Fantasy and horror often exploit disabled people, presenting them as embodiments of terror and evil. In contemporary fantasy, we sometimes see archetypically evil characters redefined primarily by the telling of their backstories to provide rationale for their behavior and to evoke sympathy or pity from the audience. Pity often places the viewer in the position to seem benevolent while masking the ways that disabled people are often treated as inferior, different, and are isolated from the rest of society. In Wicked, Maleficent, and Game of Thrones, we are asked to confront the judgments and behaviors in which spectators and society engage. Instead of reaffirming the views and values of society, these works question and denounce our consumption of the stereotypes we have learned and our often unexamined behaviors towards those who are often treated as "others."

The Intersection of Negative Archetypes and Disability

Our expectations of what evil looks like in fantasy are predicated on archetypes created by long-established cultural myths. In America, the wicked witch, while based on the ugly old hag of European fairy tales, is reaffirmed through the Wizard of Oz (1939). Disney altered the hag in Sleeping Beauty (1959) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) by presenting Maleficent and the Queen as vain femme fatales, utilizing a classic archetype of a bad woman. Dwarves have been presented as a race of stout, earth and mountain dwelling miners, sometimes susceptible to obstinacy and greed, as in Tolkien's Hobbit (1937) and C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956), and made childlike by Disney or in the presentation of munchkins in the Wizard of Oz movie. Often throughout history, villains and malefactors have also been presented as monstrous, disabled or deformed.

Visual horror, adventure, and fantasy often exploit disabled people by presenting them as embodiments of terror and evil, as Bogdan, Bilken, Shapiro, and Spelkoman have observed (32-34). Over the past few decades, "disability [has] serve[d] as an interpretive force that confronts cultural truisms" (Mitchell and Snyder 48) to "provide powerful counterpoints to respective cultures' normalizing Truths about the construction of deviance" (Mitchell and Snyder 50) and to disrupt that stereotypical equation. In some contemporary fantasy, we have seen archetypically evil characters redefined primarily by the telling of their backstories, which is intended to provide a rationale for their behavior and to evoke sympathy or pity from the audience. However, pity is not simply an emotional response, as Hayes and Black contend, it "places the viewer into an asymmetrical power relationship with the object of pity," where the viewer is made to seem benevolent or compassionate. This is true of the wicked witches, Nessarose and Elphaba, in Wicked the stage play (2003) and expected 2019 movie, of Maleficent, in the movie of the same name (2014), and of Tyrion in Game of Thrones (2010 – present). This essay explores depictions of disability – Nessarose's paralysis and Maleficent's maiming – and depictions of deformity – Elphaba's greenness and Tyrion's dwarfism. In these cases, each character suffers from a disability or deformity that is intended to alter the audience's response to the archetypal antagonist—wicked witch or surly dwarf.

The visual performance adds an important dimension to these characters' presentations. In a literary narrative, either we hear only the thoughts and experiences related by a single first-person narrator, or, as is most common in the fantasy sources for the works discussed here, a third-person narrator directs our impressions by relating certain events, encounters, and verbal exchanges, while sometimes accessing characters' thoughts. In visual performances, the appearance of the character is always present before us, which places emphasis not only on the actions we see and the words we hear spoken (since thoughts are not accessible except through soliloquy) but also highlights the interactions between the character and his or her community that we witness, as a watching, gazing audience. The social construction of the character is foregrounded through visual performance. As Ellis and Goggin observe, "there is good reason to take seriously the notion that representation is intimately involved in the policing of how we relate to disability, and indeed what is accepted as normal in our societies" (84). The fictional community can represent and model behavior for the audience, affording us the opportunity to confront how society responds to disabled people, as we watch their interactions depicted on stage and screen.

Leslie Fiedler observes people first enter realms where they learn to perceive what qualifies them as normal and others as freakish in children's literature: stories from childhood provide part of the foundation for "maturity [which] involves the ability to believe the self normal, only the other a monster or a Freak" (23). While fantasy may seem removed from contemporary concerns and realistic portrayals, adults watching modernized visual fantasies not only revisit values and views instilled during childhood, they see, vividly displayed, deep-seated and unexamined perceptions and attitudes that have been reinforced by cultural and political contexts as normative.

Bogdan and Biklen, Hahn, Norden, Ellis and Goggin, and others have discussed how disabled people are depicted as villains or victims in media. Longmore observes that "among the most persistent [stereotypes] is the association of disability with malevolence. Deformity of body symbolizes deformity of soul. Physical handicaps are made the emblems of evil" (133). Starting with Bogdan's, Biklen's, Shapiro's, and Spelkoman's observation that the media stereotypically presents disabled people as objects of pity, ridicule, and/or as dangerous (32), Colin Barnes lists a dozen categories into which disabled people are cast and to which the characters discussed here fit: "pitiable and pathetic, sinister and evil, burden, object of ridicule, object of violence, and incapable of participating fully in communal life." Norden also details cinematic types including sweet innocents, saintly sages, civilian superstars, and techno marvels. As Rosemarie Garland-Thomson describes, disabled people are portrayed as "other" against normative culture "in social relationships in which one group is legitimated by possessing valued physical characteristics and maintains its ascendancy and its self-identity by systematically imposing the role of cultural or corporeal inferiority on others" (7). This results in disabled people being stigmatized. Goffman tells us that society engages in believing that they have "undesirable differences," are "inferior," "dangerous," and "not quite human" (5-6). They are different than "normals" (Goffman 5) or what Garland Thomson and others call "normates" (8) – a term coined to foreground the fact that normal is a social position of a subject who looks down upon those having physical or cultural differences while casting them in the role of "other."

