SHADOWHEART by Tad WilliamsOver at Bookworm Blues, Sarah Chorn is running a series of thematic guest blog posts about the place of disability, whether physical, mental or other, in Speculative Fiction. She’s calling the event “Special Needs in Strange Worlds” and already has several articles from various bloggers and writers about the topic. One of those guest bloggers is me.

Here’s an excerpt from my article, which considers Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch series (beware of spoilers for the entire series):

One of my favourite characters in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn was Prince Josua, a rebellious prince who was the fulcrum of a rebellion that forms the core for much of the trilogy. It happens that Josua was missing a hand. This was a defining feature for Josua, in a visual sense, but had little-to-no effect on his being able to achieve his goals. It’s hard to believe that George R.R. Martin wasn’t influenced by Josua when one of his own characters loses a hand, though Martin takes the concept further, exploring how the loss of his character’s sword-hand affects not only his ability to compete physically against other characters, but how the loss of skill and ability can alter and manipulate a person’s outlook on life. Losing that hand is a major catalyst in allowing Martin’s character to evolve into one of A Song of Ice and Fire’s most conflicted and compelling characters.


Throughout the course of the latter two volumes in the series, as a result of both his bloodline and being exposed to the magic of the alien Qar, Barrick begins to overcome his physical disabilities. At first it seems like a cop-out by the author, a deus ex machina that allows Barrick to become ‘whole,’ but Williams is too smart for that and Barrick soon realizes that his physical disabilities are, in many ways, a smaller prison compared to the crippling social disabilities he created within himself as a guard against the sympathies of the other people in his life, including his sister, though he loves her dearly. The prince can never crawl out from under the shadow of his disabilities; though his body is healthy, his mind continues to be plagued by the demons of his own devices. Barrick’s lifelong struggle with his disabilities is a defining aspect of his character, and an intelligent foil to the struggles of his sister—where Barrick inwardly deals with the physical and mental shackles placed on his by his disabilities, Briony, physically healthy, must battle equally confining restrictions placed on her by society for being a female fighting for her place in society. To overcome his disabilities, Barrick must first convince himself that it’s possible, for Briony, she must convinces the others that surround her. It’s tough to say who has the more difficult road.

The Shadowmarch series is filled with characters who deal with varying degrees of physical disability, but it never stops a single one of them from having an important and positive impact on their imperiled world. Though a character like Ferras Vansen is physically strong and suffers only from a melancholy heart, his struggles are as difficult and important to him as those faced the physically-challenged Prusus. Different, yes, but equally demanding.

Sarah also writes some flattering things about me and A Dribble of Ink that set equally my ego and my humility into swirling mayhem. So, yes, thank you, Sarah, for inviting me to be a part of this event.

I hope you enjoy my article and encourage you to read the others, they’re all much more eloquent and better considered than my own. In particular, young Dan Goodman, who was diagnosed at birth with spastic cerebral palsy, writes well about the topic and how Fantasy allowed him to find a freedom he didn’t know he could have. Touching stuff.

  • Paul (@princejvstin) May 9, 2012 at 10:31 am

    I think you’re being immodest, Aidan. Your contribution is worthy and the equal of any other.

  • Sarah (Bookworm Blues) May 9, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Blake Charlton told me on twitter that it’s not flattery if it’s true.

    I really appreciate the time and effort you, and everyone else participating, has taken to write about such a difficult topic. Personally, I think you are far too modest, but all one needs to do is read your intro to see that. :)