Novel Maladies: Darth Vader, Tintin, and Squirrel Nutkin Diagnosed

Real researchers figure out what was ailing famous fictional characters.

Illustration: Jason Schneider

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

Why did Anakin Sywalker turn to the dark side? Why did Tintin never grow up? Real researchers have gone looking for the undiagnosed maladies that explain the quirks of some famous fictional characters.

Darth Vader

Diagnosis: Borderline personality disorder

Discussion: In a letter to Psychiatry Research, French psychiatrist Eric Bui argues that Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into the Dark Lord of the Sith shows all the hallmarks of BPD, including lack of impulse control and abandonment issues.

Tiny Tim

Diagnosis: Distal renal tubular acidosis (Type I)

Discussion: D.W. Lewis writes in the American Journal of Diseases of Children that Dickens’ young optimist suffered from a rare condition whose symptoms include stunted growth, weak muscles, paralysis, and possible kidney failure.

Tintin

Diagnosis: Hormone deficiency, hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, repeated head trauma

Discussion: The plucky boy reporter (above) displayed “no signs of pubertal development” due to a hormonal imbalance and 43 concussions sustained over his 60-year comic-book career, concludes professor Claude Cyr in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Samson

Diagnosis: Antisocial personality disorder

Discussion: Dr. Eric Altschuler writes in the Archives of General Psychiatry that the Old Testament strongman displayed many of the behavioral criteria for ASPD, including “fire setting, cruelty to small animals, bullying, initiating physical fights, using a weapon (jawbone of ass), and stealing from a victim.”

Bartleby the Scrivener

Diagnosis: Asperger’s syndrome

Discussion: Melville’s “nonconforming, socially awkward character” likely had “a high-functioning form of autism,” according to Dr. Ashley Kern Koegel in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions.

Squirrel Nutkin

Diagnosis: Tourette’s syndrome

Discussion: In the British Medical Journal, Prof. Gareth Williams concludes that the Beatrix Potter rodent’s erratic behavior and chattering (“Cuck-cuck-cuck-cur-r-r-cuck-k-k”) spoke of “a deeper problem than simple naughtiness and benign adolescent tics.”

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.