Hervey has demonstrated that visual representations of disabled people often tell us more about how society chooses to see disabled people than about the lives and experience of the disabled themselves. The representations are "tied not to the observed, disabled people, but to the non-disabled observers … to fulfil a role for [the observer]" (Hervey 345), 1 shedding light of the prejudices of the normative culture "which commodifies disabled imagery as a site for fear or pity" (Hervey 346). Film situates the spectators in the audience

to perceive the world depicted … and by implication the world in general, from the [able-bodied] perspective and thus associate themselves with able-bodied characters, this strategy has a two-fold effect: in enhances the disabled characters' isolation and "otherness" by reducing them to objectifications of pity, fear, scorn, etc. – in short, objects of spectacle – as a means of pandering to an able-bodied majority. (Norden 1)

I would argue that this is true of visual narratives and performance in general. Norden (6) and Williams (83-85) assert that the audience is invited to participate in a gaze that gratifies normative (or what Norden calls "ableist") spectators and which echoes the gaze modeled by the normative community presented within the work. Garland-Thomson goes a step further arguing that, in the case of the disabled body, the gaze turns into a stare "sculpt[ing] the disabled subject into a grotesque spectacle … framing [the] body as an icon of deviance" (24).

In the works we will look at here, that stare, which often goes unremarked, is actually laid bare, and we are asked to confront the gaze and the judgments and behaviors in which spectators and society engage. These works question and sometimes denounce the audience's perspective rather than reaffirming the viewpoint and values of that society, thus allowing us, as the viewing audience, to reexamine our consumption of the stereotypes we have learned and our often unexamined behaviors towards those whom we often label and treat as "others." We are engaging in an investigation of what Ato Quayson calls "aesthetic nervousness" which, in literary texts, "is the interaction between a disable and nondisabled character, where a variety of tensions may be identified … . The final dimension of aesthetic nervousness is that between the reader and the text" (254) and is indicative of social attitudes toward disability. Such an inquiry can easily be extended to visual texts and performances where we also find

subliminal cultural assumptions about the disabled [brought] out into the open for examination … [so] that the nondisabled may ultimately be brought to recognize the sources of the constructedness of the normate and the prejudices that flow from it. (Quayson 256)

Quayson argues the representation of disability transcends the literary domain and refuses to be assimilated by it, so that readers are forced to confront their nervousness regarding disabled people in the real world. Visual performance further enhances this dynamic, holding up a mirror of our attitudes and behavior before our eyes.

Disability and Deformity in Wicked

Many members of the disabled community are quite rightly disturbed and disappointed by the fact that Wicked's Nessarose in presented as evil, seeing in her characterization the too common stereotype of disability as evil. Haller observes that "Nessarose does become powerfully wicked. Th[e] scene near the beginning of Act II embraces many stereotypes typically embedded into fiction with disabled characters, i.e. disability equals evil." However, Haller does not take into consideration that Nessa's transformation into a "wicked" witch is solely a result of the events which have taken place in Act I nor does she take consider the complications that arise when evoking archetypal figures that have long existed in our cultural mythology. In this remake, there is a need for the character's new story to mesh with the well-known predecessor—a pressure not posed when inventing a new, contemporary story or character. The author is challenged to conform to certain events and outcomes in the original. The author may provide alternative perspectives by the inclusion of disability, but still feel the need to allow the original ending and its apparent resolution to persist or at least appear to, though now we are privy to previously concealed information. Thus, to fairly address how disability and deformity are being used and treated in these newer versions, we need to also consider their relationship to the sources that they respond to or transform. Surprisingly, we may find that the greatest difference between the new and older stories is in how the community is depicted, no longer as idealistically and morally superior to the villain or antagonist. Given that the antagonist is disabled or deformed, much is revealed about the social construction and response to disability and deformity. In what Goffman describes as a primal sociological scene, stigma is confronted, as the stigmatized individual, not knowing which of the disabled categories s/he is placed in – pitied, dangerous, etc. – engages normals whose responses are mediated by how they assess the stigmatizing difference (8-19).

Numerous reviewers recognize the social commentary offered by the musical and note the lessons it offers on altruism, prejudice, gender, power and authority. 2 Wicked is at heart the story of the inner beauty of those ostracized and perceived as different and a condemnation of the shallowness and intolerance peddled as being in the best interest of the society as a whole. At the beginning of the play, Nessarose is not presented as wicked but is presented as a disabled wheelchair user. As she goes off to college, her father awkwardly gifts her jeweled shoes, which he offers as "befitting the future governor of Munchkinland." This gesture connects Wicked to the Wizard of Oz, foreboding the disaster of the original story; yet what is also interesting is what it subliminally suggests about being powerful in normative culture: a leader needs to be ambulatory. The shoes function as symbols that Nessa lacks what is required to rule. This is one of the early signs that social views are awry. Nessa is presented as a "burden" who needs people to care for her, from her sister to Ms. Morrible, and as someone who, stereotypically, needs to be pitied. What follows is atypical. Galinda, rather than following in the footsteps of the "good" witch Glinda of Oz, who we assume would act altruistically, uses Nessa to forward her own agenda, to fend off the unwanted advances of a male suitor, Boq. She asks him to take Nessa to the dance: "see that tragically beautiful girl, the one in the chair; it seems so unfair we should go on a spree, and not she" (I. i.). 3 In accordance with the stereotype of disabled women, Nessa is undesired by the opposite sex (Asch and Rich 244, and Garland Thomson 24). The future good witch Galinda's apparent charity is actually self-interest, as is Boq's agreement to attend to Nessa, which he does solely to get into Galinda's good graces. Galinda's treatment of Nessa and her tricking of Elphaba into wearing the traditional witch's hat demonstrate that she represents the popular mean girl. Nessa responds with almost incredulous naiveté, incredibly grateful to Galinda, and immediately falling head-over-heels in love with Boq. In the first act, while it is troubling that Nessa is presented as stereotypically pitiable, a sheltered and socially naïve sweet innocent, what is unexpectedly disturbing is the portrayal of the community that victimizes her for its own selfish ends. The people of Shiz look shallow and self-interested, lacking any true compassion and making no real effort to simply engage Nessa as they would a normate new member of their community.

