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January 30, 2007


Mmmm. I'm always skeptical of the claim that someone wouldn't have created their great art if they hadn't been depressed, as if lack of despair makes someone throw their paints/typewriter into the river and become an investment banker. It smacks too much of the romanticization of tormented artistness. (Also, just from personal experience, when I'm depressed, I don't want to get out of bed, nevermind paint...)

It's impossible to test, of course, but I have a sneaking suspicion, in my heart of hearts, that if Anderson or Van Gogh had gotten meds, they'd have lived twice as long and produced four or five times more work.

*cough* Sorry, went off on a tangent there...

Does anybody remember Dreamchild? This was Dennis Potter's (fictional) story about Lewis Caroll and Alice Hargreaves, and featured some of Caroll's characters created by Lyle Conway (Little Shop of Horrors, Labyrinth and Dark Crystal to name but a few of his projects) of the Jim Henson Creature Shop.

It's been a very long time since I've last seen it, but I remember it being rather twisted and dark, but ultimately rather entertaining.



Thank you!!! I hadn't known that the The Lost Boys had come out on DVD!

I have a copy of Dreamchild on VHS (and am always hoping that a DVD release will follow). A brilliant but very dark film with lovely nightmarish depictions of the Wonderland characters and a sensitive script that allows both Ian Holm as Caroll and the actresses that portray the real Alice, as a young girl and as an elderly woman the room to show both dignity and foolishness. A truely adult fantasy movie.


I don't think Wullschlaeger was ever saying that artists can only create from pain, despair, and repression. What she was saying was that *this particular writer* had a psyche so extremely shaped by his personal misery that it indelibly shaped the art that he produced. His fairy tales (when they're in good translation and haven't been "softened") can make for very painful reading. Had Andersen not been in deep, life-long pain, he would have written different fairy tales. They might have been better fairy tales, who knows? But they would have been different.

That said, I agree with you, Ursula, that depression is horribly debilitating, and most people find themselves able to produce more and better work *after* they've been treated for it, not while they're in its grip. The whole "suffering artist" myth is pretty much just that, a myth; it's hard to make art and suffer at the same time. For one thing, suffering is so time consuming....

I understand that Stephen Fry has made a very good television program for the BBC about Manic-Depression, looking at its relationship to creativity and at his own devastating experience of this illness. I'm very curious to see it (I grew up with a MD parent, so I've an interest in the subject) -- so if anybody out there knows where to get it on tape or DVD, I'd be quite grateful for the info.

There's also a book called Touched by Fire: Manic Depression Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison, which I hear is good, though I haven't read it myself. The children's book writer Alan Garner talks candidly about his own severe battles with depression in his book of essays The Voice That Thunders. I *have* read that, and it's both brave and brilliant.

"When you are young," writes E. Nesbit in her book, The Enchanted Castle, "so many things are difficult to believe, and yet the dullest people will tell you that they are true - such things, for instance, as that the earth goes around the sun, and that it is not flat but round. But the things that seem really likely, like fairytales and magic, are, so say the grown-ups, not true at all." E. Nesbit has always been one of my favorite authors, not only for her ability to transform the ordinary into a landscape of wonder, but because she could speak directly and confidently to children. Having supported so many children (some of whom her husband, Henry Bland, had had with other women), Nesbit had a deep understanding of how children talk to one another. The authenticity of her dialogue influenced the writing of both C. S. Lewis and Edward Eager, both of whom professed an indebtedness to her. As the author who insisted that magic was as real as chocolate cake, Nesbit gets my vote as one of the best children's authors of fantastic fiction, whose work deserves to be better known.

I just wanted to thank both Ursula and Terri for acknowledging and denying the distressing idea that depression is creative. Certainly Andersen would have written, but I agree he would have written different tales. (If this means that he wouldn't have written The Little Match Girl, then I, for one, would be all in favor!).

Also, thanks for this post. I've been icked out by the sentimentalizing of children's writers as well.

I guess in some ways I don't quite understand the backlash against sentamentalizing children's authors. Its as if we are saying that, despite their very real problems, traumas, rough edges etc that they didn't have any sentimentality, which I completely disagree with. I read the article on the Endicott site before I ever saw Finding Neverland and did not actually see a great difference from the J.M. Barrie featured in both of those. I agree that the harshness of life shouldn't be glossed over, but I also don't believe that every time Hollywood tries to put a pleasant light on something that they are somehow watering it down. The thing that is great about Finding Neverland, for example, is that it is a magical movie with a great deal of sadness, sorrow, and downright un-fairytale like stuff in it. Its right there and didn't take much effort to see both the triumph and tragedy of J.M. Barrie's life. Of course that is just my opinion.

