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Literature / The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds
aka: Legion

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"My name is Stephen Leeds, and I am perfectly sane. My hallucinations, however, are all quite mad."

A trilogy of novellas by Brandon Sanderson.

Stephen Leeds is a schizophrenic, but not an ordinary schizophrenic. The people he sees are not only developed enough to be their own person, they are experts in a wide variety of fields — Ivy the psychiatrist, Audrey the handwriting expert, J.C. the Navy Seal, etc. Professors want to study him. Governments want to hire him. Stephen just wants to be left alone.


Until a woman named Monica shows up, representing a company that claims to have invented a camera that can take pictures of the past — a camera that's been stolen. Too intrigued to pass it up, Stephen accepts the case.

The first story was published in 2012 under the title Legion, and was well received. A second novella, entitled Legion: Skin Deep was released in 2014. A third story, Lies of the Beholder caps the series for now, and is included in a collection of all three stories titled Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds that was released in September 2018.

The author intended for Legion to be a possible TV series, and it was optioned by Lionsgate, but another series came out first, with the same name and based off an X-Men character with similar mental issues, so any plans for a TV adaptation are now on hold. However, a series of audio-dramas are confirmed to be in development at Mainframe (an audiobook company that Sanderson co-founded).


Legion provides examples of:

  • Achievements in Ignorance: J.C. is able to keep up with a car doing 40 miles per hour on foot... until Audrey, another hallucination, wonders how he's doing that, at which point, J.C. suddenly has to stop to catch his breath.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Subverted in Lies of the Beholder. Ngozi proposes this as a way of getting into a building with security cameras — because she's seen it on TV — but J.C. lists several reasons why it's impossible. They do find a creative use for an air vent, but it only involves hiding a mobile phone inside.
  • All of Them: How many gun magazines do J.C. subscribe to? All of them. In how many languages? All of them. (No, he doesn't know how to read any language other than English. What's your point?)
  • Always Someone Better: Stephen spends Skin Deep being trailed by Zen Rigby, a contract killer who ends up running so many circles around him, it almost gives the impression Stephen grabbed the Idiot Ball (though in Stephen’s defense, he was severely sleep-deprived at the time, implying that his brain wasn’t working at full-capacity):
    • J.C. identifies Zen and works out she's gathering intel first, and presumes Stephen is bugged. Stephen promptly changes all his clothing to ditch any bugs. Zen then later ambushes him, but gets surprised by a security guard and retreats. It takes Stephen too long to figure out it wasn't an ambush, but a distraction for yet another bug.
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    • Seeing they're being tailed, Stephen and Audrey hatch a social hacking plan that nets them Zen's phone number, confirms her employer, and confirms she's right next to them. When they turn ambush the tail, they only find Panos' little brother; there were two tails and neither Stephen nor J.C. ever caught sight of Zen.
    • Finally, Zen captures Stephen again, and despite not being able to see them, she's able to manipulate him into leaving his team of aspects (save Audrey) behind, rendering him nearly helpless.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: As Stephen remarks to Monica, "We're on a plane hunting a camera that can take pictures of the past. How is it harder to believe that I just learned Hebrew [in a matter of hours]?"
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: J.C. gets called on his unsafe gun handling techniques; he claims he has "total control" over every muscle in his body. Justified because — he's a hallucination.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: It's repeatedly mentioned that Stephen's condition is completely unique and makes absolutely no sense when compared to other forms of hallucinations or multiple personality disorders. One of the ways he makes money is by charging the many many psychologists who want to study him. He initially did it to get them to stop, but it ended up making him rich.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Skin Deep revolves around an invented tech that uses a virus to store information in DNA, turning the human body into a giant flash drive. Too bad they may have created a cancer-triggering virus in the process. Except that there was never a cancer-triggering virus in the first place.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: The reason Stephen keeps getting called on for odd jobs. He can wander through a room and in minutes have detailed information and background on it's occupant, or handle a conversation like he's reading a mind. From his perspective, his hallucinations are poking around with him and feeding him what they notice and their own analysis.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: J.C. and Ivy, apparently, to Stephen's consternation when he catches them making out in a corner.
