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Obfuscating Disability / Literature

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  • The Tony Ross book Naughty Nigel has the titular character pretend to be deaf so he can misbehave. He eventually stops when he has a nightmare where he meets somebody who is genuinely hard of hearing that makes him look silly physically.
  • Encyclopedia Brown:
    • Delibertely invoked the real thief made sandals out of cement-filled garden gloves to make it look like the guy in the chair had walked on his hands.
    • Another case had a fake blind guy as the culprit.
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  • The recruiter in the novel of Starship Troopers deliberately left his prosthetics off when working to scare away gutless applicants. In the film, the actor cast in the role of the recruiter is a genuine double amputee.
  • In The Mysterious Benedict Society, the main villain Ledroptha Curtain travels in a souped-up wheelchair, so it comes as quite a shock to the protagonists when, during the climax, he unstraps himself from the wheelchair and lunges for them. He has no problems walking, but actually uses the wheelchair (as well as goggles) to hide the fact that he has narcolepsy. He uses the same trick to great effect again in the second book in the series, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, this time to fool the police.
  • Lisl in the Young Bond novel By Royal Command pretends to be incapacitated by drugs and needing a wheelchair while she waits for an opportunity to escape her captors.
  • Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot series.
    • In Curtain, Agatha Christie's last novel starring the Belgian detective, the aged Poirot pretends to be wheelchair-bound, but is in fact still able to walk.
    • In Death on the Nile, a major suspect is ruled out because he had just been shot in the leg a few minutes before the murder, making it highly implausible that he decided to carry out the murder despite a serious, mobility-limiting injury. In fact, he faked being shot, rushed off to kill the victim and ran back, then shot his own leg for real to keep up the ruse.
  • In the Raffles stories post-Time Skip, Raffles takes full advantage of his grey hair and often pretends to be an invalid confined to a wheelchair when in public — despite still being spry and athletic.
  • In two points of the X Wing Series, Wedge Antilles disguises himself as Colonel Roat, an Imperial pilot who was badly wounded and given clumsy, poorly-functioning prosthetics. Imperials are biased against cyborgs, generally thinking that only someone very clumsy or unlucky can be injured so badly as to need cybernetics, and so no one managed to connect him to the second most famous Rebel pilot.
  • The Cosmere
    • In later Mistborn books, the heroine consistently suspects that an enemy warlord is using this. Not without reason, as they live in a society where nobles and criminals alike regularly hide their magical abilities and feign weakness to appear less dangerous (she herself had done this in the previous book). Ultimately subverted though, as the warlord in question really is paraplegic.
    • In Rhythm of War, the "mute" bridgeman Dabbid is revealed to have been faking PTSD to cover up a speech impediment.
  • The killer in John Dickson Carr's Dr. Gideon Fell novel The Problem of the Wire Cage uses his recent car accident, and its attendant injuries, to pull off a murder he seemingly couldn't have physically committed. Unfortunately, circumstances turn it into a murder NO ONE could've committed.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "A Witch Shall Live", Salome tossed the head of a murdered man to a deaf beggar — who proves to be Valerius, who heard that the true queen is prisoner there.
  • Although he has significant mental problems, Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is not "deaf and dumb." He got so used to people disregarding him that he gave up trying to communicate with them, and finds that being considered a deaf-mute has the advantage that staff are careless about what they discuss when he's around. He throws off the charade partway through the book and - aside from McMurphy - none of the patients notice because they never paid much attention to him in the first place.
  • Claudius exaggerated his stutter, limp and general clumsiness in I, Claudius. This barely kept him alive when he had to work for The Caligula.
  • In the romance novel A Proper Taming, Lady Doncaster is crippled when she falls from a horse. She takes advantage of this to get companions and hopefully find one her son will marry. She also made a full recovery a full year before the story takes place.
  • In the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, whenever Chiron the centaur goes among the mortal populace, he uses his Super Wheelchair as a Hammerspace Hideaway for his horse legs.
  • Stephen King seems to like this one in his later works:
    • Norman Daniels in Rose Madder. While hunting for his runaway wife, he shaves his head and pretends to be a paraplegic, to avoid being recognized by the (many) people on the lookout for him.
    • Brady Hartsfield in Mr. Mercedes borrows the Daniels technique to get into a boy-band concert without attracting the suspicion that would normally attach to a man showing up solo at an event whose primary audience is tween-age girls. He plans to blow up the venue, but is stopped in time and earns a real disability, in the form of brain injury, in the process.
  • The tactic of a famous magician (Ching Ling Foo) in The Prestige that inspired Borden and is used as a literary device to describe his methods without actually revealing them.
    Borden's Memoir: My deception rules my life, informs every decision I make, regulates my every movement... everything in this account represents the shuffling walk of a fit man.
