If one is not enough


Leggi questo articolo in Italiano

The idea of this post is from a couple of years ago and from an italian podcast (Dee Giallo by Carlo Lucarelli) suggested by my husband-to-be about Billy Milligan.

Lucarelli speaks about Billy and his numerous personalities; it’s a true story told also in a book by Daniel Keyes who met Billy himself.

The multiple personality theme is quite interesting for fictional novels, and in fact some notable examples do exist (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, The cloven viscount by Italo Calvino for example): in these cases the personality are two and the story has a more or less evident moral intent.

What if the personalities are more numerous?

Below there are two review: the one of Daniel Keyes book (he is the author of the story and then novel “Flowers for Algernon”), The minds of Billy Milligan that is about Billy and how it was discovered his disorder, and the one of a novelette by Brandon Sanderson, Legion, this one a true work of fiction that takes the multiple personality theme to create a complex and very skillful main character.

I suggest to read both: the former, a more slow read, to understand how few we know about human mind and it’s tricks, the latter, more entertaining, to enjoy the work of a good writer whose work I like very much.

The minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes

This book proves how much reality surpass the imagination.
The story begins when Billy Milligan is charged of three sexual violence acts in a Ohio campus; once arrested he does not remember neither theft neither rapes and he is quite confused; since that moment the prison officers have to face unintelligible situations: Billy seems to be very strong but sometimes he is frail like a children, he is able to speak to lawyers and to escape straitjacket.
The truth is then approached: Billy has a multiple personality disorder, his body is shared by twenty-four different people who interchange in function of the needs.

Billy’s biography is divided in three sections: in the former one it is described how his condition was discovered by his lawyers, the diagnosis and the beginning of the therapy; in the second Billy’s life till the arrest is told; this was possible because thanks to the therapies a complete personality – who knew everything of the others – did emerge; the latter is about Billy experience in some Ohio centers.

The themes are quite striking: for example Billy has 24 different personalities, both men and women of various ages; one is English and driven by logic (Arthur), one is Slavic driven by instinct (Ragen) who is able to use various kind of weapons. Tommy is able to free himself from any kind of prison and is an electronic genius, Allen is chatty and astute and so on.
The IQ of the 24 persons are different: if the person who takes Billy’s conscience is a child he will have limited capacities due to his age (he will not be able to carry excessive weights, …).
Moreover it’s astonishing how the personalities talked to each other and organized themselves to decide who had to take Billy’s conscience at a certain time.
In the end Billy had genius and smart single personalities – more than the merged and stable one (the whole is in this case less than the single parts), and it’s a demonstration of how few we actually know about the human mind.

In the ending there are some hints of the situation in the criminal mental institutions; some time ago I read “Ausmerzen” where it was described the disgust of the “normal” people towards the ones with psychological issues and the drastic measures before WWII.
Here emerges how some times the actual patient conditions are not taken in consideration, till the despise and vexation of the patient himself.
Milligan’s treatment in some centers is the proof: from the refusal of the diagnosis of multiple personalities disorder from some doctors to the physical abuses by the center staff.

The author of the book (with whom Milligan collaborated to write it) was maybe the most advisable to write Billy story; if you don’t know any of his story I suggest to read “Flower for Algernon” (it’s okay also the story wrote before the novel) to understand how he was suitable to talk about frail people in continuous evolution.

Legion by Brandon Sanderson

While “The minds of Billy Milligan” is a true story and poor Billy does not get much from his persons – lots of confusion and memory lapses, in this story (a fiction one) the personalities help the main character who has always someone to count to solve any kind of situation.

While Billy’s personalities may come out one at the time to manage the conscience, here the alternative personalities are like hallucinations and the main character has the chance to choose who to take with him and who to create for help.

The story is very nice and the relations main character – hallucinations and hallucination – hallucination are funny; there are clever ideas and I would like to read more about Mr. Legion.
For sure having read about Billy the made up stories about this theme are less interesting than reality itself, able to create something more surprising.


* The minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes ★★★★☆
** Legion by Brandon Sanderson ★★★

*I read this book in Italian
**I read this book in English



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