This week’s Flashback Friday: Deerskin by Robin McKinley
TRIGGER WARNING: This book deals with some subjects that may trigger certain folks. I will not be explicit, but wanted to warn folks just in case.
When I first read this book, I was fifteen-years-old. Still young enough and naive enough to not be jaded by the world around me. My sarcasm was highly undeveloped, as were my writing skills, and I still viewed the world with the eyes of a child.
I’m not sure why I read Deerskin, though I think a friend recommended it. No one gave me any trigger warnings or any warning at all that the book would contain topics such as incest, rape, and miscarriage.
While I’d certainly read books involving adult topics before, I hadn’t yet encountered these three, at least not in an explicit manner. If an author wrote about rape or incest, it was on the sidelines. Something referenced but left mostly unsaid. Melanie Rawn (Sunrunner’s Fire) certainly covered rape and miscarriage, but again–it was something hinted at rather than described or heavily discussed.
Where most authors pre-GRRM would shy away from such topics, Robin McKinley dove headlong into it with this re-imagining of an old French fairy tale. More than anything, the book is a psychological book that faces PTSD and grief head-on. For the first time, I found myself examining parts of my own life and the lives of people I knew.
Even in this Game-of-Thrones-age where characters are raped and killed on a seemingly weekly basis and incest is a character trait, it’s surprising that authors shy away from these topics. Publishers even warn against using rape as a plot device.
But these tragedies happen to real people in the real world, and if our characters are to be images, reflections, or studies of reality, should they not suffer from real events? Authors write about war. Famine. Plagues and diseases. Torture. Domestic violence. Heartbreak. Death. So why are we so squeamish when it comes to discussing certain topics?
Every 107 seconds, someone in America is raped. Studies reveal that anywhere from 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Chemical pregnancies may account for 50-75% of all miscarriages. Considering how often miscarriages happen, why don’t we hear about it more? Why do women remain quiet about the grief they suffer when such an event occurs?
Should rape or abuse be flippantly used in fiction? No. Authors should approach topics such as these with care, but that doesn’t mean authors should never explore them. Part of what makes Deerskin such a good book is that it asks questions people don’t like to ask. It makes readers think about topics that used to be (and in some cases, still are) taboo. Mental illness still fights under the stigma that it shouldn’t be talked about, but as more people do talk about it, our understanding of it grows.
I wanted to write science fiction and fantasy because in those genres, we explore the what-ifs and the why. We study society and humanity with a microscopic lens and then push beyond to wonder about something more. We will never understand why a civilized society finds rape and abuse acceptable (and sadly, we do) if we never talk about it. Deerskin helped me talk about it.
What better way to overcome the horrors in our world than to understand them for what they are? Shows like Jessica Jones, who take a front seat approach at studying PTSD and rape, are enjoyed for their realism, but they also serve as an open dialogue on these topics in our society.
No topic should be taboo. Not if we’re going to be better than we are. I’m not sure Robin McKinley intended this when she wrote Deerskin, but in a world of Gamergate and Game of Thrones, we need to have this talk.
Sooner rather than later.