  • In Mercedes Lackey's Free Bards novel The Robin and the Kestrel, the church of the city that the heroes are visiting uses this, among other techniques, in order to enact "miraculous healings."
  • Harry Potter:
    • The climax of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone reveals that "p-p-poor, st-stuttering P-Professor Quirrell" was doing this all along.
    • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire plays with this trope. Alastor Moody is genuinely missing an eye and a leg, and uses prosthetic body parts in their place (including a distinctive enchanted Glass Eye, hence his nickname "Mad-Eye Moody"). But the Twist Ending reveals that the man we thought was Moody is actually an impostor, making Moody an Impersonation-Exclusive Character for most of this book (though the real guy is recovered at the end of the book and shows up from time to time in the subsequent installments). This impostor utilized a humanshifting potion as part of the act, so he was genuinely missing an eye and leg while impersonating the disabled Moody, but of course that wasn't his true form.
  • In The Lawmen of Rockabye County by J.T. Edson, escaped felon 'Crazy Doc' Christopher wears a prosthetic hand over his still functional right hand.
  • In the Nancy Drew book Captive Witness, the plot centers around a plan to rescue 10 children from then-Communist Hungary. The ringleaders of the rescue mission are an elderly professor and his wheelchair bound nephew. It's soon revealed that the young man is not paralyzed and that the rescue plans were hidden in the seat of his chair, knowing that customs officials would not search it.
  • In the Alex Cross novel London Bridges, Geoffrey Shafer uses a wheelchair he does not need as part of his disguise.
  • In Michael Strogoff the titular character acts as if he was effectively blinded by the Tartars until he appears in front of the Grand-Duke.
  • A mild version in the Discworld books after Men at Arms. Vetinari walks with a cane because he was shot with the Gonne in that book, but he may not need it as much as he appears to. Being Vetinari, he's found the advantage in people thinking he's weaker than he actually is.
    • Reacher Gilt in Going Postal wears an eyepatch as part of his larger-than-life pirate persona. At the end of the book we see him captured by Vetinari, sans patch, and sure enough he's got two working eyes.
    • Small Gods: Vorbis pulls an absolutely chilling example of this as he and Brutha are almost out of the desert.
  • 87th Precinct: While the Deaf Man wears a hearing aid, it's suggested on various occasions (including by the Deaf Man himself, in The Heckler) that it may just be a prop.
  • Alex Rider: The main character has been kidnapped and several agencies are looking for him. The bad guys need to get him through an airport without arousing suspicion. How do they do it? They drug him to make him look like a disabled person, they note that no one looks twice at a disabled person, working this to their advantage.
  • After the destruction of his eidetic memory chip and medical retirement from ImpSec in Memory, Simon Illyan makes a point of playing up the damage done to his mind when it seems useful or convenient. His short-to-medium-term memory is spotty enough that the PDA/voice recorder/GPS unit he wears on his belt is anything but a prop, but by every other cognitive measure he remains solidly in the 'dangerously brilliant' area.
  • Joe Pickett: In Endangered, Nate pretends to be in a coma until an opportunity to escape presents itself.
  • In Railsea by China Miéville, Captain Naphi has disguised her uninjured arm as a prosthetic to replace a missing one. It's the subject of an Unrobotic Reveal. This was because her culture expects anyone in her social role to have lost a body part.
  • When Garrett, P.I. first meets Pular Singe, the genius ratgirl, she's been pretending to be deaf to conceal her unusual intelligence from Reliance, the ratman crime boss. She knew that if Reliance suspected just how gifted she was, he'd never leave her an opportunity to escape her indentured servitude.
  • Conversational Troping in one Tommy and Tuppence story, where Tommy says his main suspect is the client's wheelchair-bound mother, who is only pretending, but is unable to come up with a reason why she's only pretending. (She isn't.)
  • Treasure Island: Pew is blind, but he is also a lot more capable than what he initially seems to be. There's a reason why nearly all the other pirates are afraid of him.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf and company pay a visit to King Theoden, the guards ask them to relinquish their weapons, including Gandalf's staff. He chides them for being disrespectful in separating an old man from his support. They're skeptical, but let him keep it... turns out that they were Properly Paranoid, as a wizard's staff is more than just a simple walking-stick (though it's implied they knew he was faking it, but trusted him because he's Gandalf).
  • Villains by Necessity: When the Plainsmen take the protagonists captive, Kaylana pretends her staff (really a magical object) is a walking stick she needs due to having a limp. This results in them leaving her with it and unbound, so she can help the others escape later.
  • In Elemental Blessings, Garameno is thrown off his horse in an assassination attempt. Pretending to be wheelchair-bound means his prospects for the throne will be doubted, but he will be safe from further attempts.


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