  • Berserk Button: Do not dangle Stephen's decade-long quest to find Sandra in front of him like a carrot to get him to take your case. In fact, just don't mention her at all. He's calmer when people are actively trying to con him, or pointing guns at him. Kyle learns this the hard way.
  • Bittersweet Ending: On the one hand, all but one of the aspects are dead, and Kyle will probably get away with everything he’s done. However, Wilson’s retired and his grandniece Barb will now become Stephen’s servant, it’s implied that Stephen will help Sandra get a better grasp on her aspects, and Stephen has emerged relatively sane. In fact, he’s going to start writing, so that his aspects can still live on in some form.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: As the page quote states, all of Stephen's hallucinations are crazy in their own way:
    • Tobias has his own hallucination named Stan, who lives in a satellite and predicts the weather for him (often badly).
    • Armando styles himself the emperor of Mexico, even after being told Mexico doesn't ''have'' an emperor. The megalomania has gotten severe enough that Stephen doesn't use him (photography expert) unless he has to.
    • J.C. refuses to believe he's a hallucination and invents wildly outlandish theories for why he can't interact with anything real (stealth tech, parallel universe, and at one point, Time Ranger, complete with future slang)
    • Audrey believes that she's a hallucination, to the point that she starts writing words in the air with her finger, just to give Stephen a headache.
    • Ngozi is such an extreme germophobe that she refuses to leave the mansion, without extensive prep (J.C. jokes a hazmat suit, she doesn't contradict him). Standout example, as her expertise is supposed to be forensics, and this cripples her ability to examine a crime scene.
    • Ivy has trypophobia (fear of holes, usually set off by things that look like bug nests), but other than a brief mention of covering up a wastebasket during Stephen's therapy session and pointedly avoiding looking at wormholes in a post, it never comes up.
    • Audrey seems to be the most well-adjusted aspect, often cracking jokes about how she isn’t actually real. Stephen eventually realizes that she’s just crazy as the rest. It’s just that her belief that she’s not real is actually right.
    • And finally, Stephen himself, who contains all these other Bunny-Ears Lawyers entirely in his head.
  • Cool Old Guy: Yol Chay, the client for Skin Deep. He's a fifty-year-old Korean investment-mogul who wears outlandish suits and releases terrible rap albums. He also actually knows Stephen well, having hired him on a case before, to the point of knowing his aspects, playing along with the hallucinations (as much as he can without seeing them), even trolling J.C. He’s slowly revealed to not be that cool a guy, since he frequently lies to and manipulates Stephen.
  • Did You See That Too?: Lies of the Beholder sees Stephen lose control over his hallucinations to the point where he has to start verifying what he sees with others.
  • False Friend: In Skin Deep, Yol Chay comes off as a Cool Old Guy, but has already manipulated the situation so Stephen wiill be forced to take his case, by "gifting" him a large share of I3, which is on the verge of being raided by the Feds. This also manages to put Stephen on an assassin's radar before he even knows what the situation is.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Salic captures Stephen and Monica but gives the impression that he's perfectly reasonable and willing to pay handsomely for help unlocking the camera's secrets. Up until Stephen stalls a bit, at which point he immediately has the inventor beaten near to death to hurry him up.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: While Stephen has many different hallucinations, he sticks with a core crew of 3 'aspects' for most jobs: Ivy (sanguine), J.C. (choleric), Tobias (phlegmatic), and then there's Stephen himself (melancholic).
  • Freudian Trio: Psychologists have suggested that the three aspects Stephen keeps around the most often function as this - J.C. as the id, Tobias as the ego, and Ivy as the superego. Neither Stephen nor the aspects in question think much of the idea, though.
  • Gag Boobs: Apparently, J.C. would like Stephen to imagine Ivy with bigger breasts.
  • Guile Hero: Since his boisterous backup J.C. is completely in his mind, Stephen is forced to become this. He doesn't always divulge everything he knows, and he's savvy enough to know his employers never tell him everything. Even when not in direct contact with his hallucinations, he shows signs of picking up the more common analysis skills, and he can get a plan going or have a "Eureka!" Moment without their help.
  • Hallucinations: Stephen has intentionally and by force of will transformed the more realistic (and frightening) hallucinations he used to suffer from into something that is more along the lines of this trope.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Discussed. Stephen says likes things the way they are, though he wishes people would leave him alone. Monica suggests he finds being quite possibly the smartest man alive a burden, and invented the hallucinations as a way of coping.
