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Father of Lies IV: Lucian the psychopomp

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Welcome, folks, to part IV of my enumeration of the strengths and weaknesses of Ann Turner’s YA novel of Salem witchcraft accusations, Father of Lies. Though Father of Lies founders under loads of anachronisms [particularly protagonist Lidda’s feisty feminism and her imaginary friend Lucian’s shirtless sex appeal], it accomplishes things that I have rarely seen in fiction. For one thing, Turner treats Lidda with respect and empathy, instead of the rank ableism seen in so many descriptions of people with mental illnesses. For another thing, Lidda’s relationship with Lucian depicts the exhilarating, ambiguous messiness of having a guide/guardian/friend/pest/sex object character in one’s head.


Though Lucian manifests as he does in large part because of Lidda’s mental illness, I’m referring to exhilarating, ambiguous, messy characters more generally. I’m talking about Lucian as one of those characters created by people — who may or may not have mental illnesses — in a desperate attempt to learn more about themselves. Let’s call them psychopomps, after those supernatural entities supposed in many religions to guide a dead person’s soul on its travels from its body to the realm of the dead. Anyway, when creators like Lidda personify unknown aspects of themselves as psychopomps, they can only go so far with their characterization. After all, we can’t delineate in detail what we don’t know about ourselves. We thus end up with imaginary people encompassing our unknown aspects and, as such, behaving in ways that we can’t fathom. Their unexpected actions and obscure [at least to our conscious minds] motivations make these characters seem like independent, separate beings. The knowledge that they provide can bring comfort and a sense of security. At the same time, their apparent otherness destabilizes the order that they were ultimately created to support. Throw some experimentation with sexuality and/or gender identity in there, and it’s an ambivalent whirl of excitement and panic. Turner never explicitly identifies Lucian as a psychopomp, but he acts just like one.


Lucian works as a wish fulfillment for Lidda. For example, he represents himself as older, smarter, and wiser than her. He sets himself up as a subversive teacher, claiming, “I have knowledge beyond your wildest dreams, you poor child, stuck in this backwater of a town” [p. 114]. In this way, he functions exactly as Lidda wants. Scared and confused by her unique perceptions, she wants to know why they occur, where they come from, and what they mean. She wants to be understood and to understand herself. Lucian, who implies that he has a handle on everything and a particular investment in Lidda learning his skills, is the ultimate wish fulfillment for a 14-year-old girl who has heard all her life from authority figures that she should sit down and shut up. In other words, he’s a person with power who treats Lidda as someone with potential and promise of her own.


Though Lidda gives Lucian traits of her fantasy authority figure, he’s mostly her match, her equal, her counterpart. To illustrate this, Turner makes him similar, but not identical, to his creator. Lidda experiences the world  less through language, analysis, and word-based thought and more through full-body perceptions of sensation. In a particularly illustrative scene, she thinks of Lucian singing, but she’s not really paying attention to the content of his song, so much as what it looks like: “Lidda felt the notes slide down her arms and legs, and circle up through her head; they had colors like sky birds — orange, yellow, blue, purple, and a kind of green almost beyond imagining, like the tiniest, brightest, newest leaf just before it unfurls, all curled in upon itself. That kind of green” [p. 151]. She concentrates on what words feel like and look like. Lucian has his own linguistic interests, but more based on semantics [e.g., what his name means]. Lidda senses intuitively when people are propagating bullshit around her, and Lucian gives her the words to precisely call it out. When they get along with each other, they form a team that gives Lidda enough confidence and courage to make her voice heard amidst the clamor of the witchcraft outbreak.


Even Lucian’s manipulative button pushing rings true for psychopompic characters. Lucian reassures Lidda that, whatever’s rotten in the state of Salem, it has nothing to do with her vaguely preternatural ability to detect bullshit and everything to do with feuding villagers lathering each other up into senselessness. Thus he turns her sense of isolation into a virtue of analytical detachment. At the same time, he urges her to laugh, dance, and behave in ways that earn her censure. In other words, he sometimes gives her a sense of comfort and security that she craves, while simultaneously provoking her to actions that make her feel frustrated and humiliated. His alternating niceness and snideness correlate to his status as both known and unknown creation. Lidda made him to help her make sense of the world; when he gives her answers, she looks on him favorably. However, when she reaches the limits of her knowledge, Lucian highlights her ignorance and seems nasty and arrogant. Being a part of Lidda, he knows exactly how to flatter her and make her feel good, but he also has enough intimacy to know where she’s most vulnerable, so he knows as well how to wound her. And yet she made him have what she wants — “truth and lies…and the wit to tell the difference” [p. 39] — so, even though he regularly irritates and unnerves her, she can’t stay away from him.


The cracks in Lucian’s facade of masterful superiority also help to characterize him as Lidda’s psychopomp. My favorite exposure of his limitations occurs when Lidda asks where he comes from. As Turner puts it, “There was an answering silence, then something that sounded almost like a cough, and a muted reply: That does not matter. You do not need to know that” [p. 118]. This is a moment that’s at once hilarious, pathetic, and realistic. It’s hilarious because, at least for a moment, Lucian quits acting like some omnipotent, omniscient magical being and suddenly comes across as an fallible person who’s embarrassed and possibly ashamed about something. It’s pathetic because, being part of Lidda, he obviously partakes of her self-examining anxiety, but, even though she bares the inside of her head to him, he doesn’t reciprocate. Instead, he keeps from her the source of his perturbation. Finally, it’s realistic that he avoids answering Lidda’s inquiry about his origins because Lidda, who made him, has no idea what said origins are. She can’t answer the question that she created Lucian to answer, so of course he’s going to squirm out of a point-blank response.


As a figment of Lidda’s mind tasked ultimately with helping Lidda [though his methods often seem infuriating and questionable], Lucian works desperately on her behalf to assuage her worst fear: that she’s going to be alone forever. When her mental illness causes her suffering, it literally separates her from the rest of the world. At several times in the novel, she tries to escape hallucinations by running outside, away from the dinner table and her family to the outhouse. To put it another way, at her most miserable, Lidda sits in a stinking shit heap, sobbing, overwhelmed by inarticulate confusion that she can share with no one. Thus Lucian’s first words — “It is lonely here… I yearn for warmth…to be in a living being…” [p. 4] — basically describe the chill sense of divorce with which Lidda associates her lowest points of depression. Because he’s part of her, he knows exactly what such excruciating despair is like.


