Creator: Henry Darger

Henry Darger, Artist and Protector of Children

They have been my companions. They are part of myself, those pictures, long before I knew them I had been such a lonely little boy.

Do you believe it, unlike most children I hated to see the day come where I would be grown up. I never wanted to. I wished to be young always. I am grown up now and an old, lame man, darn it.

Henry Joseph Darger (1892-1973) was an outsider artist and author from Chicago. After losing his parents at an early age, he spent the majority of his childhood in a series of abusive orphanages and insane asylums, and responded by creating an internal fantasy world. At sixteen, he escaped the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children in Marion, Illinois, and walked 160 miles back to Chicago, finding work there as a janitor in a succession of Catholic hospitals. Apart from a short stint in the US Army during World War I, he lived quietly as a janitor and dishwasher all his life, hardly ever speaking in public and emerging from his apartment only to go to work and Mass. Eventually, he died in a nursing home in 1973. When cleaning out his apartment, his landlords found an immense treasure trove of artwork and stories that Darger had been working on for more than sixty years.

These included:
  • The 15,145 page novel The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, chronicling a fictional war between the Christian nation of Angelinia and the militantly atheist nation of Glandelinia.
  • Its 10,000 page handrwitten sequel Crazy House: Further Adventures in Chicago, featuring the Vivian Girls and their "secret brother" Penrod exorcising the ghosts from an evil haunted house.
  • Darger's 4,878 page autobiography, which spends only 206 pages on his life before veering off into a story about a sentient tornado named "Sweetie Pie".
  • A ten year long daily weather journal.
  • Finally, a series of three hundred paintings, some more than thirty feet long and double-sided, illustrating In the Realms of the Unreal and infamous for featuring numerous drawings of naked little girls with penises being tortured, strangled, and hacked to pieces by Glandelinian soldiers. (The majority of his pictures are heroic portraits, ordinary action-adventure scenes or colorful, flower-filled panoramas. However, the 1% of his output that covered the Glandelinian massacres are the ones that get the most attention.)

A documentary about Henry Darger's life was released in 2004. A second film, Revolutions of the Night, released in 2012, gives more detail about his background.

Tropes applying to Darger himself

  • Ambiguous Disorder: Was Darger autistic? Schizophrenic? Did he have multiple personalities? Or was he just a normal guy with a traumatic childhood and rich inner fantasy life?
  • Ambiguously Gay: Darger has been occasionally hypothesized as being a closeted homosexual.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When he was a adolescent, he was sent to an insane asylum after being caught masturbating.
  • Friend to All Children: Darger definitely saw himself as this, and there's every indication he really was.
  • Mad Artist: Not so much mad as extremely socially isolated due to his abusive childhood.
    • Reclusive Artist is more like it. He was very aware of what he was doing and thought of himself as an artist.
  • No Social Skills: Rather, few social skills. He had a good relationship with his pastor, and he had a best friend, Willie Schloder. They had ideas for a protective society and Orphanage of Love for abused children. According to his diary, he worked very hard on controlling his temper.