How is it that Nessa becomes less likeable and sympathetic in Act II? It is by becoming self-interested, like the shallow, self-serving munchkins presented in Act I. This has nothing to do with her disability; disability is not equated with evil here. Her newfound malevolence is the result of self-interest and tyranny and internalizing the values of the society which she now heads. In Act II, Nessa now has power and agency which she lacked in Act I. Yet, for the first time, she is self-pitying, something we never saw in Act 1, as is evident when she blames her sister for not healing her: "all my life I've depended on you and this hideous chair with wheels, scrounging for craps of pity to pick up" (II. ii.). The loss of her dotting father and the inheritance of his power drives Nessa to oppress the munchkins and to lash out against the one truly magnanimous person in her life, her sister. Boq reveals that she tyrannically rules the munchkins and that he sees her as his ruler rather than as a lover; he calls her "Madame" and does not reciprocate Nessa's feelings for him. She blames Elphaba for their father's death and for taking up causes, such as that of the talking animals in opposition to him, rather than choosing to help her. She now embodies his views of Elphaba, as well as society's, self-pitifully chastising Elphaba for using her powers altruistically to "rescue" animals but never her. Out of a false sense of guilt, Elphaba casts a spell on the shoes given to Nessa by their father, unleashing a frenzied series of tragic events. After Elphaba enchants the shoes so that Nessa can walk, Nessa is forced to face the fact that Boq does not love her, and she feels betrayed by him. Seeing that she is no longer a paraplegic, Boq decides he is free to pursue his real love Galinda – now Glinda. Having already becoming a tyrant, having inherited her father's position, Nessarose is not satisfied by being able to walk; rather it makes her greedily want it all, including the "happily ever-after" love, no matter the cost or whether the love is truly reciprocated. Rashly driven to have all she desires and intending to bind Boq through magic, Nessa frantically snatches Elphaba's book, to which she is not entitled and containing spells she cannot understand or control, and she casts a spell that almost kills him. She pleads with Elphaba to do something, and Elphaba can only save Boq, who's heart has shrunk, by turning him to tin. Spells, like wishes, do not always achieve the intended results; you need to "be careful what you wish for." Instead of taking responsibility for her actions, Nessa shifts the blame to Elphaba, telling Boq it was all her sister's fault, colluding with society in scapegoating Elphaba and, in essence, betraying Elphaba. Ironically, Nessa fails to see she has acted like Boq and the rest of society who use "others" to get what they want and abuse them. By inheriting her father's position and power and being magically healed, Nessa is transformed, and, for the first time, she is called the Wicked Witch of the East (II. ii). In internalizing the values and views of others and acting more like members of "normate" society – tyrannical, intolerant, and self-serving – she grows desperate and evil, and ultimately propels herself toward her untimely demise that converges with the original Wizard of Oz.

Wicked exposes how society colluded in creating the Wicked Witch of the East. Nessa's death is subsequently presented as a tragic "accident" for which Elphaba wrongly blames herself and that Glinda bemoans beyond the ears of the munchkins, while allowing the society within the play to maintain its perceptions and prejudices. However, rather than disability stereotypically being equated with evil, the attentive audience watching Wicked witnesses the disabled individual who is easily victimized, socially isolated, and pitied by society, and Act II explores the possible consequences of that stigmatization. The theater audience sees Nessa as others perceive her and watches as her perceptions and actions are shaped by their influence. Nessarose never completely becomes the Wicked Witch of Baum; moreover, condemnation now falls on the community revealed to be culpable in contributing to the evolution of her villainous character.

While the disabled beauty is an object of pity, the "ugly" is immediately derided and ridiculed. Elphaba's greenness is presented as a deformity. In a fantasy society marked by racial and individual heterogeneity – including munchkins, talking animals, witches and wizards – tolerance of difference seems to be the norm. Yet, Elphaba is ostracized and alienated from birth, rejected by parent and society. In Wicked, her skin-color is not tolerated; it is treated like leprosy or vitiligo, a disease that causes dis-ease, and Oz culture is shown as shallowly only caring about superficial beauty. Her skin color is also treated as a sign: the sin of the parent is visited on the innocent child, inherited much like the mark of Cain. She is born as the result of her mother's adultery with a man who touted a green potion, a man given to one night stands and drink, and later revealed to be the wizard. Morrible, the wizard's press secretary says, "her green skin is an outward manifestation of her twisted nature" (I. xvii). At her birth, her father calls her an "it," saying, "it's obscene. Like froggy, ferny cabbage – the baby is unnaturally – green" (I. i.), and the rest of society chimes in agreeing. Such judgments seem absurd to the audience given the fantastic diversity of Oz, and again highlights the society's prejudice and culpability in the ensuing events. Despite being ridiculed and tricked by the popular, mean kids – as when Galinda pretends to be helping her make friends by tricking her into wearing the black, pointed hat – Elphaba is a caring individual who, in contrast to the rest of munchkin society, takes up the causes of those who are oppressed, as in advocating for the animals being stripped of their rights and subjected to experimentation. Though she is ostracized and "othered," Elphaba has personal integrity; she acts altruistically in contrast to the one actually labelled the "good" witch, Glinda. But while Elphaba's intentions are always pure and good, the magic she wields, as she learns, is unpredictable and sometimes has unintended and irreversible consequences. Rather than reflecting her intentions, labels such as "good" and "wicked," like magic, are often beyond her control and are assigned by onlookers – by the society within the play, as well as the audience watching.