Like Lidda, Lucian has no interest in remaining in a frigid shit heap, so he does everything he can to ensure that he and Lidda avoid such a fate. That’s why he says to Lidda, “Yes, girl, I am here, with you always” [p. 56]. She fears being alone, with its stench of sadness [and shit], so she makes up someone who, even though he doesn’t always answer her summons, proves a more constant companion than the fickle townsfolk.  That’s why he says, “I do not wish you to marry. …Because you belong to me” [p. 38]. Realistically speaking, if Lidda did not marry, she would end up without a husband, without the opportunity to have legitimate offspring, without children, without a family — in some sense, she would be without context, without identity, without a place in her Puritan society. On the margins of the community, she would face general suspicion, disapproval, and a certain measure of ostracism. Single life would bring some of the loneliness that threatens her so much. Terrified by that possibility, she tries to change it from a negative absence of family, friends, and community support to a positive presence of an internal companion, guide, and friend. Lucian is such a strong, vivid creation in part because Lidda wants so much not to be alone that she attempts to make herself a friend out of a piece of her mind.

As Father of Lies closes, Lidda interrupts the hearings at the Court of Oyer and Terminer, describing the witchcraft outbreak as not Devil-induced suffering, but lies wielded on purpose by people who want to harm others. Fearing that she will bring accusations of witchcraft upon herself or, at the very least, that she will subject her family to ignominy if she stays, she runs away from home. She plans to travel on foot to Boston and obtain “a position in some household” [p. 235]. Her brother gives her a little money to help her. Lucian, who has been absent for a while, reappears, congratulating her for her bravery, and — scene.

In other words, at the end of the book, Lidda separates herself from her family and social supports. Now on the aforementioned margins of society, she faces an uncertain life. With “a strange excitement,” Lidda contemplates the possibility of being herself, “with no one to criticize her” [p. 235]. However, the fact remains that her worst fear — solitude — has come to pass. Furthermore, since her behavior has reduced her already limited prospects as an unmarried young Puritan woman in Massachusetts Bay Colony, her chances for an expansive, uncensored, liberated existence remain dubious. I think Turner is trying for a happy ending here, but I don’t buy it.

Over in my [cynical] head, I imagine that the book stops at this particular moment because Turner doesn’t want to look several years into the future. In a few years, Lidda may have found a place as a servant, but her masters abuse her physically and emotionally. Upon perceiving her symptoms of mental illness, her masters berate her as “distracted in her wits,” which was the term back then for being mentally disturbed. The family she works for claims that no one else would accept such an unreliable worker, and they use her fear to keep her with them as a convenient punching bag. Dancing, laughing, and speaking up now seem like luxuries for Lidda, who expends more effort on mere survival. Lucian no more promises delights, but he does teach her skills of dissociation, which help with the pain. At the same time, even though she vowed in the past not to consider it, marriage to a fellow servant ten years older is looking good. He lacks any sort of “spirit,” as Lucian would say, but he’s unobjectionable, and he has nearly saved up enough to strike out on his own. Right now, that looks like the best she can hope for. The [much more realistic] end.

Part I here.

Part II here.

Part III here.


Part V here.



Father of Lies part III: Lucian and the Bishonen Fever Dreams

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Welcome back to the third part of my extensive rant about Ann Turner’s Father of Lies, a YA historical fiction novel about a teenager, Lidda, with mental illness and a very interesting character inside her head, Lucian. This book does some things horribly and other things excellently. As I’ve detailed, Turner’s version of 1690s Salem during the witchcraft outbreak falls apart under multiple anachronisms. At the same time, the author gives Lidda and Lucian dignity and seriousness almost never granted to fictional people with disabilities, especially when said people are written about by authors without disabilities. Reading Father of Lies is an exercise in frustration, as it’s the novelistic equivalent of the little curly-haired girl of nursery rhymes. When it’s good, it’s very, very good, but, when it’s bad, it’s horrid!

Sometimes, just to put my poor emotions through the wringer, Father of Lies manages to be very, very good and horrid simultaneously, mostly as far as Lucian is concerned. As Lidda’s most active hallucination, he shares her restless contempt for the restrictions of her small-town life, as well as the repressive model of Puritan femininity to which Lidda is supposed to adhere. At the same time, he crystallizes Lidda’s often-inchoate tendencies toward physical rebellion [dancing, tree climbing, not wearing her stays] into an articulate stance of license in all respects. He mocks the villagers’ petty, dissembling behavior; he pushes Lidda to speak out in favor of the truth. He even challenges Puritan religious orthodoxy when he asserts that he has nothing to do with God and then helps Lidda to the conclusion that witches do not actually exist. While he directs her fidgetiness into intellectual rebellion, he also adds sexual aspects to Lidda’s disobedience, as, for example, whenever he appears half naked and then comments that she would look good naked [“You would like being naked, girl. No stays or petticoats to trap you like a snared rabbit” (pp. 102-103)]. In response, Lidda views the smart, sly, sexy, borderline blasphemous Lucian as a private ally, imperceptible to everyone except herself, and spends a lot of time trying to figure him out and please him. His running commentary on her experiences and her disputes with him form the entertaining, engaging core of the book.


As the overview in the previous paragraph intimates, I think Lucian is a wonderful character, but he also has serious flaws in his construction. Just as Lidda is essentially modern into her proto-feminist critique of Puritan beliefs and culture, so Lucian seems to have time traveled from the 21st century back to the tail end of the 17th, a fact most apparent when you take a look at his appearance, described in breathless detail on page 88:


“Then, like something becoming clear under the surface of a rushing stream, piece by piece the creature assembled himself so that Lidda could see him in the darkness of her head: He unfolded his body, starting with his long, elegant feet; up his lean legs, encased in shining black breeches; his bare torso became visible, gleaming as if from distant firelight; then his long smooth arms and hands with exquisite pointed fingers; and last his head, which was frighteningly handsome, more glorious than anything she had ever known, with black hair cascading down his back, waving in an invisible breeze. Complete, there, unlike anything ever seen before in the drab confines of her village.


