‘Taking a Risk’: Disability, Prejudice and Advocacy in the Editing and Publishing History of Ruth Park’s Swords and Crowns and Rings


Ruth Park’s award-winning novel, Swords and Crowns and Rings had a fascinating, and so far largely unknown, journey to publication. This article traces the editorial and publishing history of the novel and finds that was Park was sent edits that would have limited the agency and nuance of her short-statured character, Jackie Hanna. From my surprising discoveries in the archive, this paper demonstrates that Park resisted these edits, and in doing so acted as an advocate on behalf of her disabled protagonist. She preserved her vision for a character who is a fully rounded human with the intention of conveying his humanity. Combining the tools of critical disability studies with original, archival research and close reading, this analysis establishes that Park largely avoids the narrative prosthesis that commonly troubles ableist renditions of disabled characters (Mitchell, Snyder 2001). This article demonstrates that it is at every level of publishing, from authors through to publishers and editors, that ableist attitudes can inhibit authentic representations of disability in literature.

While Ruth Park is best known for The Harp in the South (1947), the book that attracted Australia’s most prestigious award, the Miles Franklin, is Swords and Crowns and Rings (1977): a long novel about a short-statured protagonist, Jackie Hanna, who comes of age in an Australian country town during the Depression.1 This article considers how Jackie’s impairment was a hindrance to Park’s finding a publisher, how the book’s path to publication offers an interesting case study in both literature as advocacy, and how Park represented her character in a way that largely (though not completely) avoided what is known as ‘narrative prosthesis’.

Although the book has remained in print since its release, the novel is not well known among scholars, especially compared with The Harp in the South, so I will outline the plot. Set in Kingsland (note the fairy-tale nomenclature), Swords is the story of Jackie, born…

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Published 23 May 2022 in Special Issue: Writing Disability in Australia. Subjects: Ruth Park, Dwarfism, Disabled characters.

Cite as: Grundy, Alice. ‘‘Taking a Risk’: Disability, Prejudice and Advocacy in the Editing and Publishing History of Ruth Park’s Swords and Crowns and Rings.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 37, no. 1, 2022, doi: 10.20314/als.dcc270d84a.