Sadly, what Elphaba chooses to do in the end is accept the label of "wicked" and fulfill the role of scapegoat that society casts upon her. Elphaba begins by accepting the social stereotype that disabled and deformed women "fail to measure up on grounds of appearance or of perceived abilities in physical and emotional care taking" (Asch and Rich 246), and she defers to Glinda because Glinda is blonde and beautiful. Elphaba's acceptance of her assigned inferior status is reflected in her singing "I'm not that girl." To its credit, Wicked challenges the stereotype by having Elphaba find love with Fiyero who chooses the woman beautiful on the inside. Yet, their relationship remains clandestine, and they must pay for a love that does not conform to social standards by accepting exile, if they are to stay together. While munchkin society celebrates the seeming destruction of the spinster Wicked Witch of the West, conforming to the ending of the Wizard of Oz, Wicked diverges from the original to reveal an illusion bigger than the true nature of the Wizard behind the curtain, and this revelation is only available to the audience watching the play. Clearly, unlike Baum's witch, Elphaba maintains personal integrity. In contrast to the wizard who managed his image for his own self-aggrandizement and is finally discovered, Elphaba is compelled to manage an image created for her by a society that never cares to learn her true nature. She uses the community's rumors and inflamed prejudices that she is dangerous and to be feared to protect those she cares for, and, in the end, allows society to retain its illusions. The Wizard's and Ms. Morrible's plots are never uncovered, the animals' plight remains unaddressed, and, although Glinda knows much of the truth, she keeps it to herself and tells the citizens that they have survived a frightful time. She vows that in the future she will act in their best interests and try to live up to the title of Glinda the Good. While Glinda has grown through her relationship with Elphaba, Elphaba is sacrificed, supposedly to restore social order. Glinda conspires to preserve the pretenses of a supposed utopian society, agreeing to suppress the truth in favor of spin that allows the community to delude itself, to go on as though it has experienced a catharsis by seeming to destroy the evil influence, while never recognizing its own malevolence. Mitchell might say of Wicked, as he has of literary narrative, "disability inaugurates narrative, but narrative inevitable punishes its own prurient interests by overseeing the extermination of the object of its fascination" (57). The audience watches as Wicked ends in disingenuous harmony: society is happily deluded and able to cling to its original prejudices.

While Wicked clearly contains overt themes of friendship, self-sacrifice, the power of change, forgiveness and reconciliation, its troubling undercurrent about the role and power of society to stigmatize individuals it perceives as different and delimit their participation in that society should not be overlooked. Considering this, one of the lesser recognized songs becomes one of the most powerful messages of the play. The Wizard sings,

Where I come from, we believe all sorts of things that aren't true. We call it history. A man's called a traitor or liberator, a rich man's a thief or philanthropist. Is one a crusader or ruthless invader? It's all in which label is able to persist. There are precious few at ease with moral ambiguities, so we act as though they don't exist. (II. iv.)

The society the Wizard comes from is not fantastic Oz but the U.S., and his song indicts any society that victimizes, labels, and stigmatizes vulnerable individuals to preserve the status quo or legitimize its view of normalcy. While we may not like the fact that the disabled Nessa becomes evil, the play is not reinforcing the myth that disability or deformity is a sign of moral turpitude. The witches, the deformed and disabled, are used as scapegoats; their defeat is intended to be a cathartic sacrifice for the good of society. We are asked to consider not only whether those who are ostracized deserve to be sacrificed, but we are also asked to question the values and views that society thinks it is protecting. In his discussion of cinematic representations of disability in normality genre films, Darke says the representation of impairment is socially constructed to offer society "an entertaining and socially accessible and soothing (ideological) and reinforcing form" that culturally represents the Other for "the validation and reinforcement of normality" (191). Wicked exposes a social construction that needs to be acknowledged: evil is often the result of the victimization, prejudice, and stigmatization that society perpetuates.

Disability in Maleficent

In Disney's Sleeping Beauty, the version that most of us grew up with, Maleficent places a curse on Aurora because she was snubbed by not being invited to the child's christening. Her overreaction demonstrates that she is shallow and mean-spirited; she is a femme-fatale portrayed as vain, proud, and barren. Having Angelina Jolie play the villainess potentially evokes the femme fatale who uses her beauty to seduce. Maleficent, however, seduces no one; instead her beauty actually facilitates challenging the stereotype of the disabled woman as undesirable and evil. Maleficent, like Wicked, intends to reform the stereotype of the evil witch by providing a backstory. The film first uses disability to elicit sympathy for the character and stereotypically casts her as an object of pity, but then goes beyond that to blame society for her marginalization and to present her as reclaiming her agency rather than as a disempowered victim.