“But his eyes! Silver like a running stream — a straight nose — and a mouth that curved in an intimate smile over pointed teeth.”


Given that your average Puritan man wore layers of clothing, including a hat, at almost all times and regularly tied his hair back or wore a wig, where does this hatless hottie come from? And what’s with the dramatic, flowing locks, sharp teeth, and silver eyes? Lucian looks like the bishonen fever dream of someone who’s been reading too much vampire romance manga. His sexiness is discordantly ahistorical. [“Hey, everyone, it’s Discordantly Ahistorical Sexiness, opening for Lucian and the Bishonen Fever Dreams!” I imagine both of these groups as New Wave in sound, though Discordantly Ahistorical Sexiness looks like Cotton Mather by way of Adam Ant, while Lucian and the Bishonen Fever Dreams looks like William Stoughton crossed with classic V-kei. Incidentally, both of these groups sound awesome!]


Just as I wonder where Lidda’s image of Lucian comes from, so I wonder where she gets his personality. Lidda uses Lucian as a way to consolidate and refine her iconoclastic thoughts and practices, some of which do have some grounding in her own experience. For example, Lidda’s criticism of Puritan life derives from contrasting it with what little she has heard about the practices of local Native Americans. When Lidda resents wearing her stays, she reminds herself that Indians don’t wear such uncomfortable clothing. Since the Puritans at large were scared shitless by the Indians, whom they regarded as marauding tools of Satan, I can’t believe that a Puritan teenager would admire the dress of the natives. However, that’s what Turner writes, and, while Lidda’s distaste for Puritan fashion rings false historically speaking, it works in a certain way. Lidda’s contrast between Puritan and Indian dress gives a real-world context for her annoyance with restrictive clothes. Thus Lidda’s — and thus, by extension, Lucian’s — interest in loose clothing and the idea of naked frolicking [as well as, now that I think about it, Lucian’s penchant for hanging around in the equivalent of underwear] makes sense.


I can see where Lidda gets Lucian’s concepts of physical rebellion, but I remain at a loss to explain Lucian’s [i.e., Lidda’s] proto-humanist critic of the Puritan religion and worldview. Obviously people other than Puritans lived in and around Salem in the 1690s who could have provided alternatives to the Puritan perspective. Turner mentions two possibilities in Father of Lies: the local Indians and then Tituba and John Indian. The New England natives, however, appear only in the context of a clothing contrast, so they do not serve as a philosophical counterpoint. Likewise, Tituba and John Indian, characterized as dark-skinned servants of Samuel Parris who look and speak differently than the white people, function as contrasts of appearance, not as contrasts of thought. Turner does not set up either Indians or Tituba and her husband as possible influences on Lucian’s anti-Puritan perspectives.


The most historically believable model for Lidda and Lucian’s proto-humanism would have been the Quakers. The Puritans mistrusted the Quakers as they mistrusted the Indians, but, since the Quakers were supposedly civilized and also white speakers of English, like the Puritans, the Puritans tolerated them somewhat more. According to the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, however, Quaker beliefs posed a significant threat to the Puritan establishment. Puritans viewed religion as a hierarchical chain of command with God at the top, who then imparted His Word to the [male] ministers, who then imparted it to the people. Quaker theology eschewed the patriarchal rigidity of Puritan practice because it emphasized each individual’s direct, personal experience of God. Both men and women, in Quaker belief, had the capacity for Inner Light — their term for personal knowledge of the Divine. Several aspects of Quaker belief — their insistence on a unique, individualized knowledge of God, their potential for equality of men and women before God, and their resistance to being ordered around from the pulpit — could have convincingly correlated to to some of Lidda and Lucian’s contrarian views. However, the Quakers do not appear in Father of Lies, and so my question remains. With no in-world role models for her modern, anti-Puritan rhetoric, how in the hell does Lidda develop Lucian’s sophisticated, occasionally ironic analysis and detachment?

While I’m discussing Lucian’s failures as a character, I would just like to say that I still can’t get over Lidda’s easy acceptance of him as a non-demonic entity. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, this makes no sense, as both devils and angels were real and ubiquitous to your average Puritan. Therefore, if someone like Lucian appears out of thin air and starts chatting with you [and he’s not someone you recognize and thus a spirit], he’s either a devil or an angel. Although devils may disguise themselves as angels and try their hardest to fool you, you can usually determine the nature of an apparition by its topics of discussion. Is it, for example, giving you advice on a cure for your sick family member or exhorting you to renew your commitment to God? If it encourages you to support Puritan society, it’s an angel, and you can trust it. If, however, it recommends swimming naked, doubting the existence of witches, and otherwise contradicting the tenets of Puritan society, it’s a devil, and you should resist it by quoting Scripture, praying, and loudly proclaiming your devotion to God. In other words, everyone around Lidda would, at most, interpret Lucian as a demon and tell him to shove off or, at the very least, have serious reservations about him, but she doesn’t.

Lidda’s welcome of Lucian represents a problem insofar as her entire culture would read him as a devil and a generally bad, unwanted thing. It’s also a problem because Lucian characterizes himself as demonic, but Lidda doesn’t really seem to care. He tells her very early on [p. 12], “Heaven has nothing to do with this, girl,” implying that the other place, Hell, does. Slightly later, when Lidda asks who he is, he says, “You may call me Lucian, light bringer. … I deal in truth and lies, and to you I give the wit to tell the difference” [p. 39]. He might as well say, “Hi, I’m Lucifer, and I’m a fallen angel,” especially since Lucifer, another name for the fucking Devil, means light bearer in Latin. Of course, at this point in the story, I’m screaming at Lidda, “He just equated himself with the Devil and told you he was a sneaky bastard — don’t trust him! And, if you want to be historically accurate, run to your nearest minister for spiritual guidance!” But nope — fictional characters never listen when I yell at them.