  • Insane = Violent:
    • Stephen points out this isn't the case, but when he briefly loses his cool with Monica when she dangles Sandra to hook him, he can tell she — like most people he meets — assumes it to be the case.
    • Later neatly inverted in Skin Deep when Stephen stalls Zen by spooking her badly enough that an unexpected phone call makes her trigger finger twitch.
      In that moment, one of the two of us was mad, insane, on the edge.
      And it wasn't the crazy guy.
  • In-Series Nickname: One of Stephen's many psychologists came up with the name "Legion". He doesn't care for it much.
  • Insistent Terminology: They're aspects, and not split personalities (although hallucination is just as frequently used).
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: In Skin Deep, Panos's body, that everyone thinks contains sensitive intel, is removed from the morgue this way, wheeled away in just another trash can.
  • The Jeeves: Wilson, Stephen's butler. The turnover on Stephen's household staff is fast enough that often Wilson is the only one there, and yet, Wilson steps into any role required without complaint, and seems genuinely concerned for Stephen's well-being. Wilson's impending retirement actually triggers Stephen so badly that his hold on reality starts to fall apart.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: People tend to assume Stephen is a reclusive, amoral jerk. He admits to being a recluse and a jerk.
  • Kill 'Em All: By the end of Lies of the Beholder, fifty of the fifty-one aspects are confirmed as dead.
  • Living Lie Detector: Ivy is very good at reading people, though she can't always tell if someone is telling the truth or not.
  • Loophole Abuse: Attempted by Audrey in the second book. Since Stephen is running right up against the limits of his ability to create new aspects, Audrey decides to find out whether an existing aspect can learn new skills. It works, sort of; Audrey gains cryptography skills (in addition to her original handwriting analysis) minutes after Stephen "downloads" a book on it for her, and does some quick social hacking not long after. Later that same day though, Stephen randomly develops another aspect without intending to, creating a major Oh, Crap! moment.
  • Mad Hatter: Stephen knows he's insane, he just maintains that that's not a problem as long as he remains functional in spite of his condition. Other characters are prone to pointing out that living alone in a giant mansion that you hallucinate is full of people kind of pushes the limits of the word "functional."
  • Magic A Is Magic A: While it is not actual magic, and the hallucinations are all (supposedly) in Stephen's head, Sanderson applies his usual standards and there are rules Stephen has to follow.
    • Stephen can make himself an expert in just about any field, with a ridiculously short study time, so long as he can create a new hallucination or 'aspect', which in his mind actually carries the knowledge and expertise he just gained.
    • The aspect will have their own personality and background, sometimes even offscreen family, and they will also have their own personalized psychological problem. They also seem to have their own lives, he finds they head off on trips, or catches them just out of a shower, etc.
    • Once he has an aspect, he has to treat them as much like a real person as possible. They get living quarters in his mansion, seats to drive around with him, meals and drinks. Stephen's mind can fill in some gaps, but the more he has to the less stable all the minds are. Stephen acknowledges they aren't real, and will even tell them so, but otherwise they are as real to him as anyone else is.
    • The aspects have access to all of the information Stephen has, and it's implied Stephen has photographic memory, so he usually arranges to keep half an eye on as much as possible and let aspects call things to his attention. He can occasionally imagine them interacting with the real world if it makes sense, but any action taken he has to do himself (J.C. picks up a reel of duct tape to show him, but puts it right back down where it was).
    • Stephen does have limits, but he's also constantly pushing them. As of the first story he has 45 separate hallucinations, and he has created three more by the end of the second story, and he thinks he's riding his upper limits of what he can do. It also taxes his energy the more of them he has hanging around; his three-aspect core crew he seems to keep around constantly, but five or six hallucinations at once becomes draining, and more requires a concentration aid.
    • If Stephen is separated from an aspect, he can't use the knowledge it has (although as of Skin Deep, he's started imagining them having cell phones so they can contact each other for quick consults). It's outright stated that one hallucination actually died, with permanent memory loss as a result.