As in Wicked, society and the actions of its members seem more malevolent than the characters traditionally consider villains. Rather than acting as a seducer, Maleficent is seduced and then betrayed by the one she presumes is her first love. Stephan's greed and obsession with power drives him to maim Maleficent. Stefan disables her, literally removing her "limbs." She seems poised to be added to the roll of villainous amputees (Norden 218-220). Her crippling has been erroneously compared to a rape, but there is nothing sexual here. Stefan deprives Maleficent of her primary source of ambulation; she can no longer fly and requires a staff even to walk. (This gives the staff Maleficent had in Sleeping Beauty function and purpose.) Stephan's aggression also turns Maleficent into a story of xenophobia and attempted conquest of an "other" that possesses wealth that normate, human society covets. While the creatures of the moors elect no king or queen, Maleficent is clearly their protector and leader. While she has her wings, Maleficent successfully leads the moor creatures in defending their lands against King Henry. When Stephan disables her, he also curtails her power. Unable to proactively lead her people in battle, she still acts as benefactor and protector, enlisting the aid of Diaval whom she sends to act on her behest, since she cannot act autonomously as she did before. She erects a protective wall of thorns around the moors to keep Stephan and his men out. While his young daughter grows up under the curse Maleficent has placed upon her, Stefan "darken[s], further consumed by paranoia and vengeance." He desires not only to destroy the curse but to destroy the moors and plunder the lands. Despite the fact that the curse is broken and Aurora wakens, he is still determined to kill Maleficent. His xenophobia is obvious. "How does it feel? To be a fairy creature without wings in a world where you don't belong?" he asks, as dressed in full armor, he approaches the unarmed, kneeling Maleficent to execute her. In this modernization, evil is vanquished not by the death of Maleficent but by Stephan plunging from the tower to his death. Maleficent elicits a different response to the presumed villainess than Sleeping Beauty, for the audience understands her justified initial rage and desire for revenge and recognizes that Stefan is the real villain of the story.

Maleficent does not cast the curse upon Aurora because she has been slighted as in Sleeping Beauty, but rather because she has been betrayed by the boy she trusted and believed loved her.

Maleficent: … A sleep from which she will never awaken!
Stefan: Maleficent, please don't do this, I'm begging you.
Maleficent: I like you begging. Do it again.
[Stefan hesitates a moment before kneeling in front of Maleficent.]
Stefan: I beg you.
Maleficent: All right. The princess can be woken from her death sleep, but only by … true love's kiss. This curse will last till the end of time! (Maleficent) 4

In a departure from Sleeping Beauty, it is Maleficent, not one of the fairy godmothers, who turns death into a sleep spell, though she presumes the spell will last forever. The fact that true love's kiss, presumably a romantic kiss, can save Aurora is poetic justice, instigated by the betrayal that Maleficent experienced herself, rather than by the jealousy or vanity that characterized the Maleficent of Sleeping Beauty. However, while the kiss by the archetypal prince charming breaks the curse in Sleeping Beauty, here, Maleficent evokes true love's kiss for its futility, since Stephan's betrayal has taught her to believe no such thing exists. The complicating action of this revised version is the fact that the revenge is not directly against the deserved aggressor but against an innocent child.

This is a fact Maleficent soon comes to regret, and when the bumbling pixies prove "unequal to the task" of caring for Aurora, it is Maleficent, who, while calling her "it" and "beasty," acts as her guardian, making sure she is nurtured and protected. Sexuality and reproduction are not issues for the fairy folk of the story, so stereotyping a disabled woman as barren is not an issue here. A disabled woman, however, is often presented as an inadequate or inept maternal figure (Asch and Fine 244-45), and that stereotype is indeed challenged by this portrayal of Maleficent. While the fairies her father has picked to care for Aurora are ill-suited for the task, the disabled "villain" is a capable maternal, nurturing character. Aurora calls Maleficent, who is always nearby looking out for her, "godmother," while she calls the bumbling fairies "aunties" rather than "fairy godmothers" as in Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent's seeming disdain while caring for Aurora provides some of the most charming moments of the movie. We are amused by her dry humor and touched by her growing devotion to the child, which proves that her heart has not hardened forever. Unlike her predecessor, having recovered the capacity to love, Maleficent tries to take back her curse but cannot; not only are there limits to magic, such a departure from the original would truncate the story and eliminate the climax. However, in this revised version, true love's kiss is not delivered by an infatuated boy Aurora barely knows, but rather by the creature who has become her adopted mother. Feminist fairy-tale scholars, including Karen Rowe who delineates the problems with the idealized romantic love and marriage perpetuated by fairy tales (237-239), should be pleased by the challenge to that archetypal resolution offered by Maleficent. Aurora is not awoken by the typical romantic kiss; resolution occurs when she receives the kiss of long-proven maternal love. Moreover, this revision is more poignant in further challenging the norms of family often observed by such stories, in that the child is saved by the love of an adoptive parent who raised her. In what can best be called a feminist revision of the classic fairy tale, romantic ideals and negative female stereotypes are challenged as the audience witnesses Maleficent's positive agency.

The stereotypes of friendless villain and isolated disabled person are also challenged in Maleficent. While in Wicked, Shiz society pities Nessarose and no one truly befriends her, Maleficent is never pitied; Stefan and his people despise her. Maleficent, however, finds a true friend in Diaval, the raven she saves from death, who vows to serve her and who shape-shifts under her power – primarily to allow him to communicate with her in human form. She depends on him to be her "wings," as she says, sending him to act on her behalf since she cannot act autonomously as she did before. This is not the servitude or obedience commonly demanded by villains and tyrants. While Diaval begins as Maleficent's servant, he rapidly develops into a fond friend, and their mutual devotion is clear by the end. Diaval acts as trusted confidant rather than servant, nudging Maleficent to care for Aurora as her affection for the child grows. His loyalty contrasts Stephan's betrayal. Though she releases him, intending to face her enemy alone, he chooses to accompany her:

Diaval: … If we go inside those walls, we'll never come out alive.
Maleficent: Then don't come, it's not your fight.
Diaval: Huh. Well thank you very much. "I need you, Diaval. I can't do this without you, Diaval."

