I've just finished reading Stephen Donaldson's First Chronicle of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. It's taken me about 29 years to finish it, which is approximately a tenth of a page a day. OK, I'm being silly. I started reading it age 12, when I was looking for a book as 'cool' as LOTR and I got through about two chapters of leper-laden woe and thought 'feck this' and went out and bought a Conan book instead.
But one theme I found interesting is the idea that Covenant, the main character, is in a world that he denies. Throughout the book you ponder whether it is his delusion that you are reading about, although we find it easier to believe in the Land than Covenant does. The doubt is fuelled by him flipping back to our world at the end of each book, usually with an injury that correlates with whatever hurt him in the Land. This idea has sort of been done to death now, although to my mind the perfect version of it was Life On Mars/ Ashes to Ashes.
I digress. What fascinated me was the concept of delusion in a world of fantasy. It fascinates me because it is a key theme in my own fantasy series. When I was devising the plot for the trilogy I wanted some spin on the fantasy setting that would feel fresh, perhaps a little different. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to have the main character suffer with a psychiatric condition, and from there it sort of grew to include a few other characters. I couldn't recall many fantasy books I'd read where there was mental illness as a theme beyond the odd psychopathic persona (and you'd argue whether psychopathic traits are psychiatric illnesses or severe personality disorders). A quick web-search didn't pull up many, so I thought 'let's go with this.'
This left me with consideration of how i would portray the other Wild-mages in the book. The biggest difficulty was Jem, who is a major character and Emelia's mentor. I needed him to have a degree of stability and order in his make-up as Jem is all about rigidity and control in his life. Clearly a fervent mania wasn't right for him, nor a florid schizophrenia.
In the end I settled on obsessive-compulsive disorder for Jem. OCD is something that is often made light of-- after all, most of us have little 'obsessive' traits that infiltrate our lives. For my part I am a bit of a checker--I can't leave the house (especially on holiday) without checking all the doors are locked, to the point I have turned around on my way to work to come back. But this is mild, insignificant compared to 'real' OCD.
Mental illness and psychiatric conditions are far more prevalent in the modern world than we give credit for. Most of us have either experienced or had close friends who have suffered from one or more such problems and have insight into the impact they can have on lives for many years. I hope that by writing about them, even within fantastical settings, they can become a topic that become easier to discuss and think about.
As a last note, the title, the Moon's Malady, is a reference for how the girls that Emelia knows in her workplace think of mental illness: namely that it is linked to the lunar cycles. This was taken straight from our own world's history of understanding mental illness--for many years it was considered 'madness' was related to the moon, hence 'lunacy' as an archaic term. And the world I've just created has four moons--so if that hold any weight, the inhabitants of Nurolia will have to become far more relaxed about discussing it than we are as a society!