As an aside, though, I suspect that Lucian’s oblique comparison of himself to Lucifer constitutes another historical inaccuracy, mostly because I don’t think Puritans referred to the Devil by that name. I’ve read an exhaustive amount about the Salem witchcraft outbreak, and I remember primary sources referring to “the Devil” and “Satan.” Even when warning that the Devil could deceive people in the appearance of an angel, the clergy commentators at the time apparently didn’t remark on the Devil as “the fairest of the fallen” — or, at least, not as far as I know. Then again, I’m not conversant with the history of appellations for the Devil, so I could be wrong.

Yet again, I have gone on much longer than expected and hit my bedtime. More later. Maybe, in the next section, I’ll finally get around to what I think is so awesome about Lucian.

Part I here.

Part II here.

Part IV here.

Part V here.

Father of Lies part II: disability = difference

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I just reread Father of Lies by Ann Turner, and I both love it and hate it in equal measure. Briefly put, it’s about Lidda, an unconventional Puritan girl who lives in the time of the Salem witchcraft outbreak. She feels compelled to denounce her town’s mass panic over the supposed machinations of Satan. Her developing relationship with an invisible man inside her, Lucian, who encourages her defiant, rebellious behavior and claims to give her the power to see the truth of the witchcraft accusations, makes her life somewhat more complicated. Much to my dismay, Turner completely misrepresents Salem, a failure that I have discussed earlier at great length. As the Goblin King would say, “What a pity,” because Turner does so well at other aspects of the story. For example, her depiction of Lidda and Lucian’s relationship — indeed, Lidda’s mental illness in general — is powerful, sensitive, nuanced, rich, and basically everything that I wish her treatment of Salem was.


Regarding Lidda’s mental illness, it is neither a surprise nor a spoiler that she has one. The Library of Congress data at the front of the book categorizes Father of Lies as a book about “1. Manic-depressive illness — Fiction,” even before “2. Trials (Witchcraft) — Fiction.” If that ain’t explicit enough, Turner dedicates the book to “all those with bipolar disorder who work so hard to make lives for themselves.” She also includes an afterword entitled About Bipolar Disorder, in which she makes it clear that all of Lidda’s strange and frightening perceptions [racing thoughts, seeing auras, uncontrollable movement, hallucinations] may be adequately explained by the disorder. Though she concludes with an open question about Lucian’s reality, Turner obviously characterizes him as a hallucination, an unreal product of Lidda’s imagination, and thus the most salient symptom of her mental illness.

Okay, so Lidda has a mental illness, and she directs much of her time, energy, and interest to Lucian, a person who does not exist outside of her head. Now, if this were a typical book written by an author without a mental illness and/or characters in their head, Lidda’s mental illness and her relationship with Lucian would be horrible barriers to happiness, fulfillment, or satisfaction. Lidda’s inability to be like everyone else would cause her no end of distress; her relationship with Lucian would just highlight for her what she was missing in relationships with people outside her head. In other words, she would be wretched and miserable because of her mental illness. She would only attain peace through managing her symptoms, denying her unique perceptions, and almost certainly killing off Lucian. And the narrative would stink of condescending pity for the poor little mentally disabled protagonist.


But this is not your typical book written by someone without a mental illness [and, I’m assuming, without characters like Lucian in her head]. Nope, in fact, Turner takes both Lidda and Lucian seriously in Father of Lies. While definite that Lidda has a mental illness, of which Lucian is a particularly egregious manifestation, Turner accords Lidda robust characterization without ableist authorial pity. Because of her mental illness, Lidda suffers physical and emotional pain that those around her do not: when she feels chilled and overheated in rapid succession, for example, or when she panics upon seeing flames emanating from her sister’s head. Yet she also experiences unshared joys: the sense of flight and freedom in a wild onrush of thoughts, the secret solace of a friend inside her who admires her for those traits that people around her chastise. As Turner writes it, Lidda’s mental illness makes her life different from that of most people around her, and it frequently contributes to the difficulties she faces. However, Lidda’s mental illness is never shown as inherently bad, wrong, pathetic, or burdensome. It may be disabling on occasion, but mostly it’s just a difference upon which the author places no negative judgment.

Turner’s respect for Lidda comes across most subtly and pervasively in the way that Lucian is written. As noted, Turner’s descriptions of Lucian as a voice in Lidda’s head, a sensation centered in her belly, and sometimes a shifting, flickering form on the wall demonstrate to the reader that he is an imaginary, unreal hallucination and byproduct of Lidda’s mental illness. To Lidda, however, he is a true, concrete, separate individual with his own agenda and personality. She jokes with him, argues with him, asks his advice, wonders where he goes when he won’t talk to her, fantasizes about him, and otherwise treats him like a real person. Turner reports all of Lidda’s interactions with Lucian in a straightforward, matter-of-fact manner. Turner never looks down on Lidda for believing in Lucian, nor does she invite the reader to do so.  Avoiding the evaluative and contemptuous distance endemic to so many portrayals of people with disabilities and/or mental illness, Turner’s portrait of Lidda shows that she is mentally ill, but also fully human, fully sympathetic, and fully dignified.

I must note that Turner’s treatment of Lidda isn’t perfect, verging as it does on the stereotype of Super Crip with Compensatory Powers. In the concluding paragraph of the afterword, Turner writes, “Was Lidda mad, or was she saner than the villagers? You decide” [p. 239]. Ignoring the artificially binary choice, we can discern that Turner wants us to answer yes to both questions. She wants us to think that, yes, Lidda was “mad” or mentally ill, and, yes, she was “saner” — or, more precisely, more reasonable and accurate in her analysis of the witchcraft outbreak — than the villagers. In fact, because Turner has Lucian tell Lidda that he gives her the wit to separate truth from lies, Turner effectively argues that Lidda’s reasonable, accurate analyses derive directly from her mental illness. Like Daredevil, Professor X, Daphne in Heroes, or any other superhero who loses some capacity, but then gains a magical ability that allows them to do way more than they ever did and thus basically renders the lost capacity irrelevant, Lidda has the superpower of seeing the truth. Her superpower comes from her mental illness and reinforces her unfortunate status as an insufferable Visionary Before Her Time Doomed to Pass Her Days Among the Small-Minded Masses. [See my analysis of this anachronistic concept in part I.] In other words, Turner risks defining Lidda by — and thus reducing her to and objectifying her with — her disability. Turner’s sympathetic and respectful treatment of Lidda ensures Lidda’s full humanization, but the deleterious authorial tendency to objectification yet remains.


