|Evil Dead: Ash with the Chainsaw "Prosthetic"|
In the genres I read and write, we-the-authors gleefully scar the fuck out of our protagonists' bodies -- knives, bullets, acid, wild animals, magic -- but we don't tend to let them actually lose a limb...and have it stay gone. I'm as guilty as the next author of doing it. Blindness? There's a spell to cure that. Deaf? They'll be fine once the ringing stops. Mauling? It's just a flesh wound. IED? Everyone else except the protagonist is dead or mangled. Hell, in half the books, the protagonist's recovery time from a horrific conflict is on par with a nap.
Of course, we do thrive within the mountains of emotional scars. There's enough of mental crumbling underpinning our novels to build a nation of psych wards. Internal conflict is ever so much easier to write when there's a diagnosis to be twisted.
The last book I read -- erm, got into the first 50 pages before I stopped reading -- with a disabled protagonist was JR Ward's Lover Enshrined starring amputee Phury. The reason I stopped reading had nothing to do with the romantic hero missing a leg. The storyline just didn't do it for me. Yes, yes, I do know about poor Thomas Covenant, the leper. The pity is that he's the go-to answer for "show me an unfixably flawed hero."
Now, physically disabled villains? Literature is full of them. For a while there, it seemed missing a piece of their body was the go-to identifier for villains. We could start with Captain Hook, Captain Ahab, and Long John Silver to reference the classics then advance to today with GRRM's Lothar Frey, Lord Cett in Sanderson's Mistborn, or Professor Moody from Harry Potter.
It's not wholly uncommon for side-kicks or secondary characters to get the physical short-stick too. How about Dr. Xavier? The deaf doctor in Brockman's Into the Fire? For every genius black hat confined to a wheelchair there's a sage mentor with the cautionary missing body part.
Why, as authors, do we shy away from writing a permanently physically imperfect protagonist? Does it tie back to the "Write What You Know" advice? Do we unconsciously perceive it as too much of a distraction to the plot? Too hard to write? Too easy to offend?
Truly, I don't know the answer.
I do know it's not an issue of marketability. For gods' sakes, we've made demons beddable and psychopaths saints. Surely a prosthetic limb wouldn't be a deterrent to a reader.
I haven't written a physically disabled protagonist because when characters take shape in my imagination that sort of defining characteristic doesn't even cross my mind. I haven't taken the time to consider it. Shame on me? Probably. This week's blog post certainly has me thinking more and more about it.
Tell me, dear readers, is there a disability with which you'd like to see a protagonist grapple? Would his/her learning to live with the difference be an acceptable subplot or a distracting one? If you have advice for an author penning a protagonist with physical challenges, what would it be?