Does Amnesia Give You a Second Chance at Life?

Gandalf

I’m sure this has been examined in fiction before, but I haven’t seen it done a lot in the genres I favor.  So, I’m sorry if I’m totally wrong here.  Please feel free to say so in the comments.

Amnesia being the loss of memory creates a situation where a character needs to rediscover themselves.  There’s that whole ‘find the trigger’ plot that gets used and half the time is solved by a random encounter.  It was the smell of carrot cake at 10 am that did the trick!  Seriously though, the story takes on rediscovery, but there is another door that could be opened.

Could an amnesiac character get a chance at a second life?

You see it in comics a lot actually.  A character who everyone thought was dead turns out to be alive, but lost their memory.  They forgot who they were and fell in love with a person who helped them.  Keep in mind that amnesia isn’t supposed to affect one’s sense of identity, which is why it’s tricky to write.  This does make it too complicated, which is why these characters end up returning with a new life.  Inevitably, they are jolted back to their old selves and return to whatever path they originally hand.  The second life is left behind because it no longer fits.

I wonder if this makes any sense.  It really only works if the character is removed entirely from their old life.  No family, friends, locations, or any connections to the life they no longer remember.  Otherwise, people would be there to tell them the truth and help them recover.  They can’t get a second life since the first one is laid out before them with a handful of guides.  Even in the last paragraph, you can see that the character is drawn back to their old life.  This really makes me wonder if such a path is possible.

I don’t believe it is.  People have too many identifiers these days like social security numbers, credit cards, social media, etc.  The doctors alone would try to identify them, which could include fingerprints and DNA.  So, we’re looking at a scenario that is difficult to pull off in reality.  That means suspension of disbelief is needed for it to happen in fiction.  Otherwise, readers won’t be invested and see immediately how the situation could be remedied.  Not so much the memories returned, but the character going back to what could trigger a revival.

This might be why amnesia happens so often to supporting characters.  They aren’t in the spotlight, so the audience won’t pay attention to them as much.  Disbelief is there because their amnesia and second life are nothing more than tools for the main characters.  It could even be that they get to keep their second life because their importance to the plot is over as soon as the one piece of information or an object is gained.  Still, you would think the interaction with the main characters would trigger something.  This brings up the possibility that you can’t have this type of plot without it being the central theme because all other events could be seen as memory revivers.  Now I know why I try hard to steer clear of this trope.

The more I write about this idea, the more I don’t see it as viable.  At least, not in the type of stories that I write.  Fantasy brings magic into the equation, which would be the cause or the cure.  Character lost their memories?  A telepathy spell or a psychic can fix that since it’s implied that the memories are simply inaccessible by the person.  The brain could even be repaired if the issue is deterioration from dementia.  Having easy cure-alls kills the suspense here and eliminates the chance of a second life.  The only way it would work is if the amnesiac is struck on purpose and sent away to live a new life.  This is done either to protect them or remove them from the scenario.  In this way, nobody would be trying to revive their memories.

Again, feel free to tell me how this would work.  I’d love to know.

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 Does Amnesia Give You a Second Chance at Life?

  1. L. Marie says:

    In one of the Oz books by L. Frank Baum, a wicked character accidentally fell into a pool of forgetfulness and forgot his evil nature. He had a second chance in life that way. So it can work.

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    • That involves magic though. Without magic or something highly fictional, you can’t really get away with this. In reality, amnesia doesn’t does this, which is an argument many people have against using it in such a way. The fictional version of amnesia has really colored the way we perceive it to the point where the real version sounds unbelievable to many.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve written this story. Spec fiction has variables of amnesia, like Agent K asking to have his memories flashed away prior to retirement. Even then, MIB had to drag him back for another adventure. Marvel has used a couple of versions of programmed covert agents. This requires speaking a sequence of code words to bring the super-agent out of what seems like a normal person. I suppose Agent K had a shot, but the writers just couldn’t leave him alone. I have to look to my own work here to a degree. Yak Guy woke up in the desert with no memories. He never recovered those memories and had to create a new life. You might like it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t see how you can make it work in Fantasy unless a loss of memory doesn’t have the accompanying loss of magic powers. It could be kind of entertaining to see someone who doesn’t know who he is able to cast spells without knowing he could. Like a kid playing with a revolver.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Memory loss would result in magic power loss. How can you access abilities you don’t remember? At least intentionally as you said. Still, I think you could argue that memory loss erases magic ability entirely. If a wizard learns by studying, they’d have lost all of that.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. V.M.Sang says:

    In fiction other than fantasy, I agree, things like DNA, fingerprints and dental records might help, except with fingerprints, unless the person had a criminal record, their prints wouldn’t be known. Dental records would be unavailable if the memory loss occurred a long way from their home. Similarly, DNA. Unless the powers trying to find out who the amnesiac is have a suspicion of whom he/she is, who do they test to compare?
    In fantasy, of course, you can devise systems whereby you need a particular ‘key’ to unlock the memories. Finding that key could be a part of a quest.
    Hey, I might have just talked myself into a story, here!

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    • I think a real world setting would rely more on fingerprints and IDs. Unless the person was found with nothing. We’re also talking total memory wipe down to ones name here, which I’ve read isn’t as common as people think. Social media could help here too if the person is young enough.

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  5. I’m thinking of Roger Zelazny and the Chronicles of Amber. The main character was inflicted with amnesia by a rival and ended up in a mental hospital. The story began when he recovered some bits of memory, but not all of it. I think he had a sister who came to rescue him?

    As he journeyed to find out who he had been, his memory loss allowed the author to introduce the story world to readers through the eyes of someone who found it all new, but hauntingly familiar.

    So in that case, amnesia was an obstacle between the character and his true identidy.

    Liked by 1 person

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