Despite my caveat, I generally approve of Turner’s deployment of mental illness in Father of Lies. Though it occasionally smells like a crashingly obvious metaphor that Turner uses to highlight the “true” “madness” at play [i.e., the anti-witchcraft panic], Lidda’s mental illness mostly functions with a refreshing realism. Sometimes it contributes to her distress, sometimes to her happiness, always to her unique interpretation of reality. While Lidda’s mental illness sometimes estranges her from people and causes her difficulties because her perceptions don’t accord with others’, Turner does not ask the reader to pity Lidda because of her disability. The matter-of-fact way in which Turner reports on Lidda’s treatment of Lucian demonstrates that Lidda recognizes her difference from other people, but does not think any worse of herself for it. In a culture where the treatment of people with disabilities defaults to snide objectification, Turner’s well-rounded, compassionate characterization of Lidda is a radical [and depressingly uncommon] argument for disability rights.


Well, it looks like I don’t have time tonight to expatiate about Lucian and the Bishonen Fever Dreams. More later….

Part I here.

Part III here.

Part IV here.

Part V here.

12-year-old would-be murderers in the name of Slenderman

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When they were 12 years old in 2014, Anissa Weier and and Morgan Geyser stabbed fellow member of their social circle Paxton, called Bella, ostensibly in tribute to Slenderman, whose acolytes they wished to become. The seductive, illicit thrill of the relationship between Weier and Geyser, as well as the motives entangled in a shared fictional universe, reminds me of the 1954 Parker Hulme murder case. The same key elements — two girls causing harm to someone, with motives entangled in a shared fictional universe — call the comparison to mind, though Parker and Hulme were older [15 and 16], and they successfully killed Parker’s mom. It’s interesting that paracosms figured into both crimes, although I have no conclusive thoughts on the subject.

Nelson brothers’ paracosm from 1890s rural New Hampshire

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I’m always on the lookout for paracosmic material about others’ imaginary worlds, and I just stumbled across an article on Slate concerning the elaborate world created by Elmer, Arthur, and Walter Nelson, who grew up on a farm in Goshen, New Hampshire. During the 1890s, they created copious amounts of paracosmic material, including newspapers, magazines, maps, illustrations, and [my favorite] seed catalogs. The Amherst College Special Collections has digitized all the related ephemera, which can be seen online.

Actually, though, the best introduction to the Nelson brothers’ world is a Web site, The Worlds and Works of the Nelson Brothers, created in spring, 2014, by a group of Amherst students who studied the works for a course. This site provides context about the family, town, and times, as well as summaries and transcripts of selected ephemera. Fascinating, even though I’m not really interested in all the martial details that constitute much of the paracosm.

The things that piss you off in other people are your own faults.

The things that piss you off in other people are your own faults. published on No Comments on The things that piss you off in other people are your own faults.

What if I’m interested in getting to know my subpersonalities, but I’m not sure what they are? [I personally don’t have the problem of needing to identify mine; we are pretty well identified!]

This exercise on Integral Options Cafe about defining the disowned self, or a set of disowned subpersonalities, gets me thinking. In a nutshell, the exercise suggests picking an intimate relationship that you have with a friend, family member, lover, etc. Then list all the ways in which that person pisses you off. In what ways does the person seem contemptible, inferior, weak, whiny, etc.? What don’t you like about this person?

Also, at the same time, collect a list of traits that are the opposite of what piss you off about this person. What’s so good about you? What are your strengths? What are the parts of you that give you satisfaction?

The traits that you identify with and that make you happy correspond to the traits of a primary self, someone that you identify with very closely, maybe even your ego or everyday persona. The traits that piss you off about the other person are still your very own traits, but put in the form of a disowned self, someone that you do not identify with and try to shove away.

The conclusion here is to run toward, not away from, the piss-off traits. The piss-off traits represent the parts of you that you dislike so much that you project them onto other people, claiming that someone else over there is a perfectionist, critical, uptight, unemotional, flat and pedantic problem, not you! The piss-off traits are all you, and, the more you shove them away onto other people, the more they will come back and bite you in the ass. [Suppression never works.]

Self-knowledge lies in the places you least suspect it: the places inside you where you don’t want to go. Potential self-knowledge lies, waiting, inside your faults. If you turn yourself to face you, but you’ve never caught a glimpse of how the others must see the faker because you’re much too fast to take that test [ch-ch-ch-changes], you need to slow down and scrutinize what you hate in other people.

What you hate in others is what you reject in yourself. What you reject in yourself is mostly just parts of yourself marked so strongly by dislike that they seem negative, but they’re not inherently bad. You in your hate just think they’re bad. They’re really not. They’re really value-neutral, and they can be employed beneficially if you look past the coating of hatred and see them for the raw materials they are.

This message has been brought to you by the one who knows these things. Thank you.

Dialogic self, personifications, more John Rowan

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Apparently there’s a relatively recent movement championing the dialogic self, viz., the idea that we are groups of voices with different perspectives and positions.

Also, apparently, John Rowan, author of the rather dry Subpersonalities, is coming out with a new book next month called Personification: Using the Dialogical Self in Therapy and Counseling. I’m sure it discusses in a structured way what I learned the hard and lonely way to do all by myself.

What I want to know is where all this theory and information was when I was convinced I was going insane??

Internal Family Systems overview

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Internal Family Systems [TM] is a mode of therapy that identifies various subpersonalities inside us and, as part of the therapeutic relationship with our therapists, identifies the roles and functions of the subpersonalities. The description below of Internal Family Systems comes from my interpretation of a summary of the practice here.

IFS believes in three types of subpersonalities — managers, exiles and firefighters — and a Self. A Self is defined as the authentic core of a person, an integrated system of consciousness and traits. Removed somewhat from the turmoil of managers, exiles and firefighters, it is competent and wise, full of compassion for the more fragmented subpersonalities. The Self is not a subpersonality.

