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Hello, friends, and welcome back to another Wyrd & Wonder 2020 post!
Wyrd & Wonder is a month-long, fantasy focused blog-a-thon taking place during May which is hosted by Imyril @ There’s Always Room for One More, Lisa @ Dear Geek Place, and Jorie @ Jorie Loves A Story. You can find out all about it here!
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and this year it seems particularly relevant to observe this month-long period of awareness this year, given the fact that the entire world is dealing with a global pandemic. In addition, many of you who have been here for a good while may know that I, myself, live with clinical depression, as well as generalized anxiety disorder, so the topic of mental health and mental health disorder representation is always very important to me. So, today, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m dedicating this Wyrd & Wonder post to recommending five fantasies that I feel have excellent representations of mental health disorders.
Surprisingly, though fantasies tend to see their characters go through events which would likely cause significant emotional trauma, we rarely see any characters dealing with the possible mental health fallout of the traumas they are encountering. Moreover, it is rarer still to come across fantasy characters who live with pre-existing mental health conditions, and those who do are often minor characters or background characters who serve only to be ridiculed as “madmen.”
Fortunately, in the last two years, we’ve seen the beginnings of the what will hopefully be the destigmatization of mental health disorders in the fantasy genre. More authors are writing about the emotional repercussions of the traumas which their characters face and how those characters live with those emotional repercussions while still being, ya know, the hero/heoine of the story. While it is still rare to have on-page, explicit admission of characters living with a mental health disorder, oftentimes authors will portray a mental health struggle on-page and off-page (in interviews or on social media) will admit to those characters dealing with a mental health condition. Although this may not seem like much, it does seem to signal the beginning of a shift towards mental health destigmatization in fantasy.
The following recommendations showcase five fantasy books/series which portray main characters who live with a variety of mental health disorders in a non-stigmatizing manner!
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FANTASIES FEATURING MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS
The Storm Crow by Kalyn Josephson (Depression) The Storm Crow is actually a fantasy which focuses largely on the main character’s struggle with depression. Readers follow Princess Anthia, who spirals into battle with depression after her kingdom is invaded and her mother slaughtered along with all of the magical crows which help to sustain the kingdom. Worse, Anthia’s older sister has agreed to an engagement between Anthia and the prince of the invading kingdom. Hope arrives in the form of a storm crow egg, which Anthia plans to hatch and use the storm crow to help take back her kingdom. The nice thing about this book is that is that it’s one of the very few fantasies in which a character (and in this case, the main character, no less!) explicitly admits to having a mental health disorder! In one emotional scene, Anthia admits to another character that she is depressed. We follow Anthia as she embarks on a wild adventure, all while also seeing her living with depression at the same time. Honest, open, and emotional, The Storm Crow is a stunning and fantastical portrayal of life with a mental health disorder!
The Wintersong Duology by S. Jae-Jones (Bipolar Disorder) Jae-Jones has been very open about the fact that her debut duology, the Wintersong duology, was written very much as a reflection of her own struggle with bipolar disorder—a mental health disorder which she’s admitted in many interviews and articles (including this edition of her newsletter, where she discusses about the topic in depth) to having “given” to Liesl, the main character of the Wintersong Duology. In the newsletter I previously linked, Jae-Jones actually discusses how she views Liesl as having bipolar disorder but that it’s not explicitly stated in-text because a) it’s a historical fantasy and the diagnosis didn’t exist during the time period the book is set in and, more importantly, b) bipolar disorder is such an intrinsic part of her as the author and of Liesl as the character that she just didn’t think about it. In the same newsletter, Jae-Jones states, “I was deliberate about allowing elements of mania and melancholy to bleed through. … The racing thoughts, the buzzing speech, the feelings of invincibility and recklessness, the dull hollowness of indifference and apathy, these are all things I know as a bipolar individual.” Darkly beautiful and wonderfully complex, Wintersong is a lovely option for those who want a fantasy that quietly handles mental health disorders.
These Rebel Waves by Sara Raasch (PTSD) Raasch’s sophomore series, Stream Raiders, takes a serious look at PTSD through the eyes of one of the main characters, Adeluna, who is a former child insurgent/gorilla soldier. Raasch’s portrayal of Adeluna’s PTSD is unflinchingly gritty. She doesn’t shy away from showing the ugliness of what the reality of living with PTSD can be, opting not to treat the disorder as something which can be glossed over in favor of “progressing the plot,” as many fantasies unfortunately tend to do. Instead, Raasch boldly shows how Adeluna’s PTSD has a significant impact on her life, as well as on who Adeluna is as a person. At the same time, Raasch does not treat Adeluna’s mental health disorder as though it is an immovable barrier to her success, nor does Raasch fall into the trap of writing “inspiration porn.” Readers see that Adeluna’s mental health disorder is a valid part of her, but it also isn’t something that makes her any more or less worthy of being the heroine of the story.
The The Devouring Gray Duology (Grief, Depression & PTSD) The fact that, in particular, Violet and Isaac (who are two of the main characters of the duology) are dealing with grief and mental health disorders is kind of a quiet thread throughout The Devouring Gray. Specifically, the subject is touched on in a more in-depth manner in book two of the duology, The Deck of Omens, when Violet and Isaac have a touchingly honest moment in which they discuss their feelings of deep sadness. There’s also a nice scene at the end of The Deck of Omens which briefly touches on the surviving characters seeking treatment, which was so nice to see discussed and normalized (however briefly) as not many fantasy books even allude to mental health treatment! One of the reasons that I particularly love this duology’s treatment of mental health disorders is that they’re treated so…normally. There’s no big fuss or discussion made out of characters dealing with mental health disorders. Instead, it’s kind of treated like, “Yeah, [this character] lives with a mental health disorder. Yeah, it’s something they and others might have to accommodate from time to time. But, in the end, so what?”
House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas (Grief & PTSD) This actually isn’t Maas’s first go round with covering the topics of grief and PTSD. Her A Court of Thorns and Roses series touched a decent amount on the topics. The difference is that House of Earth and Blood (the first book of her Adult series, Crescent City) takes a much more raw and visceral look at these subjects. The novel’s two protagonists, Bryce and Hunt, are the survivors of significant trauma and readers witness them dealing with the difficult reality of the resulting grief and PTSD. Maas handles these topics with care, yet also with an admirable amount of unashamed openness and honesty. As for the author, Maas herself opened up in a recent Q & A livestream on YouTube about her own struggles with having a mental health disorder and briefly discussed how she used writing her main characters as a healthy coping mechanism for dealing with her mental health.
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So, that’s all for today, friends! Thank you for dropping in and I hope that I got you thinking about mental health representation in fantasy and that maybe you got a recommendation or two as well! Until next time, friends…
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SPILL THE BEANS!
- Do you think representation of mental health disorders, specifically in fantasy books, is important?
- Why or why not?
- Do you know of any fantasies with good representation of mental health disorders?
- Do you know of any bookish content creators who focus on good mental health disorder representation? Give them a shout out to help spread the word!