team.
    April is here and I'm excited about it. Best of luck to us both on meeting our goals of posting and hopping to other blogs.
    My blog has a giveaway. There's a bonus a to z challenge each day to encourage people to visit more stops.
    http://jlennidornerblog.what-are-they.com

    Great list! The ones I can think of have animals as main characters, which isn't likely to be what you're going for here.

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  33. I would love to read the one with The Daughter of the Shaman King.

    ~Ninja Minion Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

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  34. Köszönom Csenge. Nagzon finom.
    Thanks, Csenge. A very fine website.

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