Happy Tuesday, friends! As you all know it by now, I am thrilled to introduce you to another blog post for the amazing Shattering Stigmas, an event that will take place from October 6th to October 20th here on Drizzle & Hurricane Books.
Three years ago, Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight launched the first Shattering Stigmas, a blogging event dedicated to posts about mental illness to address and challenge the stigmas against it. Through book reviews, discussion posts and lists, Shattering Stigmas has continued conversations around mental illness for the past three years.
You can also enter our INTERNATIONAL (Book Depository) giveaway! TWO winners will be able to win the Mental Health book of their choice at the end of this event. Don’t forget to ENTER HERE!
Today, I am welcoming the lovely Kat, writing about fantasy and mental health in fantasy, most especially the lack of it all. A very eloquent and very important post to remember! Feel free to share your thoughts on the topic in comments, we would love to hear from you!
Welcome to YA Fantasy – Here there be dragons a main character who is probably royalty, an elf assassin, or both. In order to take back the crown, he or she will be forced to team up with a loyal bodyguard, an ex-betrothed, or a crooked thief (all of whom are extremely attractive, because of course they are). There will be intrigue, subterfuge, and most likely a rebellion. Oh, and there will most definitely be a love triangle.
Battles will be fought, side-characters will be killed off (because we can’t have the MC die, now can we?), and in the end, the evil that threatened to overthrow the Magical Realm™ will be defeated. Our triumphant hero will ride off into the sunset, fair hair billowing majestically in the wind (L’Oréal, because you’re worth it), and everyone will live happily ever after. We could even throw in a sparkly rainbow for dramatic effect.
But why is that? Why is it that when the war ends, we are left with sparkly rainbows instead of an Elf princess-slash-assassin who suffers from PTSD? Why is our valiant hero not visiting the Fantasy-world equivalent of a psychiatrist? And another thing, why is there no such thing as a Magical Realm™ psychiatrist anyways? Where are all the therapists, the psychologists, and the counselors?
In recent years, there has been an upsurge of violence in the YA Fantasy genre. “Dark” and “Gritty” have become popular marketing strategies and enticing book blurbs. In every book, the stakes are high, but the body count is higher. War, death, rebellion – these are not only the staples of this genre, but the perfect breeding grounds for mental illness. By all accounts, YA Fantasy should be the literary champion of mental illness representation, but for some reason, it isn’t. This baffles me because not only does it perpetuate the idea that war and death have no emotional consequences, but it also insinuates that you can only be a hero if you look or act or even feel a certain way.
Here’s a public service announcement: the fact that a character has to fight both the evil villain and their own mind should make him or her even more heroic, not less. Because let me tell you, being a prisoner in the castle dungeon is one thing (though I haven’t experienced that yet), but being the prisoner of your mind is quite another (this I have). Both are hard, but for different reasons. And I want to see those reasons explored by more authors of every genre.
You know what else I want to see? I want to see more mental illness representation, and I mean real representation, not just the stuff that is sometimes tossed around as a plot device. If an author claims that the loyal bodyguard is depressed about having to take somebody’s life, I don’t want to see those feelings disappear as soon as he is successfully characterized as a more compassionate and enticing love interest. If Princess [insert name here] is traumatized by her father’s murder at the hands of the Demon Lord, I don’t want to see that drop off the face of the earth as soon as it stops being necessary to the plot.
Why don’t I want to see it? Because mental illness doesn’t work that way. Oh how I wish my own depression did, though – fading into the background for the more exciting plot points of my life to take precedence. Just vanishing the moment I wish it to. On my worst days, my depression makes me feel debilitated, overwhelmed, and utterly worthless…I feel less than human. More like the Demon Lord than the Princess.
Depression, and other mental illnesses, are not plot devices or gimmicks. They don’t just disappear when it’s convenient, no matter how much we want them too. They are debilitating, they are real, and they make us feel utterly alone. But that’s the thing about representation, isn’t it? It lets us know that we aren’t alone. When a character slays dragons, both the external and internal kinds, it gives those of us who struggle the hope that we can too.