This place matters

This place matters

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Tilting at windmills

Quixotic has got to be one of the best words ever. Not just because it comes from the book Don Quixote, but also because we pronounce it kwiksotic and not keehotic. In Spanish, the word is quijotesco, which you can hear pronounced here.
But the impossible dreamer isn't the only fictional character to become an eponym. In fact, he's not the only character from Don Quixote.
A Lothario is a sleazy pickup artist, named for a sleazy pickup artist in one of Don Quixote's metastories. 
I was surprised recently to learn that gargantuan comes from Gargantua, a character created by Rabelais. On the other hand, lilliputian means teeny tiny, and gets its name from Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. 
Lilliputian hallucinations (more frequently known as Alice in Wonderland syndrome) can make the sufferer see things as much bigger smaller than they really are, much closer or much farther away. This can be a symptom of serious neurological illness, or of drug addition, or of being a child. The latter wasn't a joke - lilliputian hallucinations are apparently not that unusual in children. 
Side note: The number of very serious things that are perfectly normal in children is alarming. Oh, sometimes kids just poop green. It's normal! Baby has a terrifying seizure because of a tiny fever? Normal! Kid is trippin' balls in the Pack N Play? Normal!
Lilliputian hallucinations aren't so bad when you consider some other conditions named for literary characters. Sufferers of the Oedipus complex, according to Freud, want to have a sexual relationship with their mothers. Which, according to Freud, is totally normal. I do not understand the collective delusion that led people of the 19th century to accept Freud's theories like they made perfect sense. Oh sure, every little boy wants to bang his mom. That's totally believable. And it is totally obvious that people who like a clean house must have been potty trained too early and are therefore fundamentally compelled not to poop. That's genius!

Peter Pan syndrome isn't a real diagnosis, but it refers to what others call a puer aeternus - an eternal boy. JM Barrie, author of Peter Pan, may have had a Peter Pan syndrome of sorts - his growth was stunted by stress after the death of his closest brother - in a sense, Barrie never grew up. In one version of the Peter Pan stories, we learn that the lost boys were children who, hearing about all the dangers and responsibilities of becoming a grown man, climbed - or fell - out of their prams and were carried off to Never Never Land. Barrie's mother often said that her only comfort after the death of her son was that he would never grow up and leave her, that he would never have to face the trials of adulthood. Never Land was Barrie's portrait of his mom's fantasy.

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