Sunday, June 30, 2019

Just Like Magic: Why You Must Avoid the Magical Cure Trope

Whether it’s the misuse, the lack, or the excess of it, magic usually holds sway over our fantasy worlds. If you’re more a sci-fi person, you know that technology takes the place of magic here. With this, however, comes a problematic road: everything is an easy fix.
Many fantasy authors argue that magic must have a cost. While I don’t necessarily agree, I do think the relationship between magic and people must be carefully constructed. It needs laws, or limits, whether those are because the wielder must draw their own blood to cast a spell, or because they did not survive the Water of Life, like in Dune. 
Magic healing, for example, becomes even more complex when characters have disabilities--even ones caused by magic itself.
I don’t disagree at all with portraying magic that causes a character to become disabled, depending on the context. But battling through an entire book by a character's side should never be cheapened by a magical cure. 
Often the cure is rewarded for being Good or Brave or Selfless and Doing the Thing. Suddenly they’re no longer blind or their limb is restored, or the voices of anxiety and depression stop their incessant yammering.
But that’s not how things work.  At the end of the day, magic is as real a cure as a parent’s kiss on a scraped knees. It paints a dark picture that if we’re not Good, if we’re in fact Bad, or Fearful, or Confident, then we will remain or become disabled. Follow that thought through to the next step:
Disabled people are Bad, because surely if we were Good, we would have been cured by now.
That’s not very inspiring or helpful to anyone, now is it? Plus, it’s way more interesting to read and write a book where the easy route isn’t an option. Sure, fantasy and science fiction are supposed to push the boundaries of our understanding of society, but I’ve always felt they also serve as examples of how people can live and what they face, regardless of the source. 
Another issue with the magical cure trope is it perpetuates the idea that all disabled people want a cure. Many, do. But often, like in the case of Autism Speaks, seeking a cure is actually driven by abled people’s need to be free of the “effort” of accommodating disabled people. What’s so wonderful about fantasy and science fiction, though, is you can build entirely different reasons why your character doesn’t feel they need or want a cure. Cures are unnecessary with magical and advanced accessibility. Example: they don’t need to be magically able to walk without pain, because their hover chair can go anywhere on and off the electro-mag grid.
I’m in pain most days. Obviously, I wish I wasn’t, but I can’t change it. What I can change is how I navigate the world and how others interact with me in regards to my disability. Perhaps your character doesn’t want to be able to hear, they just want to communicate and connect with people more easily. Besides, if you’re going for wow factor: changing a society’s perception is a way bigger miracle than just changing one pesky human body!
All this to say: magical wounds and madness are fantastic ways to explore disability and metaphor in alternate realities. Just be sure you’re exploring all the nuances of life as a disabled person, and giving us real rewards to aim for. You’ll find our wants are like most people’s: peace, friendship, and food!
Are you near Denver, CO? I’m teaching a workshop at the Siren’s Conference this October titled Navigating New Waters: Understanding the Nuances of Creating Disabled and Mentally Ill Characters. Let me know if you’re in the area!

Tune in on the fourth Sunday of every month for more on disability in fantasy and sci-fi. Learn more.