Asakiyume had a post about romanticism and mental illness
with some good discussion in comments.
I wrote, "I have mixed feelings about that one. Yes, it's obnoxious to write stories in which mental illness is actually nothing but magical specialness, whether the magic part is literal or metaphorical.
On the other hand, the flip side of the "mentally ill people are better and more special than the rest of us tools of the system" myth is the "mentally ill people are doomed to a miserable, squalid existence filled with nothing ever but loneliness and pain" myth.
I think there's room for realistic depictions of mental illness in which the intent is to de-glamorize, focus on the pain, and have the hope be in the slow, difficult work of healing. But maybe there's also room for non-realistic in which people live with mental illnesses and have those be part of the fabric of their lives as they have romanticised adventures and pursue villains and do magic and get the girl. Why should the non-mentally ill get all the escapist literature?
The key, I think, is not to take some painful and unpleasant mental illness and pretend that the illness itself is not painful and not unpleasant, and just looks that way because the mundane world doesn't understand how magical and awesome it really is. That's not cool. But I'd love to see, say, a paranormal romance with a heroine in therapy for social anxiety torn between a bipolar vampire and a werewolf with Asperger's.
Why not? Very few of us are out on the streets murdering people because the voices in our head told us to. Most of us are living our lives - with struggle and pain, but who doesn't have that?"
I am interested, too, in stories in which mental illnesses and non-neurotypical states are dealt with not unrealistically by accident, but with extrapolation and deliberate fantasy applied: Walter Jon Williams' breathtaking space opera Aristoi
($4.99 on Kindle; also has excellent martial arts), in which people deliberately induce multiple personalities in order access the full richness of their psyches; the later books of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies
, in which the characters take on various cognitive/neurological templates, raising the question of whether identity is something separate from brain chemistry. Very similar questions come up in Westerfeld's novel Peeps
, in which vampirism-causing parasites create OCD-like irresistible compulsions and aversions. And, of course, the many, many, many magical or science fictional versions of brainwashing and de-programming, from Cyteen
to The Avengers
There is sometimes a tendency to see any non-realistic treatment of serious issues as inherently trivializing or even insulting. But I think it depends on the individual work, as well as the judgment of the individual reader. I would like to see more extrapolative works dealing with the subject, as well as more stories in which mental illness or non-neurotypicality is part of a character's character, not the subject of the story.
I would like to see fewer soft-focus, romanticized depictions of beautiful fragile mad girls.
What do you think? Good examples? Bad examples? Things you'd like to see more of? Things you'd like to see less of?