Amnesia . . . I Forgot Why I Chose This Topic

Philip J. Fry from Futurama

I forgot what prompted me to choose this topic back in June.  I believe I watched a TV show where a character had amnesia at some point.  It brought up an odd question in my mind in regards to second changes, which I’ll get into Wednesday.  After all, I’m sure we all have an opinion on this classic trope.

Do I have to explain this plot twist?  It’s been used so much that some people forget that it can happen in reality.  Some trauma causes a person to forget either all or some of their past.  There are cases where it can be reversed and other times where there’s nothing that can be done.  We’re talking brain damage here, which could be why some people may prefer amnesia to remain in fiction.  It’s a scary thought to imagine a single blow to the head could erase your memories forever.

That’s what it really is too.  Scary.  Disorienting.  Painful for those who love you and see that you’ve lost so much.  Imagine waking up and seeing your children, but not knowing who they are.  How do you handle that?  Do you believe that they are your children at any point?  Just writing about this makes my skin crawl because it’s a fate that I’ve had nightmares about.  My memory is shaky to begin with at times, but the thought of even a partial wipe makes me anxious.

Fiction typically doesn’t get it right from what I can tell.  Amnesia is played up as comedy or an obstacle for the heroes to handle in order to gain information.  It’s rare that you see a story from the perspective of the amnesiac too.  We tend to see how it effects those around them who may be handling a bigger problem.  The amnesia is simply a tool to make their path more difficult.  Inevitably, this challenge is handled either by finding another source, the memories returning, or the amnesiac left a clue before they were injured.

Quick note:  Amnesia is the loss of memory and NOT the loss of identity.  Also, there are so many types of amnesia that it’s amazing fiction only does the one real flavor.   Three of them are:

  1. Retrograde–  Lose existing, previously made memories first.  Older memories deteriorate slowly.  This happens with dementia.
  2. Anterograde–  You cannot create new memories.  This can be temporary such as having a blackout.
  3. Transient Global–  This is a tough one because it’s not understood very well.  A person with this will become confuse and agitated for several hours.  Memory loss can happen prior to the attack and it’s highly likely that the person won’t remember the episode.

As you can see, there’s nothing in there with an immediate loss of all memory.  I believe that’s possible, but rare and not how we think of it.  This is why authors are able to run wild with the idea too.  I think we become fascinated by a character who forgets their past too.  It brings in tension in regards to them regaining their memories.  Still, it gets used a lot, so experienced audience members won’t give you the same reaction.

Well, what does everyone else think of the amnesia trope?  Think I might do a Questions 3 on Friday too.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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13 Responses to Amnesia . . . I Forgot Why I Chose This Topic

  1. noelleg44 says:

    Amnesia has sort of fallen out of favor as a fallback explanation for bad behavior. But it is devastating to families. My aunt got to the point where she couldn’t remember anything from the day before, including our visits, but could call up in great detail something from 20 years earlier. I never knew where the timeline was where she stopped remembering.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think it’s been overused. It was a soap opera staple for decades. (My mother used to watch them.) It’s one that seems to be used until it isn’t needed, then seems to just disappear after the story thread. Many of life’s problems are treated like that in fiction.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I have to agree with Craig on the overused part I think it has been done cleverly in the past but don’t see anything new about it.


  4. L. Marie says:

    Was going to mention Memento, which handled the subject so well. But I see you covered that in a comment.


  5. An interesting subject. I do think it’s been used so badly, so often, that people don’t take it seriously when you say “amnesia.” Even in real life, if someone claimed to have amnesia, would you believe them? If someone near them says they have dementia or Alzheimer’s, it would be taken more seriously.

    Right now I’m reading “The City We Became,” which is an urban fantasy where one of the characters has a form of amnesia. The author doesn’t try to make it a secret or mystery, though. I’ll say no more, since it’s a current book and I don’t want to give spoilers. It’s all about New York City, though, so you might enjoy it, Charles.


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