While in Sleeping Beauty Maleficent turns herself into a dragon and meets her death, here it is Diaval who transforms to fight to protect her. Diaval is never shown pitying Maleficent: he speaks his mind, counsels, and gets annoyed at her; he helps her and demonstrates his devotion, as she does to him. The movie ends with the two friends freely flying together, Maleficent winged once again and Diaval, in his preferred form, a raven. Such friendships are not commonly portrayed even in more realistic contemporary media; pity, discomfort, disdain, and patronizing behavior are overwhelmingly presented as normative societal responses to the disabled. Disabled individuals are usually isolated, and, in the few cases where friendships are represented, they are usually between characters who are both "othered" or outside normate society (Arndt, White and Chervenak).

Maleficent's true nature is explained by the narrator who is revealed to be Aurora, an authority on the facts of the story. The story of the disabled villainess is not told from the perspective of the disabled person but from the "ableist" perspective, a problem noted by Norden throughout cinematic history in the representation of disabled people (282). The intent here is to elicit sympathy, to make Maleficent's villainy more palatable and to rehabilitate her image. If the story were told first-person by Maleficent, whom the audience has been traditionally taught to condemn as an archetypal evil enchantress, her motives and truthfulness would be questioned. Having an accepted member of the human community who has witnessed her actions first-hand is essential to credibly challenge the villainous label that has been ascribed to Maleficent.

Through Aurora we learn that Maleficent, previously known to human society only as the villain, has regained her wings and returned to her natural state before Stefan betrayed her. As he falls to his death, Maleficent, winged once again, ascends. Justice is served: she is avenged, as she successfully defends herself, not to again be the victim of his aggression. Such restitution or reward usually only befalls the protagonist of fairy tales. Not only is she granted a boon typically reserved for heroes, the viewing audience witnesses the rehabilitation of her reputation. Aurora becomes queen, uniting the human and moorish lands, with Maleficent's blessing. As narrator, she ends the story by making Maleficent and the role of villain ambiguous: "my kingdom was united not by a hero or a villain, as legend had predicted, but by one who was both hero and villain."

Does a single malicious act make one evil? Clearly Maleficent challenges that. Maleficent cast a curse, but her actions are otherwise altruistic. The real malevolent force, Stephan, escapes detection by his own people. Being part of society rather than ostracized from it afforded him protection. Stephan's greed, betrayal, and vindictiveness are never revealed to his subjects, the human society within the film. Maleficent, like Wicked, observes that history has primarily been written by the victors and revises that history. What is revealed to the audience is how society can cast aspersions and label those it sees as dangerous "others"—different and disabled—to justifying its own actions. As Davis observes, we readily label that which we do not know and represent difference as deviance to propagate the ideologies and power of normate society (26).

Disability and Deformity in Game of Thrones

By sheer breadth and length, Game of Thrones contains numerous archetypes and stock figures familiar from the fantasy feudal world—brawny heroes, fair unknowns/bastards who become heroes, femme fatales, tyrants, loyal seconds, and dangerous undead. Among these are a number of stereotypically represented villains and disabled characters. Melisandre, the red witch, is a femme fatale who uses both seductive language and sexuality to influence Stannis Baratheon. Bran Stark typifies a character rewarded with "a compensatory, mystical power as a result of his disability" (Harvey and Nelles), exemplifying the 'disability superpower" trope. Stannis' daughter, Shireen, is deformed and, therefore, isolated and marginalized. For that reason, though an innocent, she is expendable and becomes a scapegoat and human sacrifice intended to ensure her father's success. We cannot imagine that a marriageable daughter, a useful commodity in such a feudal world where marriages seal peace, would have been discarded so readily; as she approaches adolescence, she becomes the undesirable freak.

Jamie Lannister, the king-slayer, is a man of prowess. Upon losing his hand, he is no longer the agile fighter he previously was. Jamie, while not without some understanding of the machinations of feudal society, has both lived a life of privilege and depended upon his prowess to maintain his station; he has not lived his life as other – deformed or disabled like his brother, Tyrion. Upon losing his arm, he also loses his standing and, as Lambert notes, advocates death as preferable to disability (26). Humbled by his disability, he develops greater humanity, becomes more introspective and caring, yet, he is less effectual in this quintessentially feudal world that is harsh and unforgiving to the disabled and deformed (Ellis). No longer fit to be the Hand of the King, no longer an adversary to be physically feared, he is forced to depend upon others for his survival and success, such as Brie and Bronn. Even with Bronn's help, he cannot protect his daughter, Myrcella, from the nefarious forces out to murder her. A greater intellect may have been able to predict Ellaria's deceit. Ellaria's wheelchair-bound brother-in-law, Doran Martell, a wise man who has learned to value peace over war, lacks the acuity to recognize her deception, and the disabled man proves an ineffectual leader, unequal to this fierce femme fatale. While Doran cultivates wit and intellect as tools for leardership, Tyrion recognizes that these are the very tools that enable him to survival. Tyrion, who has always lived as the deformed other ostracized by normate society, defies stereotype unlike many other disabled and deformed characters of Westeros.

