Whgskl. Okay.

PSA to all you fantasy writers because I have just had a truly frustrating twenty minutes talking to someone about this: it’s okay to put mobility aids in your novel and have them just be ordinary.

Like. Super okay.

I don’t give a shit if it’s high fantasy, low fantasy or somewhere between the lovechild of Tolkein meets My Immortal. It’s okay to use mobility devices in your narrative. It’s okay to use the word “wheelchair”. You don’t have to remake the fucking wheel. It’s already been done for you.

And no, it doesn’t detract from the “realism” of your fictional universe in which you get to set the standard for realism. Please don’t try to use that as a reason for not using these things.

There is no reason to lock the disabled people in your narrative into towers because “that’s the way it was”, least of all in your novel about dragons and mermaids and other made up creatures. There is no historical realism here. You are in charge. You get to decide what that means.


“Depiction of Chinese philosopher Confucius in a wheelchair, dating to ca. 1680. The artist may have been thinking of methods of transport common in his own day.”

“The earliest records of wheeled furniture are an inscription found on a stone slate in China and a child’s bed depicted in a frieze on a Greek vase, both dating between the 6th and 5th century BCE.[2][3][4][5]The first records of wheeled seats being used for transporting disabled people date to three centuries later in China; the Chinese used early wheelbarrows to move people as well as heavy objects. A distinction between the two functions was not made for another several hundred years, around 525 CE, when images of wheeled chairs made specifically to carry people begin to occur in Chinese art.[5]”

“In 1655, Stephan Farffler, a 22 year old paraplegic watchmaker, built the world’s first self-propelling chair on a three-wheel chassis using a system of cranks and cogwheels.[6][3] However, the device had an appearance of a hand bike more than a wheelchair since the design included hand cranks mounted at the front wheel.[2]

The invalid carriage or Bath chair brought the technology into more common use from around 1760.[7]

In 1887, wheelchairs (“rolling chairs”) were introduced to Atlantic City so invalid tourists could rent them to enjoy the Boardwalk. Soon, many healthy tourists also rented the decorated “rolling chairs” and servants to push them as a show of decadence and treatment they could never experience at home.[8]

In 1933 Harry C. Jennings, Sr. and his disabled friend Herbert Everest, both mechanical engineers, invented the first lightweight, steel, folding, portable wheelchair.[9] Everest had previously broken his back in a mining accident. Everest and Jennings saw the business potential of the invention and went on to become the first mass-market manufacturers of wheelchairs. Their “X-brace” design is still in common use, albeit with updated materials and other improvements. The X-brace idea came to Harry from the men’s folding “camp chairs / stools”, rotated 90 degrees, that Harry and Herbert used in the outdoors and at the mines.[citation needed]

“But Joy, how do I describe this contraption in a fantasy setting that wont make it seem out of place?”

“It was a chair on wheels, which Prince FancyPants McElferson propelled forwards using his arms to direct the motion of the chair.”

“It was a chair on wheels, which Prince EvenFancierPants McElferson used to get about, pushed along by one of his companions or one of his many attending servants.”

“But it’s a high realm magical fantas—”

“It was a floating chair, the hum of magical energy keeping it off the ground casting a faint glow against the cobblestones as {CHARACTER} guided it round with expert ease, gliding back and forth.”

“But it’s a stempunk nov—”

“Unlike other wheelchairs he’d seen before, this one appeared to be self propelling, powered by the gasket of steam at the back, and directed by the use of a rudder like toggle in the front.”

Give. Disabled. Characters. In. Fantasy. Novels. Mobility. Aids.

If you can spend 60 pages telling me the history of your world in innate detail down to the formation of how magical rocks were formed, you can god damn write three lines in passing about a wheelchair.

Signed, your editor who doesn’t have time for this ableist fantasy realm shit.

If your fantasy setting is having trouble with things like “What other cultures exist in this universe and how do they get on?” or “How do diabled people live?” or “How’s gender work here?” without sounding like Your Conservative Aunt Edna That You Really Wish You Didn’t Have To Be Nice To At Thanksgiving, it’s a good sign that you need to go back, not to the drawing board, but to yourself and your real world, and think real hard about how you’re handling those things in real life.

It’ll do you and your writing a literal world of good.

About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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