Thursday, May 10, 2012

Blind and visually impaired fictional characters

As a note to start out with, something usually frowned upon, I thought I'd mention that most of the characters with vision problems in fiction are in fact completely blind rather than visually impaired, although some are severely so. So for the rest of this post blind means completely blind while visually impaired means there is some degree of vision left, no matter how useful or useless. Now, let's get on with the show.

The inclusion of blind characters in fiction is rare but when they are included the characters are often intriguing and provide a perspective on life not normally thought about by those with sight. Yet blind characters are popular amongst pretty much any audience, especially when they display great prowess in their use of the other senses: Zatoichi or the blind assassin tales being an example. Why? Because they elicit direct responses from the audience that are not always felt for other characters. 

Those who are sighted often feel several emotions at once when then encounter blind characters, particularly if the blind character is one of the goodies instead of one of the baddies.

If the character is a good or normal one then there is that feeling you get when rooting for the underdog. Don't immediately assume that this is born of pity because it isn't. The reason most people love to root for the underdog is because most people see themselves as the underdog (someway or somehow) and would love to see one of their own win out for once. Strangely, whole cultures can turn on this little emotional response and connect: Australian's tend towards rooting for the underdog to the point where they're often cheering on those coming last in the Olympics to a much greater volume than those coming first and the same principle applies to most things. It is a cheering on of the one earnestly and wholeheartedly trying to do their best even though they know they won't win in the end. It's a recognition of the effort and heart that's put in over the skill.

The other emotion felt when encountering blind characters is most often felt when they do indeed win, become the hero and save the day. That emotion is awe. Pure and unadulterated awe, with a slice of envy on the side. Because the sighted rely so heavily on sight for nearly everything they simply cannot grasp how a blind character manages to succeed in ways that the average sighted man or woman couldn't. It's like watching a hurdler hurdle through the race twice and win before the others have even hurdled through once. How could you not sit there and gape in awe and wish you could have done it? While being visually impaired might not always be seen as a handicap by the visually impaired it is rarely viewed as such from the sighted point of view. The reason for that is that the sighted always feel impaired when the even attempt to fumble around without vision. Encountering Daredevil and the like will always leave the sighted wondering how. Which leads to the next emotion felt.

There is also great curiosity. The experience of being blind can only be had by a sighted person through closing their eyes, blindfolding or turning out all the lights unless of course they do in fact become visually impaired or completely blind. The short little forays into blindness through these games are disorienting at times but the effects aren't the same and the condition is easily reversed. The sighted are well aware that their attempts to understand are never going to lead to any complete understanding and so they remain curious. What does it feel like? Is it black? Is it nothingness? Do the other senses really take over? How do you do ....  (fill in pretty much anything there)? The list of questions just continue so it is pretty much guaranteed that the sighted will always be curious and want to know more about the visually impaired through blind characters.

Yet still, with such positive responses there are few blind characters about when compared to the sighted and it likely falls down to this. The sighted who write outnumber the blind or vision impaired who write. And the sighted struggle to imagine what it must be like. Thus first person characterisation is difficult while second and third is possible if much thought is put into it. When writer's write they tend to start with what they know and work outwards. The flow of words comes much easier when there is more connected to personal experience in the content than not. That doesn't mean that every blind character was written by someone vision impaired or someone connected to a vision impaired person in any way. It just means that most writers, when you stack up the percentages, will struggle with portraying such characters with any degree of believability (a very important thing to a writer) and so they write other characters instead. The few that manage to create blind characters though, often do so with startling success. Probably because of the effort that went into it.

One thing that interests me enormously is how many of these stories are told in ways most accessible to those with sight and least accessible to those without. The use of Braille, 'talking books' or radio shows would be quite appropriate if the audience was likely to be made up mostly of those without sight or with severely impaired sight. Instead the audience is much wider again, covering the cast majority of the sighted as well as the visually impaired. So most stories are produced in print, comics, manga, cartoons, anime and movies; mediums of which require a person to interpret pictures and text. Only in anime and movies could a visually impaired person actually follow the story with any degree of ease as sound is included.

There isn't even touch to rely on. Obviously smell-o-vision would be much loved in this case but that's still the pipe dream of many a geek.

So, after all that, here are some blind characters. They're good and bad, struggling and winning the day, afflicted late in life or born blind. But all offer a different perspective of what being blind or vision impaired is all about and the talents that can be unlocked because and despite of it.


Master Izo


Mole Man

Lucy Lane

Max Carrados (Sherlock's contemporary and rival)

Michael "Stone" Cates

Paul Atreides (from Dune)

Blindfold (Ruth Aldine)

The Bringers of the First Evil or Harbingers of Death (Buffy)

Julia Carpenter (Julia Cornwall

King Snake

Godot (Ace Attorney)

Cornelius "Kernel" Fleck (Darren Shan)

Milla Donovan

Deathstroke the Terminator (Slade Wilson)

The Forgotten One (also known as Hero and Gilgamesh)

Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge

Elizabeth "Lizzie" Lakely

Nunnally Lamperouge

Mike Longstreet

Alicia Reiss Masters



Three Blind Mice

I'll stop uploading pictures now as there are a few more: 

I Ching
Hope Wilson
Tommy Walker (character in a rock opera by The Who)
Judith Traherne
Toph Bei Fong
Tiresias (blind prophet of Thebes)
Tange Sazen
Colonel H. Stinkmeaner
Sheldon Jeffrey Sands
Shroud (Maximillian Quincy Coleridge
Eugene Rivera
Master Po
Doctor Mid-Nite
Madame Web (Cassandra Webb)
Madame Xanadu

Just a note and a wish:
The majority of blind characters are portrayed as completely blind or very nearly so. Most also mostly fall into the superhero and super villain categories, with their other senses compensating or the loss of vision leading to other sights like foresight. My wish would be that there were more of non-super anything blind characters as well as characters who are visually impaired but not so extremely. Gradation and exploration would be nice. Also, there are few in print only so it would be interesting to read more. My curiosity is still unabated.

So much so I think I might try to discover more and write my own. And so I'm back to spinning  stories in my mind. But I have another character I want to write first so a blind character may just have to wait until the third book...

1 comment:

  1. I am beginning to write a book with one of the main protagonists as a blind teen. Your article here is a huge help in trying to create his character.