Tyrion is a departure from the archetypal dwarf. In fantasy, dwarves have been presented as a race of people, from their medieval and folk tales sources to Narnia and Middle Earth. They are generally depicted as miners, metal-workers, and/or earth-dwellers. They can be capable fighters but are sometimes prone to greed and obstinacy. Gimli of Lord of the Rings is heroic. The dwarves of The Hobbit appear warm, fun-loving, and loyal, yet they are also portrayed as obstructive, needy, greedy and vengeful. In The Last Battle of Narnia, they are surly, self-interested and spiritually blind. In Disney's Sleeping Beauty they are childlike. One can argue that the "little people" of Baum divide into two types – the munchkins of Oz are a socialistic, child-like benign people whereas the earth-dwelling gnomes that war against Oz resemble surly, greedy dwarves. Game of Thrones includes a dwarf, for the first time, as a deformed human lacking the solidarity of others like him, dealing not only with his individual difference but also dealing with the social prejudice directed toward the disabled and deformed. As Les Grossman states, "Tyrion is another good example of what separates Tolkien and Martin. Tyrion isn't a hearty, ax-wielding, gold-mining member of a noble dwarven race. He's not Gimli. Tyrion is an actual dwarf, achondroplastic and stubby-limbed."

Tyrion is ostracized, derided, and suffers alienation of affection from birth. Cersei erroneously blames him for the death of their mother, and Tywin makes it quite clear that he sees his deformed son as unfit to oversee anything but the cisterns and drains of Casterly Rock; though with Jamie missing and the unpredictable Joffrey on the throne, he recognizes Tyrion's intellect and cleverness and makes him acting Hand. At that time, Tyrion is still loyal to his family, working to keep them in power and desiring his father's approval. Only Jamie shows any affection for this brother, and while he may venture to suggest Cersei treats her little brother unfairly, he soon backs down. He rarely takes Tyrion's side against his family or supports him publically; however, he is the one to clandestinely save Tyrion from the deathly machinations of their family. The ridiculing of Tyrion is accepted and often encouraged by those within his family as well as all members of society. Tyrion accepts who he is and understands how others see him. Prejudice against "the Imp," as he is called, contributes to him being labelled villain, scapegoated, and erroneously accused of crippling Bran and murdering Joffrey. It also results in his leadership in defending King's Landing against Stannis Baratheon never being publically acknowledged, as well as his removal as Hand. He will never reach the physical stature of a "normal" man, but will always know exactly who he is, never seeking pity from others but occasionally indulging in self-pity. He capitalizes on his strengths – his intellect and insight into others: he recognizes that the prejudice of others that often results in their underestimating him and that allows him to disarm his enemies by unexpected means.

While other deformed and disabled characters are often crafted to play upon our sympathy, not so with Tyrion who relishes being amoral and hedonistic. He admits at his trial in the Eyrie, that "my crimes and sins are beyond counting. I have lied and cheated, gambled and whored, I am not particularly good at violence but at convincing other to do violence for me" (season 1, episode 6). 5 Lambert argues this is why he is nicknamed "the Imp": an imp is a

devious, chimerical figure, not entirely reliable, mischievous, capable of courage but preferring to use his intelligence when given a choice … [Tyrion is] convinced that he can talk himself out of the most appalling danger and, almost always, he does (29).

Tyrion bears no resemblance to the hardworking miners or the childlike little people of earlier fantasy. The fortune-seeking surliness of Tolkien's and Lewis' dwarves is transformed into the brash hedonism of an individual in Tyrion. While dwarves in Tolkien and Lewis often exhibit poor judgment, Tyrion is an intellectual. His intelligence is not a disability superpower awarded to compensate for a deficit. Tyrion has worked at it; he is a man who continuously reads: "a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone to keep its edge" he says (season 1, episode 2), and he must keep his edge to survive in this world. Pity is one emotion Tyrion does not invite.

Tyrion is also one of the most self-aware and self–possessed characters in Game of Thrones, defying stereotypes. Lambert says, "this self-awareness is determined by, and measured in terms of, the hurt that can be caused him and its injustice" (30). He is a multiple-faceted character, self-indulgent and without remorse, yet capable of compassion, courage under fire, and a sense of morality that ends up putting him at cross purposes with other family members. On giving plans for a saddle to the now crippled Bran, he says, "I have a tender spot in my heart for crippled, bastards, and other broken things" (season 1, episode 4). His treatment of Sansa when she is handed to him to wive and his constancy and love of Shae until she is turned by Cersei and Tywin, as well as his despair at her betrayal, are further proof of his capacity for love and his sense of justice. In striking Joffrey twice, once at Winterfell for not wanting to show proper respect and sympathy to the Starks after Bran's accident, and later when Joffrey demonstrates his ineptitude at ruling by wanting to kill everyone after being struck with a cow pie by a riotous group of starving townsfolk, Tyrion demonstrates brash chutzpah. When Tyrion then calls Joffrey out for his ineptitude in understanding both the men beneath him and the strength of his enemies, and cowardly Joffrey flees to the Red Keep leaving Tyrion to command the Battle of Blackwater, Tyrion proves that he can summon courage when necessary.

While most of society fails to recognize Tyrion's potential, Varys recognizes in him his "father's instincts for politics, and [the] compassion" that his father lacks (season 5, episode 1). He perhaps best sums up Tyrion's position, as the two travel together on the road to Meereen:

Varys: You were quite good, you know, at ruling, during your brief tenure as Hand.
Tyrion: I didn't rule. I was a servant …
Varys: People follow leaders, and they will never follow us. They find us repulsive. (GofT, season 5, episode 2)

Tyrion's and Varys' friendship is one of two equal intellectuals, yet it is also one of two whose power is limited by society due to their deformities. Both recognize the limitations placed on them by society; however, while they can never openly rule, they can serve and greatly impact, influence, and steer those who do. Tyrion has a keen sense of the ways the world and the men who try to lay claim to it, as well as an understanding of his own position and potential in it.

