New Post on Tor.com: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Fiction, Part 4

lordpeterwimsey

“There were eighteen months… not that I suppose he’ll ever tell you about that, at least, if he does, then you’ll know he’s cured… I don’t mean he went out of his mind or anything, and he was always perfectly sweet about it, only he was so dreadfully afraid to go to sleep….”

– Lord Peter Wimsey’s mother attempting to describe his difficulties from second-hand experience

In the first part of this series, I talked about how PTSD is experienced in real life versus many of its more popular and less accurate portrayals in fiction.

In the second and third parts of this series, I went into more detail with four examples of PTSD in fiction: Sinclair in Babylon 5, Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, the apocalyptic version of PTSD postulated in World War Z, and Josh Lyman in The West Wing.

While these depictions are somewhat successful, even extremely so, they tend to be either one-off Very Special Episodes (Babylon 5, The West Wing) or bittersweet finishers (World War Z, The Lord of the Rings). Writing about a character experiencing PTSD is already a difficult affair; writing about a character living with PTSD is much, much harder. So often we think that the most exciting part of PTSD is when it explodes, an event that supposedly either leaves a shattered mind behind, or must be immediately mostly or completely dealt within the next few chapters, lest the aftershocks shake the plot and character relationships too much.

Thus, there is one more example I want to discuss that particularly sticks out in my mind, because it covers the long-term portrayal of a character with PTSD who nevertheless is functional: Lord Peter Wimsey, one of the famous sleuths in the mystery genre. His author, Dorothy L. Sayers, whatever else she may be, had a very good grip on chronic PTSD.

[You know, PTSD reminds me of that sword that eats people’s souls.]

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4 thoughts on “New Post on Tor.com: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Fiction, Part 4

  1. I really learned a lot from this series of posts, and I’ve been really looking forward to this one–I’ve long felt that Sayers’s description of Peter’s PTSD was really good, so it’s nice to find out that it actually is. Since Sayers came of age during and after World War 1, she probably knew a lot of men and women who suffered from shell-shock (her contemporary, Vera Brittain, describes her mental condition in the wake of being a nurse in France during the War in vivid detail in “Testament of Youth”–when I first read it, it was a revelation; I’d not considered that support personnel could suffer as well as those on the front lines).

    I do have a tiny nit to pick–it’s Dorothy L. Sayers, not Dorothy Sayers. She was extremely particular about the L. and I tend to twitch when I see it omitted.

  2. Hello Natalie L.,
    I’m glad you like the series. :) I’m definitely going to have to find “Testament of Youth.”

    I didn’t realize about the L. in Dorothy L. Sayers! I’ll have to get that corrected.

  3. Vera Brittain was an absolutely fascinating woman. She wrote a number of books about her life, but it’s “Testament of Youth” she’s best known for–and it is an absolutely shattering book to read. She was a gently bred Oxford student when the War broke out, decided to become a nurse, and then lived through every single young man of her acquaintance–including her brother and fiance–getting killed. That tends to have an effect on a person.

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