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Chronic Childhood Illness and Remus Lupin
Chronic Childhood Illness and Remus Lupin
An Oft Overlooked Characterisation Aspect

It has recently come to my attention that something I consider very important to, if not the pinnacle of, Remus Lupin's characterisation is often completely ignored (and likely not intentionally) by the vast majority of Remus fic writers. Taking that into account I can only assume that most people are not aware of the aspect in terms that are necessary to truly take it into consideration for characterisation.

That being said, what aspect am I talking about? The fact that Remus Lupin suffers from a chronic illness, inflincted on him in childhood.

Now, I recognise that this seems obvious, after all, he is a werewolf. We know that he was bitten when he was a small boy (my understanding of such a phrase would put him between two and six years of age, else he would have said 'boy'). Some people would even compare it in analogy to AIDS (I am not one of those, but that's another essay entirely).

However, that in no way takes into consideration the fact that werewolfism (or lycanthropy) is an *illness*. It's a chronic illness, taking chronic to mean "lasting for a long period of time or marked by frequent recurrence, not acute" and illness as "poor health resulting from disease of body or mind; sickness." As a side note, this is one of the many aspects that negates the analogy to AIDS if only because AIDS is a terminal illness, not a chronic one.

Moreover, in the case of Remus J. Lupin, it's a chronic illness that has affected him since childhood. Furthermore, as stated earlier, since he was a small boy*. The average person can actively recall memories starting at the age of five. Anything before that would have to be something extraordinary in order to be vividly (or sometimes even vaguely) recalled. Not to say those memories don't exist, merely that one cannot recall a time before one knew or did something. A good example of this is speaking. How many people recall a time before they knew how to speak (speaking in the sense of sentences, not singular words or thoughts, which generally onsets around the third year of life)? Intellectually we all know there was a time when we could not speak, but the vast majority of us cannot recall it.

Now, apply that idea to having a chronic illness. Remus never speaks of remembering a time before he was a werewolf*. Coupled with the fact that he states he was a small child when he received the bite and it's quite likely there isn't a time he remembers when he wasn't a werewolf. Even if he was six when he was infected and he does recall a time previous to the infection, the trauma of the bite (after all, he would actually had to been bitten by a large, violent "animal") is almost certainly both his most traumatic experience and most vivid memory up until that point.

Additonally, young children are very impressionable, they learn and process from everything around them. While they tend to recover more quickly (both from physical pain and trauma) the things they learn from the experiences stay with them forever (unless there's memory repression, which occurs almost exclusively in singular incidents or multiple incidents that stopped after a period of time and never reoccured).

What does all this mean? It means that the second most defining aspect of Remus's life (after his parents) is his illness. The illness is not just as aspect of his personality, something that he suffers and deals with. It is something that defines who he *is*, especially if he can't recall a time when he was not sick. Moreover, werewolfism isn't merely chronic illness, it's an incredibly painful, exhausting illness that occurs with striking regularity. There is no escape. Once a month, every single month (sometimes twice) Remus's body has been broken apart, reformed, and taken over by something more savage than his fully human mind (that wants to eat those stupid or unfortunate enough to come around him) since the time he was a small child.

And if that wasn't enough? Not only if there no cure, but after numerous attempts (as his parents attempted to find a cure over and over, according to him*) there was still nothing that could be done for him. And *then* one has to consider the fact that if *anyone* non-sympathetic discovered what he was infected with he'd be registered (and any restrictions, brandings, and imprisonments occurred with that -- including, according to FB, not being allowed a wand) and his parents would be in trouble (for not registering him in the first place). These are all inescapable facts of his life from the time that he was six years old, at the latest.

Now, I don't know how many of you have been in close contact with a chronically ill child. For the record, I was a chronically ill child. I am still chronically ill, though no longer a child. I have a major heart defect, which spiralled into a full condition and often brings me in contact with medical professionals. So, I spent a significant amount of time as a child with other seriously sick children, and in my experiences, most of these children don't fear death, even the ones likely to die don't fear death. Which isn't to say they don't understand it. What they understand is death would stop the pain and that living without a cure or a reliable treatment means the pain will continue indeteriminably and that was what the vast majority of them fear. That they'd be sick forever.

By the time Remus went to Hogwarts? He knew he'd be sick forever. There was Wolfsbane. There was no cure. There was no hope of any of that left. And yet he survived. He lived. He made friends and went to school and dealt with what life had thrown at him. Which is why I cannot even begin to understand the position that James and Sirius (Peter is often omitted) gave him *strength* and that the loss of them to death and betrayal is what forced Remus to get a backbone. I've heard especially often since the release of Order of the Phoenix and the pensieve scene therein. I've argued in another essay that Remus merely did not care enough to intervene for Severus Snape, especially given Snape's reaction to help. Now, I'll explain why: because the large majority of people only have so much energy and so much empathy and so much ability to care about things inconsequential to their lives and any child or teenager with a major chronic illness such as Remus has is going to be very short on those things.

Furthermore we see in OotP and Prisoner of Azkaban that Remus has no trouble taking control of a situation and giving instructions and orders. He has no trouble being mediator or leader. And yet the same people who agree with that disagree that he was capable of the same thing at sixteen as he was at thirty-six. Frankly? Bullshit. Again, I'm speaking from my not small experiences in the field, most children with a major chronic illness (again, like Remus) have fully defined personalities which will not change very much after the age of ten or so. Why is this? Because most of these children have been aware of their own mortality for as long as they can remember. That defines one's entire life and perception of life and if you're not strong, determined, and able to emotionally deal with whatever life throws at you by ten? You're not alive at ten. Or, at best, you're institutionalised. Not walking around making jokes about your illness.