Varys also offers keen insight into the worlds of those othered by physical difference. Spatial, physical, social and/or psychological confinement, say Hayes and Black (2003), is often part of the discourse of pity in Hollywood, and while physically enclosed within a pretty box, the coach, Varys recognizes its social and psychological symbolism: "we surround ourselves with large comfortable boxes to keep them away. And yet no matter what we do people like you and me will never be comfortable inside the box" (season 5, episode 2). Unfiltered by the normate's or ableist's perspective, as one who is himself othered, Varys eloquently states the quandary of the other: a need to protect oneself out of fear, while still desiring to be accepted by a society that ostracizes those who are different. Tyrion steps beyond the security of the box far more often than Varys.

Tyrion's intelligence is often his salvation; however, it is a double-edged sword that also imperils him. Both the matters he speaks up on and the ideas he more closely guards put Tyrion at odds with Cersei, Joffrey, and his father. His survival often hinges on others' aid or intervention: Bronn champions and protects him; Jamie releases him from his cell; Varys arranges his passage and then accompanies him on his escape from King's Landing; and Jorah starts out as his captor and later becomes his ally. While he is derided by the able-bodied, normate society, as is typical for portrayed disabled and deformed individuals, he rises above that, and his relationships are more complex and richer than those commonly depicted for physically different and disabled characters in visual media, as well as for most of the major characters in Game of Thrones. Bronn is a mercenary hired by Tyrion to protect him. Bronn respects his intellect, enjoys sharing in his more hedonistic pursuits and evolves into more than the hired help; he becomes a trusted friend. However, when Cersei offers Bronn a valuable marriage, and being Tyrion's friend is no longer in Bronn's best interest, he says: "I like you… I just like myself more" (season 4, episode 7). Given the marriage and title Cersei has offered, Bronn cannot refuse. He does not betray, abuse, or exploit Tyrion; in the end, he simply acts in his own self-interest, and he is apologetic. Tyrion, while disappointed, understands, recognizes that they are kindred spirits who must be opportunistic to survive. Tyrion's relationship with Jorah also evolves. They begin as enemies. Jorah kidnaps him to get back into Daenerys' good graces, but they gradually learn to respect one another and work together to pursue their shared goal of putting a worthy leader, Daenerys, on the throne. The complexity of these evolving relationships belies the more stereotypical ones we commonly see in fantasy and contemporary drama afforded disabled individuals (Bogdan, Biklen, Shapiro, and Spelkoman 32-34). Tyrion is not a static, one-dimensional character. This in indeed part of the reason why Games of Thrones, rather than a contemporary drama, won a Media Access Award in 2013 for "promoting awareness of the disability experience, accessibility for people with disabilities, and the accurate depiction of characters with disabilities."

What is arguably Tyrion's most contemptuous act by this feudal world's standards also liberates him and dramatically impacts the society that ostracizes him. After Tywin's death, King's Landing faces the insurrection of its citizens under the leadership of the Sparrow. In committing patricide, Tyrion also commits treason; he effectively becomes a king slayer, since it is Tywin who is directing events during Joffrey's reign and who effectively rules when Tommen takes the throne. The viewing audience applauds Tyrion for removing a vicious tyrant. While Tyrion has always felt psychological isolated and othered by his family and society, now he must also accept physical exile if he is to survive. Ironically, that physical exile liberates him from the suffocating shackles of his family and will enable him to choose what role he will play in future events. The label "villain" is again made ambiguous; Tyrion is not simply a villain, any more than Elphaba or Maleficent. However, Tyrion does not simply represent the rehabilitation of the villain stereotype. Tyrion's story arc is far more complex. He remains a self-indulgent hedonist; he seeks power, but recognizes that his options are limited by his deformity and that his power will come primarily by working behind the scenes, counseling the most powerful. He becomes more protagonist than villain as the epic unfolds. More importantly, he defies the labels and stock stereotypes of villain, dwarf, and disabled to become a complex character, self-accepting and self-aware, flawed but with the capacity for growth, dealing with the prejudices of those around him, and who defies the audience to respond to him with pity or disdain.


Mitchell has argued that disability has a "disruptive potentiality [that allows for] analytical insight" (49); the disabled are "dynamic entities that resist or refuse the cultural scripts assigned to them" (49) and who are integral to "challenging normative prescriptive ideals … and assessing values and norms imposed upon the body" (51). In the visual fantasies discussed here, disability has been used to undermine archetype and stereotype, and to unmask social constructs of disability. In these visual enactments, the re-visioning of older stories and archetypes engages the audience in the gaze or stare upon both the disabled villain and the society which defines and limits that individual, revealing often unacknowledged social prejudices. While villains' backstories rupture the equation of evil with deformity, pity often replaces disdain. If we delve beneath the entertaining plots that demonstrate the virtues of heroes and vices of villains, and beyond the evocation of normate pity for the disabled, as we gaze upon the communities within the visual fantasies, we, as audience, are cajoled into confronting society's culpability in labelling, ostracizing, and delimiting the roles and options of disabled people whom we choose to "other."

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  1. Photographer has been changed to observer for this argument.
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  2. For example, see Paul Laird, Wicked: A Musical Biography, (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2011), 287-298, for information on the critical reception of the play.
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  3. All quotations from Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman (2003).
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  4. All quotations from Maleficent, directed by Robert Stromberg, Disney (2014).
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  5. All quotations from Game of Thrones the HBO series, David Benioff and Dan Weiss creators, (2010 – present).
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