As for subpersonalities, one group of them is the managers. As rule makers, managers demarcate the boundaries between the Self and the firefighters and the exiles. Managers are like border guards that want to keep everyone in their own little worlds. Managers are very invested in the smooth function of the whole person, so they may emphasize order, organization, rationality and rule-following. They remind me of the Freudian superego.

Another group of subpersonalities is exiles. Exiles are little, lost, lonely parts of ourselves, often remnants from childhood that we have hidden away. We can think of them as unhappy pieces of ourselves that we have shoved in a closet. Exiles can be strong and insistent in their demands because they want nothing more than to have attention paid to them.

Causing interference between exiles and everything else are the firefighters. When the exiles start to come out of the closet, the firefighters step in. The firefighters may be characterized as panicky, dancing distractions, personalities that we take on when things, such as sensations from our exiles, seem too overwhelming. Maladaptive coping strategies such as emotional eating, watching TV till one is in a stupor or getting smash-assed drunk commonly identify firefighters.

With all the managers, exiles and firefighters running around, it’s a very busy place inside us! According to IFS, we are often confused, our behavior directed by the immediate demands of an exile or by the stringent control of a manager or by the escapist fantasies of a firefighter…instead of by the calm, wise compassion of the Self.

IFS uses the idea of subpersonalities to help us identify our managers, exiles and firefighters, become conscious of how they act and why and talk to them so that we understand them. Once we understand the motivations of our subpersonalities, we can respond compassionately to them from our Selves. We may be able to change our subpersonalities’ behaviors so they aren’t so detrimental; we might even be able to integrate them into our Selves so that we can be more whole.


I have the following questions. 1) How do managers and firefighters differ? Both seem to be ways to manage the appearance of exiles. 2) If one is hung up on identifying with, say, the managers instead of one’s Self, how does one learn to get in touch with one’s Self? 3) In general, I understand the point of identifying and working with subpersonalities, but why is integration always heralded as the ultimate goal? 4) Oh yeah…and what does this mean for the world beyond the individual?

Discussion of and books about subpersonalities

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Subpersonalities may be defined as little, semi-autonomous clusters of traits inside us with their own peculiar thoughts and worldviews that we as a whole employ in our daily lives. I personally think they overlap a lot with imaginary characters, which is why I just now typed "subpersonalities" into Google and came up with this blog entry from Integral Options Cafe, in which the author tries to define subpersonalities. The author also discusses some books and psychological theories that use the subpersonalities model. The author mentions the book Subpersonalities by John Rowan [which I have read and reviewed in my ongoing bibliography about paracosms and imaginary characters and such], as well as other sources that I have not looked into and need to.

Hooray, more places to look for interpretations of paracosms and imaginary characters!

Later I should write something about Internal Family Systems [TM].

Paracosms and imaginary friends: scholarly articles

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Though there is not a lot of information about paracosms and imaginary friends out there, I have found a few books, which I cherish deeply. Another source of information about paracosms and imaginary friends is scholarly journals. I have found some scholarly articles, mostly in psychological journals, to summarize and share with you. This bibliography is a work in progress, added to as I find more material.

Hoff, Eva V. 2004. "A friend living inside of me: The forms and functions of imaginary companions." Imagination, Cognition and Personality 24(2):151-189. 26 children and their imaginary companions were studied in detail. Companions were mostly children of the same age, though there were some fantasy creatures. Inspirations were varied, though mostly from friends and siblings. Imaginary friends served several purposes for their creators: inner mentors, sources of comfort, self-regulation devices and life enrichment.

Kastenbaum, R; Fox, L. 2007. "Do imaginary companions die? An exploratory study." Omega (Westport) 56(2):123-152. Adults were interviewed about the "end" of their imaginary characters’ lives. While most reported that their imaginary characters just faded away or disappeared, some reported that their imaginary characters died. The authors suggest that, at the age when kids create imaginary characters, they are also trying to figure out the status of "alive" and "dead."

Mills, Antonia. 2003. "Are children with imaginary playmates and children said to remember previous lives cross-culturally comparable categories?" Transcultural Psychiatry 40(1):62-90. 15 U.S. children with imaginary companions are compared to 15 children from India who say they remember their past lives to see whether the phenomena are cross-culturally comparable. In conclusion, yes, they seem to be similar phenomena springing from the same source.

Sawa, T; et al. 2004. "Role of imaginary companions in promoting the psychotherapeutic process." Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience 58(2):145-151. While usually studied as a phenomenon of childhood, imaginary companions may also manifest when a person has a psychiatric disorder. The authors point out that indulging and engaging the imaginary companion in the therapeutic process may help the therapist reach an otherwise recalcitrant patient.

Seiffge-Krenke, Inge. 1997. "Imaginary companions in adolescence: sign of a deficient or positive development?" Journal of Adolescence 20(2):137-154. 241 teens between 12 and 17 who had imaginary companions were surveyed about the traits and relationships of their imaginary friends. Three hypotheses were tested: 1) that only kids with social failings create imaginary friends; 2) that gifted, really creative kids create imaginary friends; and 3) that narcissistic kids create imaginary friends to feed their need for ego boosting. In conclusion, the creators of imaginary friends were socially and creatively competent teens.

Jung’s imaginary worlds and psychic journeys: The quest for the Red Book

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Inevitably, my research into paracosms and imaginary friends leads me in circles around Carl Gustav Jung, post-Freudian Swiss analyst who invented archetypes, introverts and extroverts during the beginning of the 20th century.

I keep coming back to Jung because his major contribution to the theory of psychoanalysis was to envision the psyche as home to many parts, In Jungian psychology, these parts can be personified (such as the Anima, Animus and the Shadow) and addressed in the way that people talk to imaginary characters.

Jung’s technique of talking to the aspects of oneself was known as active imagination. Please note that the Wikipedia entry suggests that active imagination means watching and recording one’s fantasy activity; however, Jung was very enthusiastic about encouraging, interrogating and otherwise assertively engaging with images and characters in one’s head.

