Finding a book character that shares the same invisible, chronic, or mental health illness as you can be one of the greatest joys of reading a book. It’s like finding a friend in a sea of strangers. While there is still a lot of stigma associated with these illnesses, many people around the world are actively working to shed light on the truth. Authors are realizing that their readers want to relate to characters and they’re choosing to stand up and do something that will change the world for the better.
As a fibro warrior with my fair share of mental health issues, I love reading Fantasy Fiction. Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction set in a fictional or alternate universe, often inspired by real world myth and folklore. It helps me escape. I am an escapist and I’m unashamed of it! Like JRR Tolkien, author of The Lord of The Rings series said,
“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”
Fantasy Fiction is a medium that provides a space for all genres to flourish. It allows space for allegory to depict various real-life problems while still allowing the reader to enjoy escapism.
Checkout this list of 6 Fantasy Fiction books that depict invisible illnesses and mental health issues with aplomb:
Wheel of Time Series
Matrim Cauthon, one of the most popular characters in Robert Jordan’s magnum opus, Wheel of Time, faces severe addiction problems. The books do not portray it as a drug addiction, instead relying on the allegory of a dark dagger that changes all those who wield it, leaving them paranoid, sensitive to light, and hollow, sucking the life out of them. When separated from the dagger he experiences something akin to withdrawal symptoms and his life hangs in balance. What I loved about how this was tackled, was that he wasn’t told to will himself to separate from the dagger with sheer willpower. He wasn’t told that it was all in his head. He was given the outside, expert help that he needed. Just like actual drug addiction would need outside intervention.
Potentate of Atlanta Series
Hailey Edwards’ Potentiate of Atlanta series is about a girl who did terrible things for power but now has a chance for redemption by taking on another identity. The book mentions fibromyalgia and frankly, I was surprised that it was mentioned at all. Fibromyalgia is not even acknowledged as an illness by some due to the absence of any diagnostic device. The character in question isn’t one of the protagonists but whenever I see it being mentioned and acknowledged as a problem, it’s like a friend waving up at me from between the lines and telling me that what I was going through was real.
The Lightbringer series is about a boy who discovers his fate as the bastard son of the most powerful man in the world and that he might be the prophesied Lightbringer. After several plot twists and surprising revelations, we meet a character in this series who suffers from a condition called Vaginismus. Vaginismus is the occurrence of involuntary muscle spasms when vaginal penetration is attempted making intercourse impossible. I It stems from fear if having sex, perhaps due to a history of secual assault or possibly social conditioning; the exact reasons are unclear. The subject is very beautifully and sensitively handled by Weeks. It provides a remarkably authentic insight into the condition.
Six of Crows
Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows is about a crew of thieves led by the mysterious Kaz ‘Dirty Hands’ Brekker who suffers from Haphephobia, i.e., the fear of being touched. Human touch can be painful and overwhelming. The phobia is may be restricted only to a specific gender but that is not so in the case of Brekker. His fear stems from past trauma and he wears gloves, eschewing any kind of intimate relations. His journey from being terrified of the most human way of showing affection to bringing himself to not only accept touch but also give it to a loved one is one of the most heartwarming things in this grim dystopian book.
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
In Potterverse(Harry Potter’s world), An Obscurial is a witch or wizard who has been forced to suppress their innate magical talents because of fear of persecution. Ariana Dumbledore, sister of Hogwarts principal Albus Dumbledore, was bullied for having magic so she started to suppress them with the effect of her magic turned against her own mind. The description of her turning her magic inwards struck a chord. Anyone who has been through abuse would. When you have that kind of grief and rage but you can’t express it or take action because the person in power will punish you for it, those feelings, that have nowhere else to go, turn on you instead, overwhelming you so much that it’s like a separate entity that threatens to swallow you. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it.? It changes you to a point of return if not addressed.
Top of this list are books by Brandon Sanderson, one of the most popular bestselling Fantasy Fiction authors in this age. Sanderson writes compelling books which often incorporate invisible illnesses and Mental Health issues in its plot. For example, in Stormlight Archives, the magical system. Magic can be used by people with ‘cracks’ in their spirit. Amazingly, these illnesses aren’t used as Tropes or plot devices. The story may be fantasy fiction but the disorders themselves are very realistically portrayed. There is clear evidence of deep, deep research. Sanderson covers a lot of illnesses from Depression, SAD, PTSD, Autism, War-related PTSD, Dissociative Identity Disorder, substance abuse and so on.
From Kaladin’s struggle with depression and Teft’s substance abuse problem to Jasnah’s perceived emotionless demeanor and Shallan’s multiple personalities, everyone finds triumph in a way that mirrors the society we live in.
What are your favorite books with characters that share your illness? We look forward to your comments.