Navigating Themes Of Mental Health & Hallucinations In My New Book “Magician Of Light”

By Author J Fremont

Any talented writer knows that before you write about anything, you must do your research unless you have extensive experience and knowledge of that subject. Writing historical fiction entails even more research, as there is now the consideration of how that subject material was addressed in the chosen time period. In my book, ‘Magician of Light‘ (May 17, 2022, She Writes Press), one of the main characters, a young woman named Lucinda, has mental health issues, including hallucinations, and the primary setting is the late 1870s.

How I navigated these themes included a scientific approach researching current understanding regarding specific mental health issues and prevailing thought of those same problems within that specific time period. Then incorporating these ideas into the character’s words and actions and how Lucinda’s behavior is regarded by different individuals that she interacts with in the story while maintaining sensitivity to her condition.

Psychology, as a scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially regarding behaviors, did not occur until the late 1800s. Aberrations in social behavior occurred before that, but clerics, philosophers or the police handled these problems. Firmly established by the mid- nineteenth century, lunatic asylums housed the insane. These institutions were not always effective in curing the mentally ill, but certainly removed these people from general society and families incapable of caring for them. In the late 1870s, the burgeoning field of psychiatry treated the patient’s body, the flawed nervous system, instead of their mind.

Cruel physical treatments used in insane asylums included hydrotherapy (submersion in ice baths or aiming water at various body parts), electroshock and mechanical restraints such as straitjackets. Milder forms of handling patients used drugs such as bromides, barbiturates, opium, morphine, and even toxic mercury. These methods did not cure and, sometimes, worsened the patient’s condition and mental disorder.

Mental illness is a health problem affecting people’s thoughts and emotions and how those personal aspects affect social interaction. Today, we have identified specific illnesses that are recognized and treated differently. In the early days of psychiatric care, doctors attributed a wide variety of exhibited symptoms, especially of women, to hysteria. Lumping conditions together instead of identifying entities such as depression or dissociative disorders.

Another problem was strict societal expectations and norms that contributed to emotional instability, especially in middle or upper-class young women. Social isolation, abysmal inequality of the sexes, few creative outlets, restrictive bulky clothing and authoritarian “acceptable” social behavior standards dominated women’s lives in the mid-1800s to early 1900s. Not to mention the stigma and shame associated with being considered mentally and emotionally unbalanced. No wonder women were “crazy”.

My character, Lucinda, has a history of familial mental illness. She then experiences trauma on a trip and returns home, believing herself to be haunted by ancient spirits. Because of her trauma and a means of coping with it, she develops a dissociative disorder. To escape reality, Lucinda disconnects with her memories of her time abroad, her sense of identity, and she sees people that no one else does. Hallucinations, the apparent perception of something not present, require the condition of conviction of their reality. Presented with the contradiction that no one else has the same perceptions, seeing her ancient Egyptian ghosts, Lucinda questions the nature of reality. She doesn’t know what is real or not real anymore.

A recent poll revealed that forty percent of adults in the U.S. believe in ghosts, forty percent don’t and the other twenty percent are unsure. Of people who do believe, half of those people think that they have encountered a ghost. Seeing ghosts is not a recent phenomenon. In the late Victorian age, spiritualism and belief in the paranormal were prevalent in society, especially in middle to upper-class females. People believed in ghosts and they thought communication with departed souls was possible. 

Belief is paramount to sensing paranormal activity. If you don’t believe in ghosts, you are less likely to encounter one. The environment plays a part as well as the condition of the brain. Being alone in an unknown, unsettling, or perceived threatening environment, like an abandoned or purported haunted house, the odds of seeing an apparition or feeling abnormal sensory stimuli increases. Stress, low body temperature, brain trauma, lack of sensory input such as dim lighting, all could lead to one thinking that they have seen a spirit. The setting in which my character experiences her ghostly encounters meets these parameters. 

In my story, Lucinda interacts with many other characters, including the other main character, a real person, René Lalique. These people run the gamut of belief in the paranormal and ghosts. Her relationship with them depends on how they interpret her mystical perceptions. In the end, I let my reader decide if her ghosts are real.

Author J Fremont. Photo by Marc Glassman

Author J. Fremont makes her authorial debut with an enchanting historical fiction novel that explores the topics of love, the supernatural, art, and insanity. Drawing inspiration from a dream she had about her characters and her personal love of glass fusing, her labor of love has come to fruition with ‘Magician of Light’. 

One of the most innovative designers of his time, René Lalique was a leader in the decorative arts. ‘Magician of Light’ begins in his adolescent years in Paris as a striving apprentice. Meanwhile, across the channel, Lucinda Haliburton is facing her own struggles, including a dysfunctional family and history of mental illness. Her grandfather, Lord Haliburton, suggests a visit to his archeological dig in Egypt in an effort to help her escape her difficulties at home—but the trip ends in disaster, and Lucinda returns to England with the belief that she is being preyed upon by ancient Egyptian spirits.

Rene and Lucinda’s paths cross when he leaves Paris to continue his studies at a nearby art college. His fascination with Egypt sparks a connection with Lucinda, and romance blooms—but is complicated by her mental condition. Overactive imagination, insanity, or a real haunting? Will their love see them through?

Magician of Light’ touches on the truth of Lalique’s illustrious life, the people most important to him, and the anguish of some of those personal relationships, creating a unique view of his real life and a compelling storybook love story.

J. Fremont is an author and veterinarian. For more than twenty-five years, she practiced small animal veterinary medicine in addition to serving as an adjunct professor at a local university and community college. The mother of two adult sons, she lives in Southern California with her husband of thirty years. Retired from veterinary medicine, J now spends her time developing her artistic side. In addition to writing, she is a passionate practitioner of the decorative arts, including jewelry making, glass fusing, sewing, and creating mixed media for fun. She enjoys photography, gardening, and posting on Instagram, as well as building gorgeous Pinterest boards. You can find her on her website:

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