Jung encouraged his patients to engage in active imagination techniques. He also used these techniques on his own. For sixteen years, he plumbed the depths of his own mind, verging dangerously close to obsession and madness. In a recent New York Times article, "Carl Jung and the Holy Grail of the Unconscious," Sara Corbett describes this formative period:

What happened next to Carl Jung has become, among Jungians and other scholars, the topic of enduring legend and controversy. …[I]n 1913, Jung, who was then 38, got lost in the soup of his own psyche. He was haunted by troubling visions and heard inner voices. Grappling with the horror of some of what he saw, he worried in moments that he was, in his own words, “menaced by a psychosis” or “doing a schizophrenia."

…[T]he [resulting Red Book] was a kind of phantasmagoric morality play, driven by Jung’s own wish not just to chart a course out of the mangrove swamp of his inner world but also to take some of its riches with him. …

The book tells the story of Jung trying to face down his own demons as they emerged from the shadows. The results are humiliating, sometimes unsavory. In it, Jung travels the land of the dead, falls in love with a woman he later realizes is his sister, gets squeezed by a giant serpent and, in one terrifying moment, eats the liver of a little child. (“I swallow with desperate efforts — it is impossible — once again and once again — I almost faint — it is done.”) At one point, even the devil criticizes Jung as hateful.

Clearly Jung was entertaining a very rich paracosm. But were his explorations deep and fruitful or excessive and mentally ill? Jungian adherents and author Corbett have no answers, and the case of Jung and his paracosm becomes especially confusing because he turned his paracosm into the crucible of his life’s work. Unlike Kirk Allen [previously discussed in a review of a Harper’s 1954 article, "The Jet Propelled Couch"], Jung did not find his paracosm to be an intrusion into and distraction from his mundane job. In fact, his paracosm and his job seem to have become inseparable, as he was practicing in his paracosm techniques that he would later publish and lecture about.

Corbett’s article does not deal with such fascinating topics, however; she is more concerned with the quest for Jung’s paracosmic records, or the Red Book, itself. As a sensitive, deeply personal document of a famous psychoanalyst, Jung’s diary of his travels in his mind has been closely guarded by his heirs and reverently visited only by a few adherents. It is soon to be published, though, with reproductions of its painstakingly done illustrations, as well as thousands of footnotes to explain its wide-ranging mythological, scholarly and alchemical allusions.

Again, Corbett’s article seems to ignore the significance of the impending debut of the Red Book. It’s a primary source about a paracosm, and primary sources about people’s imaginary worlds are pretty hard to come by. I don’t know why. It’s as if scholars are interested in paracosms only for what they tell us about their creators’ "serious," non-paracosmic works, not about the significance of paracosmic phenomena per se. But, as Corbett’s article implicitly suggests, paracosmic works such as Jung’s Red Book are indeed serious works. In these playgrounds of the mind, themes and characters develop in raw form the interests of many a creator, who then presents more refined versions of the paracosm in his or her artistry.

Why no, I’m not motivated to work today. Why askest thou? =P

When is a paracosm not a paracosm? When it’s a psychosis.

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"The Jet Propelled Couch," an article [part 1, part 2] from a 1954 issue of Harper’s, describes an analyst’s encounter with a university professor and scientist who lives a dual life. In his mundane existence, he works at the university and researches, but, in his fantasy life, his soul travels to other galaxies, where he is the ruler of a planet, charismatic, powerful, womanizing and benevolent. His trips to his kingdom planet were becoming more frequent, interfering with his job; hence the analyst was called in.

"The Jet Propelled Couch" explores how "Kirk Allen," the subject, nurtured his fantasy world as he grew up as one of the only white children in an isolated settlement in pre-statehood Hawaii. When he chanced upon a series of science-fiction books featuring a protagonist also named Kirk Allen, this coincidence propelled his fantasy world into detailed development. Kirk began to "fill in the gaps" and "make corrections to" the adventures in the Kirk Allen series, as well as drawing maps, charts and pictures of people and places related to his sci-fi activities.

The Kirk Allen paracosm sustained Kirk for many years and gave him much pleasure, and the analyst had to figure out how to "wean him from his madness." Eventually the analyst decided to partly indulge Kirk’s paracosm, getting into the spirit of his world, so to speak, taking it on its own terms. By agreeing with the reality of the Kirk Allen paracosm, the analyst showed Kirk what it was like to be a person who believed in his realm. Seeing a version of himself [i.e., a paracosm believer] in the analyst, Kirk slowly began to realize the fallacious assumptions upon which the reality of his paracosm was based. Thanks to the analyst’s participation, Kirk realized that his paracosm was indeed fantastical, and he apparently resolved his conflicts between his mundane life and his fantasy life.

"The Jet Propelled Couch" is both fascinating and frustrating. It’s fascinating in that it gives a view, albeit heavily psychoanalytic, of how a person’s life circumstances may promote the development of a paracosm. At the same time, it’s frustrating because the fact that the analyst thinks that Kirk Allen is "mad" makes the whole business of paracosms seem more insane, threatening and maladaptive than they really are. I know from my researches and personal experience that paracosms can be an enjoyable, helpful, glorious part of the imaginal development of childhood and adulthood, even though people who are foreign to the idea tend to think it’s a little mad.

In my estimation, Kirk Allen was not mad and did not have a psychosis; I would say more precisely that he had an elaborate, engaging paracosm, the reality of which was interfering with the mundane reality of his life. The only problem with his paracosm was not that it was so well-developed and detailed, but that it was causing trouble with his job. In this case, madness lies not in the contents or existence of the paracosm per se, but more in its effects.

Paracosms and imaginary characters: a bibliography

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NOTE: As a work in progress, this list will be periodically updated to reflect my latest research.

Ever since my sister and I created our first imaginary world at age 4, I’ve been interested in imaginary worlds, technically termed "paracosms," and imaginary characters/friends. Information about the paracosmic is surprisingly difficult to come by, but, over the years, I have scraped together relevant material. Most of it is from a psychological, psychiatric or sociological point of view, although a few New Agey things have crept in since I considered them useful. Forthwith, a list.