Frankly, children of major chronic illness are not like other children. Their lives (and their deaths) are defined by what they can and cannot do, what they are and are not capable of, and that will never change even if a cure is found because it has been engrained in their minds and their personalities from the time they were small children and first learning how the world worked and that they were not like other little boys and girls. It is who they are and who they have always been from the second they got sick and realised they were never going to get better.

This is even more so for Remus J. Lupin because his first major contact with other children, his first friends, were at eleven, at the soonest. His entire personality, who he was, who he became, and what he grew up to be is defined by five to nine long years with just his illness and his parents.

I feel that I'm doing a poor job explaining the isolation and the pain, because if you haven't experienced it it's almost impossible to imagine it, but I ask that you all, who write Remus, take it into consideration. I'm here if you'd like to ask questions about my experiences.

Oh, and if my essay sounds morbid? Just think about the fact that our dear canon Remus jokes about Dementors.

- Andrea.

*I as a very small boy when I received the bite. My parents tried everything, but in those days there was no cure. The potion that Professor Snape has been making for me is a very recent discovery." - Prisoner of Azkaban, Pg. 352, U.S Paperback Edition.

Current Mood: indescribable indescribable

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Comments
chaos_rose From: chaos_rose Date: September 8th, 2003 02:42 am (UTC) (Link)
*applause* Bravo!

I like the look into something that most of us never consider - the effects of a serious childhood illness on the adult personality. Until you brought it up, I had never even considered it.

Damn. Must go reread the books.

wikdsushi From: wikdsushi Date: September 8th, 2003 03:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Hear, hear! Just one more reason why Remus J. is so dear to me. (I'd picked up on this from early on, but I'm another chronically ill child-to-adult - nothing as severe as yours, just lots and lots of things piled on top of each other; I think the last count, since they're still technically being "diagnosed," was five.)

Thanks so much for writing this out in terms everyone can comprehend. It's so hard to explain, "No, I didn't get to *insert activity here*. I was sick." The all-too-common response is, "Then why didn't you go to the doctor?" (Times like that, justifiable homicide looks like a very, very attractive option indeed.)

**hugs**
saeva From: saeva Date: September 8th, 2003 03:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, no. The best part is replying you did and getting the answer: "But you're sick?"

That's what you just have to give up and decide that it's not worth trying to explain, man. Or babble at them in medical terms -- that's actually fun.

- Andrea.
wikdsushi From: wikdsushi Date: September 8th, 2003 03:39 am (UTC) (Link)
"But you don't look sick."

"You look fine!"

"But you were at school all day. You can't be that sick if you did that."

"Oh. I've heard of that. You know, you can get therapy for that now. It's really just all in your head anyway."

*grits teeth*

Heeeee! Yes! The medical lecture. They always cave. "Limbic system? Infraction? Histaminic receptor? Uhhh... *eyes glaze*puddle of drool*" Ahhh, such joy. And they sputter so cutely when they accuse you of making it all up.

*passes out Remus J. Club badges*
ev_vy From: ev_vy Date: September 8th, 2003 09:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you! I haven't actually thought about the significance of this aspect of Remus, but reading through your post I was starting to realise I'd noticed that chronically ill children have very strong personalities. I had little contact with such children, but I read about them, listened to them speak and they always struck me as very, very mature. Adults in little bodies.

So thank you again for giving me another reason to believe that Remus had a backbone (and definitely wasn't a coward) when he was at Hogwarts, and the reasons why he didn't act are so far his to know.
From: siriaeve Date: September 8th, 2003 12:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ahem. Word. That is all. :)
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 8th, 2003 04:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

*Applauds*

You know, I like when you do these essays-there' always very well written and thought-provoking, even if the subject matter is somewhat trivial. What message boards (if any) do you frequent, and do you post these there?
wickedwords From: wickedwords Date: September 9th, 2003 02:57 am (UTC) (Link)
This was a very cool essay. I agree that Lupin's childhood is a defining component of who he is -- that it has formed him and shaped him and is a part of him -- but I don't think his illness is *all* that he is. I am, however, fascinated by the thought of taking this subtext and doing something clever and overt with it. However, I think instead I am going to go back to work. *g*
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 15th, 2003 12:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Nice job with the new layout-it's much easier to read.
mollymoon From: mollymoon Date: October 18th, 2003 01:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Fabulous post!!

As a sufferer of chronic pain, the isolation that is essential I believe to the endurance of it is something that I always felt that Remus had to go through.

You start off shying away from people because you believe that you are doing them a favor. That you are protecting them from the harsh reality of your life. Let's face it, most people, whether children, teens or adults, can't wrap their minds around what it is like to suffer all the time.

That's not the whole truth though; eventually you realize that you isolate yourself for your own protection -- because you can't bear the same questions over and over, because part of being a survivor means being focused and cold and clinical about the options in your life. Because you can't allow yourself to go through the rollercoaster of another new person thinking that they have the answer and the cure, when you know that there is none.

Again, excellent post. Do you mind if I friend you?
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