David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and three other fantastic novels has a piece in Prospect Magazine about Best Picture winner The King’s Speech. While the acclaimed film at best simplifies the historical record and at worst blatantly ignores it — Christopher Hitchens, like him or not, has an excellent piece on the, um, complicated relationship between Churchill, the Royal Family, and fascism at Slate — it is, according to Mitchell, who is, himself, a stammerer, the first movie to deal with stammering as a neurological disorder, rather than exploit its “dramatic colour.” The King’s Speech is hardly the focus of the essay, however. Instead, Mitchell provides a probing and moving assessment of how non-stammerers think about stammerers and how he and other stammerers have overcome the disorder. Here’s his conclusion:
The footballer Jimmy Greaves once said that an alcoholic is an alcoholic for life; but that his aim was to become a teetotal alcoholic. My own goal is to become a non-stammering stammerer. In the year of The King’s Speech, people with speech impediments shouldn’t feel imprisoned by their disfluencies or suffer alone. So if you’re asking for tea when you want coffee because of that tricky “c,” find a speech therapist you can work with, stick at it, and start ordering your coffee.
The protagonist of Black Swan Green — perhaps my favorite novel of Mitchell’s — is a stammerer and that novel is, like this essay, an invaluable resource for understanding stammering. Perhaps I’ll post an excerpt or two later, but I’m in the process of moving and my copy of the novel is packed away somewhere.