A few years ago, an author who writes historical fiction contacted me. She was writing a book whose main character was a Little Person with Achondroplasia and his twin brother who also has Achondroplasia. She asked if I could help her with some research. I was pretty excited to do it because it gave me a chance to learn the history of dwarfs in the Byzantine era. The answers given below are for an adult man with Achondroplasia.
“Tyrian purple, the color that denotes Byzantine imperial power is embargoed and under close guard in Byzantium. To steal it is punishable by death.
However a Jewish merchant from Venice has sourced an illegal supply and Tobias, a minstrel, and his twin brother, Tomas, begin a dangerous journey to retrieve the dye and deliver itCCTV into the merchant’s eager hands.
But is this supply as secret as they had hoped?
Trade is cut throat, money is power, men are expendable and death awaits in a city of icons, swords and shadows.
This is Tobias – the story of a minstrel and a broken life…
Semi-finalist in the 2016 M.m. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction (UK)
Shortlisted for the 2016 Chanticleer Chaucer Awards.
Gold medallion winner with the prestigious Indie B.R.A.G .
‘Authentic characters and a twisting plot move this tale to a gripping end.’ Christian Cameron, author of The Chivalry Series
‘Although the time and the place of the story is very different, there was something … that reminded me of the great Patrick O’Brian. For historical fiction, there is really no greater praise.’ Matthew Harffy – The Bernicia Chronicles.
‘A powerful tale of violence, treachery, and intrigue, set in the cut-throat world of medieval trade.’ Ann Swinfen, author of The Chronicles of Christoval Alvarez.
‘An atmospheric journey through the seedy underbelly of medieval Europe.’ SJA Turney, author of Marius’s Mules.
‘Tobias by Prue Batten is an epic tale of courage, rebellion, helping the right and fighting the wrong. With crisp dialogues and genuine emotions, Batten has created characters that will live for a very long time in your mind…’ Rabia Tanveer for Readers’ Favorite, USA.” — Good Reads
This wonderful, heart stopping book is number three in a series. Each book tells the tale of a different character. She contacted me all the way from Australia after she found me on Google. She asked questions of every nature concerning dwarfism and dwarfism in history. I am sure no one is surprised when I say there is not much information pertaining to people with dwarfism in Constantinople during that time. But I was up for it. She knew she could ask me anything and I would answer straightforwardly. However, I would have to do some serious research. So I compiled those questions here along with other questions people have asked about the book. I hope you learn as much from me as I did from this experience. First, I’d like to plug the book, it is fabulous and a never ending thrill ride. (And I am not just saying that because she acknowledged me at the beginning and at the end. But I have to say, it was a nice reward for hard work.) Get at Amazon: Tobias by Prue Batten
Visit Prue Battens site: PrueBatten.com
How were persons with dwarfism viewed in history around that time?
History was not kind to anyone who was different, including people with dwarfism. Achondroplasia is the most common form and is a disproportionate type. That means the arms and legs are shorter in proportion to the torso. This was something that struck fear into some and curiosity in others. These people were often forced into slavery as pets or novelties in a royal household. Their lives were not their own, albeit their surroundings were comfortable compared to those who were simply outcast in their community. Many were abandoned at birth. If they survived, they may have spent their days lonely and scrounging for food and shelter. Medical care would have been nonexistent, but those who were healthy would have done what Tobias did and seek employment. We can’t ignore the long held belief in history that Little People were a conduit to the divine. So in many ancient cultures they were revered in a mythological sense. Later in history dwarfism became a medical curiosity. People were often put on display mostly to amuse.
Can LPs ride horses?
My first thought was, how is he gonna get up there? The majority of persons with dwarfism in that era were poor and outcast. So there would be no squire boy to assist him. If he did get on the horse, let’s say it’s an average size horse, then he may need a custom saddle. Either way, Tobias is strong willed, so he would find a way. Physically it is difficult for a person with Achondroplasia to ride a horse due to the fact they are disproportionate, making them top heavy. The thighs are short making it difficult to stay on a horse. Medically, there are concerns about the rough ride and its effects on the joints.
In the opening, Tobias is fighting with a man who is not a dwarf, can he run between his legs to get away?
Not likely, unless the man is 10 feet tall or has a terribly wide stance. She did keep this part in the book. Anything is possible…it is fiction after all.
Could a person who is let’s say 4’6″ wield a sword?
Short answer, yes. Long answer, holding and wielding are two different things. Swords of that era were quite heavy. They were long swords made of steel and they were pretty tall. The height of a sword would be 50″ minimum, putting the hilt right about chin height. So in the story, the men had swords that were custom made for them. Something a blacksmith could do. They also favored daggers and knives. In the book she describes them as agile and very handy with a weapon.
What type of instruments could he play?
Human beings are very adaptable. those born with dwarfism need to be adaptable to survive. Playing an instrument should be something that anyone can adapt to, so you would think. The answer is, many instruments would have to be scaled down. Since Tobias is a minstrel, we can gather that his instrument was crafted for him. He has a “vielle”, which is like a violin or fiddle used during medieval times.
How far could he run and how fast?
Men like Tobias could run very fast if they are good runners, just like average stature people. (He could definitely run faster than me.) However, most LPs could not outrun an average stature runner. The distance is a tricky thing. Little People can get a condition called spinal claudication. It is different that the type average stature people get. In dwarfism, there is less room for their blood vessels near the base of the spine. So, during a period of physical exertion the blood vessels enlarge and press against the nerves. This causes numbness and pain in the legs which requires the person to take a break. So Tobias and his brother would have to rely on strategy to out maneuver their opponents.
What would happen to a dwarf who was taken prisoner for a crime or for war?
Like most slaves, he would be sold. A person of short stature would be far more valuable at market than even public executions, though I’m sure that happened.
Do Little People get drunk faster than average stature people?
It would be the same as average stature men. Some can hold their liquor and some cannot. The alcohol to body ratio would be the same as any person. A muscular person with dwarfism who weighs 160 pounds could drink more than an average stature man who weighs 160 pounds with little muscle.
Would Tobias and Tomas’ parents have to be short stature?
No. About 80% of those born with short stature come from average stature parents. Their parents could be or couldn’t be.
Could a short man fight a tall man?
Of course. The fighting style would be different, but for the sticky spots the hero of this story gets himself into, he needs to be able to take care of himself.
At one point in the story Tobias needs to climb over a large rock wall, can he do it?
For this one, I needed some medical journals. I also asked some very nice people from the Dwarf Athletic Association of America, (DAAA). By now we have it in our minds that Tobias is as rugged as any individual of that period. No cardio needed, that was a tough time in history. So he has the strength, he had the agility, but would his hands and feet work as he needed them to? Let’s think about it. Uneven rocks provide small ledges and holes to aid in climbing. But the hands of a person with Achondroplasia are shaped a bit differently than ours. Aside from being smaller overall, the fingers are “stubby” and may not be able to grip the rocks as tightly. That includes any vines that might be hanging. But rock climbing is something that LPs can do and I have no doubt Tobias can too. Can he do it swiftly enough to escape? Well, you will have to read the book to find out.