Lord Ian Mackenzie has been out of the asylum for a few years. His father had him committed at the age of nine, ostensibly for his uncontrollable rages, inability to meet another's gaze, and obsessive tendencies. His brother released him after their father's death, and now Ian uses his uncanny knack for finance to keep the family in wads of cash. Not only in finance does Ian have savant like capabilities, he is incredibly gifted in languages, mathematics, and music. He is also capable of memorizing documents, maps, and conversations word for word, despite not necessarily understanding them.
Despite his problems he is surprisingly well suited to the role of hero. His mental issues highlight a common romance trope : a hero who is physically strong yet emotionally vulnerable, passionately devoted to the heroine yet tortured inside, determined to protect those he loves yet firmly in need of rescue himself.
Something that struck me while reading this story came home again after reading a BBC magazine article on the portrayal of autism in fiction. Does art really imitate life? Do people with autism always have an amazing intellectual skill?
The article discusses how autistic characters are always shown to be specially gifted in some way. Rainman is perhaps the most well known example I can think of, and Lord Ian the most recent. The answer of course is no. "By far, the majority of people with autism do not have any kind of savant ability." The article continues, "the current estimate is that one or two in 200 people with an autism spectrum disorder have a savant talent, according to the National Autistic Society, although the exact numbers are still unknown."
So why are they portrayed that way?
Jonathan Kaufman, president of Disability Works in the US sums it up: "It doesn't seem to be as bad to be severely autistic if you're also skilled at maths or music. If it seems to be that with your disability comes an extraordinary ability, it takes away the worst aspects of being disabled."
Which then raises another question: how does the depiction in art (movies & books etc...) effect the public, and closer to home, the parents of children with some level of autistic spectrum? Particularly parents whose children have no savant expertise?
The end of the article, in particular the comments section of the article, address more on this last question and is an interesting read.
Music: Jarvis Cocker
Currently reading: 'Atlantis Unleashed' by Alyssa Day