Caughey, John. Imaginary Social Worlds: A Cultural Approach. In a welcome antidote to archetypical navel-gazing, Imaginary Social Worlds compares the contents of imaginary social worlds cross-culturally. Caughey examines daydreams, celebrity fantasies, sexual fantasies, etc., and looks at the ways in which an individual’s fantasy world reflects themes and obsessions of the world around him/her.

Cohen, David; MacKeith, Stephen. The Development of Imagination: The Private Worlds of Childhood. Containing one of the first longitudinal studies of children and their paracosms, this book is notable for collecting stats and stories about the paracosms of several score British paracosms and the lives of their creators. The best parts of this book give thumbnail sketches of each creator’s family circumstances [economic status, siblings, location] and how these affected each paracosm. Included is also a summary of the salient points of each imaginary world. Good for a look at the actual content of paracosms.

Matthews, Caitlin. In Search of Woman’s Passionate Soul: Revealing the Daimon Lover Within. A collection of observations from heterosexual women discussing their experiences of relationships with male imaginary characters. Despite its Jungian underpinnings, limited sample size and ridiculous extrapolation, I like this book for its first-person reporting about the paracosmic.

Root-Bernstein, Michele. "Imaginary Worldplay as an Indicator of Creative Giftedness." In The International Handbook on Giftedness, edited by Larisa V. Shavinina. Noting that the seeds and early signs of adult creativity may be seen in childhood play, Root-Bernstein looks at what childhood paracosms can tell us about their creators as adults. She notes a high correlation between creators of childhood paracosms and those who went on to be artists and successful scientists. Less about paracosms themselves and more about their implications.

Rowan, John. Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us. Dry, but good for a historical overview, this book discusses the changing conceptions of  imaginary characters over the last 150 years of psychology/psychiatry.

Taylor, Marjorie. Imaginary Companions and the Children who Create Them. Taking the perspective of a child development psychologist, Taylor synthesizes many studies on fantasy play in children. Discussing imaginary friends, transitional objects and paracosms, she concludes that the invention of these things represents a common, healthy aspect of modern American child development. Taylor is at her best when talking about imaginary friends; her section on paracosms has great first-person reports, but ends too abruptly.

Watkins, Mary M. Invisible Guests: The Development of Imaginal Dialogues. A premier introduction and overview to the concept of multivocal consciousness, imaginary friends, whatever you want to call it. Watkins argues that the current psychiatric fixation with a unitary voice/self ignores a rich philosophical, mythological and phenomenological tradition of an internal population of >1. To that end, she synthesizes information reaching back to ancient Greek epics and forward to modern Jungianism. Her discussion of authorial relationships to story characters is especially strong.

Watkins, Mary M. Waking Dreams. Written before Invisible Guests, this book takes the same pro-paracosmic viewpoint, extended to fantasy, daydreaming, waking dreams and other supposedly "non-productive" states in general. Watkins’ Jungian background leads her to champion the concept of "active imagination," that is, calling out the characters in one’s head and talking to them. She explores the origins of this technique in European and American practice. Less rigorous and more poetically written than Invisible Guests, Waking Dreams is a thought-provoking ancillary, but should be read after Invisible Guests.

Wegner, Daniel M. White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts: Suppression, Obsession and the Psychology of Mental Control. A lucid, conversational, funny book about the ways in which people attempt to control their thoughts and the ways in which these methods backfire. Wegner’s comments on suppression and obsession provide insight into how people can create characters and then endow them with so much personality that they seem independent.

I need to read this book RIGHT NOW!

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The Development of Imagination: The Private Worlds of Childhood by David Cohen and Stephen A. MacKeith is about paracosms. I NEED IT RIGHT NOW.

And this one too, which has an essay about paracosms: Organizing Early Experience: Imagination and Cognition in Childhood edited by Delmont Morrison.

The black hole of the Twilight series aaaiiieeeeee noooooooo

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Last time I wrote about the Twilight series, I elaborated about two types of fictional universes. In the multiplicative type, the inventiveness moves outward from its source, creating more characters, more locales, more magical powers, more spells, more generations. Multiplicative universes are immersive by virtue of their breadth; the sheer variety of their many elements makes them seem like small parts of the actual, teeming world.

The other type of fictional universe is the reductive. The inventiveness here moves inward from its source or focus. There are few characters, few locales. In fact, there are usually only 2 or 3 characters and 2 settings at the most. Reductive universes are immersive by virtue of their depth. They go deeper and deeper into the psychological twists of the small cast until readers feel as if they really know the cast members.

Anyway, those media outlets that compare Twilight with Harry Potter miss key differences between the franchises.

1. Twilight is infinitely worse in quality compared to Harry Potter, although Harry Potter itself is merely good. It is not GREAT.

2. The Harry Potter series transcends age, class, sex and race in its appeal. The Twilight saga appeals 95% to white bourgeois females between the ages of 9-29.

3. The Harry Potter series has a multiplicative universe. The Twilight series has a reductive universe. It’s also a poorly done reductive universe in which the exclusive focus on Bella and Edward does not reward such scrutiny. Reductive universes work best when they have something interesting at their heart, say, a pair of characters that it’s worth staring at for 200 pages. Vera Nazarian’s Duke in His Castle provides a strong example. Tragically, Edward and Bella are not worth staring at for 200 pages, much less 2. All the reader sees when he/she stares at them for 2 or 20 or 200 or even 2000 pages is an endless cycle of mood swings.

To write in the overwrought style of my 11-year-old self, here is the experience of reading the Twilight Saga:

love!                         hatred!                                                                     turmoil!          bad hair days!
ambivalence!              pathetically repressed sexual tension!              pain!

the moods of the

go up

kind of like that “chewable” calcium pill i tried to swallow
2 days ago
but i didn’t chew it
so it went
d                                                        k                   UP!
o                                                   c
w                                           a
n                    and then b

until my gag reflex finally !!!!WON!!!!

and i projectile vomited pppp–ttt–oooooo–eeeeeee–yyyyyyyyyy across the bathroom

& hurked it on to the bath mat

& it was STILL INTACT.

i am never EVEREVER eating those calcium chews again.


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