You're probably right that Anderson's biographer wasn't generalizing about depressed artists, Terri--it's just been one of those weird weeks where I've run across the notion of misery-as-muse every time I turn around, and sooner or later I was bound to snap. *grin*

Hey, it kicked off an interesting discussion! And I did pause to wonder when I quoted Wullschlaeger if it would seem (taken out of the context of the original interview) that she was some how dissing the use of anti-depressants, which was definitely not her point -- so I'm glad you brought the subject up.

Just wanted to add my voice, saying I'm relieved to read the comments about creativity/depression. I came to the site from my bloglines feed to make a comment on that aspect of the post, too. :) I guess there are a bunch of us out here fighting the whole depression=artistic thing.

Interesting and intelligent discussion of writers & what nudges them. I also own DREAMCHILD, which is a lovely film with, as noted, an especially memorable performance by Ian Holm -- the scene with the Gryffin and the Mock Turtle (if I remember aright: maybe I'm recalling another Carroll adaption?) is really haunting.

I feel there is a definite link between certain mood disorders and creativity. As has been said above, debilitating depression keeps one from working; but people with cyclic or seasonal mood disorders (I'm one of them) often have a burst of energy linked to hypomania that produces the work. There have been some very interesting recent studies about this (one in particular I had bookmarked but now unfortunately can't find), in which researchers found that in the hypomanic phase creative types made unexpected and sudden connections between ideas, borne out by brain imaging. In TOUCHED BY FIRE Kay Jamison suggests a very intriguing corollary between seasonal disorders, the origin of seasonal rituals, poetry, and creativity in general. Quite fascinating, and since then whenever I have read a biography of an artist who suffered from a cyclic disorder I've found myself attempting to track their creative spurts and comncomitant depressive episodes, to see if there is a correlation with the seasons. It would be an interesting project to see if someone could actually draw a sine curve linking the two (Jamison does something like this in her book) And I find it a beautiful and quite haunting notion, that our ancvestors may have been driven to create by this very imbalance. A recent book, THE MIND IN THE CAVE, deals with the origins of art and the origins of consciousness in altered states.

But then there are all those writers and artists who *don't* suffer from mood disorders, who produce brilliant work without the balky neurological machinery. It would be very interesting to see what the insides of *their* heads looked like.

I loved the Wullschlaeger HCA bio. But I wouldn't have wanted to BE Andersen, for all the tea in China (or all the matches in, well, anywhere).

As someone who grew up strictly on the Disney movie versions of pretty much all the fairy tales (child of the '70s!) I was shocked the first time I actually read the complete Peter Pan - just a couple of years ago. I couldn't believe how often Tinkerbell said "Peter, you ass!" in the story - I know ideas about children's literature have changed in the past 100 years but it was still such a surprise. (And I mean that in a good way.)

As for writers and depression, well my only experience with deep paralyzing depression is after my father died. I didn't get out of bed for anything other than occasional food and trips to the bathroom for a month. I might still be there if my thesis wasn't looming large and I knew how disappointed he would be if I didn't get it done.

I often think the folks who say depression makes artists more creative have never truly suffered from it themselves.

I wrote to the BBC and received a reply back saying that the Stephen Fry program on Manic Depression is going to be repeated in March. When the actual date is announced, I'll post it on this blog in case anyone else here (living in the UK) would also like to see it.

Liz, thanks for your comments; I'm defintely going to have to track down that Jamison book now. Sounds fascinating.


The official mini-site for The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive is here:

and it also has some clips from the documentary too.


I would like to invite everyone to take a look at a unique edition of "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen and illustrated by the award-winning Ukrainian artist Vladyslav Yerko.
A very special, collectible book!
You can find it here:

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About this blog

  • The Journal of Mythic Arts was a pioneering online magazine dedicated to Mythic Arts: literary, visual, and performance arts inspired by myth, folklore, and fairy tales. Published by The Endicott Studio, co-edited by Terri Windling & Midori Snyder, JoMA ran from 1997 to 2008.

    This blog was active from 2006 - 2008, and is kept online as an archive only. Please note that no new material has been posted since 2008, and links have not been updated.

    For more recent discussions of Mythic Arts, fantasy literature, and related topics, visit Terri Windling's Myth & Moor and Midori Snyder's Into the Labyrinth.

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