Thursday, July 2, 2009

Skallagrigg

I'm reading Skallagrigg, a 1987 novel by William Horwood about what's been described as a "mythical protector of disabled people". The book tells the story of Arthur, a young disabled boy thought to lack intelligence because he can't speak, who is placed in an asylum in the 1920's and Esther, who lives in 1982. Esther, who has cerebral palsy, is institutionalized by her father, but eventually lives with him. She designs a computer game about Skallagrigg which is then deciphered by an able bodied computer gamer seeking answers, after her death, about her work and the Skallagrigg, who is only known to the disabled children who "look and keep on looking".

The book describes the dehumanization of life at the asylum, where Arthur is called by the wrong name, stripped of his few meager belongings and sadly neglected until he winds up in the infirmary, close to death, holding onto hope only through knowing about the Skallagrigg. In particularly touching prose, the author writes about Arthur "losing the sky" as he lays in a bed, reaching up to a window so high it hides his view from outside the institution.

The book also explores the issues facing Esther's father, although I haven't finished it yet so can't write about it at length, but the struggle of Esther and her father in their relationship is portrayed, when her father, after years of visiting her, brings her home.

A movie was also made by BBC and is available for viewing on YouTube since no DVD was released, but after watching a bit of it, I highly recommend reading the book as well, which is a completely different experience.

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