  • Majority-Share Dictator: Deliberately invoked by Stephen in Skin Deep. Zen's employers Exeltech will stop at nothing to get Panos' body and the research on it, and Zen herself is outmaneuvering Stephen left and right. So he changes the game - he sets up a bunch of bad press tying Exeltech to the virus scare, and with Panos' help, crashes the company stock. This just seems to make them angry, and Zen is moments from following orders to put a bullet in his head, until the news finally breaks. The crash allowed Stephen to buy the majority share, vote himself president, and is therefore Zen's new boss.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • The ending leaves the question of the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth ambiguous in a very intriguing fashion. No one can confirm the identity of the man in the only picture that was recovered, but what are the odds he'd be looking at the camera...
    • The story deliberately leaves it ambiguous whether the projections are "real" or Steven is just using them as a trick to avoid admitting that he's doing all the thinking.
    • Successfully invoked and exploited in Skin Deep. Zen has Stephen captive and is aware of his aspects enough to get him separated from them, but Stephen is able to hammer on that fear of the unknown. Between facing a supergenius she's very wary of, and trying not to imagine the aspects as ghosts surrounding her, she's deeply spooked and stalled just long enough for Stephen's plan to finally go through.
  • Mind Prison: In Lies of the Beholder we have Walters and Ostman Detention Enterprises, a company that is currently working on introducing this kind of prison. And they need Stephen for that.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Stephen's struggles with keeping fifty-odd distinct aspects, all with their own personalities, interests and backgrounds, running at the same time and ensuring that everything they do is plausible and internally consistent seems suspiciously similar to being an author trying to keep track of Loads and Loads of Characters. In the end, Stephen does in fact stop imagining his aspects in the real world and instead starts writing novels about them.
  • Mr. Exposition: Tobias often falls into this role. His expertise is never detailed, but he seems well versed in history and philosophy, and he diverts to rambling speeches on the sources of some concepts. Stephen seems to keep him close as a grounding influence against more colorful personalities in his team, and often uses his voice as a calming balm. May cross into Magical Negro, as the voice and his description brings Morgan Freeman to mind.
    • Eventually, Tobias's role is explained: He was Stephen's first aspect, and holds all the little miscellaneous things that don't fit under another aspect. When he dies, Stephen's POV degenerates into something almost inhuman.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg:
    • Multiple times, usually with J.C.
      Stephen: I'm not a genius. My hallucinations are.
      J.C.: Thanks.
      Stephen: Some of my hallucinations are.
    • And remember that everyone else only hears half the conversation.
      Stephen: They're useful.
      J.C.: Thanks.
      Stephen: Some of them can be useful.
  • Noodle Incident: Stephen serves them up left and right.
    • A disturbing one: Apparently, before he was in control of his aspects, some of Stephen's projections became, in his words, nightmares. We don't get any clarification until Lies of the Beholder, but we honestly don't need it.
    • Lots of lighter ones from Skin Deep:
      Not all of my missions involve terrorists or the fate of the world. Some are far more simple and mundane. Like locating a teleporting cat.
      Not again, I thought, I hate zombies.
      Helping [Yol Chay] with his problem a few years back had been some of the most fun, and least stress, I'd ever encountered on a project. Even if it had forced me to learn to play the saxophone.
    • Whatever happened to Ignacio, Stephen's chemistry expert. Somehow an aspect died, and it's never explained how that's even possible.
  • Oh, Crap!: Whenever a hallucination does something Stephen doesn't expect to be possible, and makes him question how stable he really is:
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Stephen claims he isn't this, since it's his hallucinations that are geniuses. But since all his hallucinations are in his head ...
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: What does J.C. stand for? Word of God is J.C. was based on Jayne Cobb/John Casey.
  • Only Sane Man: From his own perspective, dealing with multiple aspects that are usually more colorful than he is, Stephen can come across as this. From everyone else's perspective, not so much. Among his aspects, Ivy may qualify, as her skills are in psychology and reading people, and her own quirk (trypophobia) rarely comes up.
  • Paparazzi: Mentioned as one of the possible implications of the time camera. Want pictures of a supermodel naked? You don't have to stalk them directly, just get into the bathroom of the hotel suite they stayed at last week and take a few shots of the shower. And since the camera apparently works as far as two millennia back, that means the only way to have privacy from the camera is to have total control of any place you've ever been in your entire life - and keep that control until you've been dead long enough that nobody cares about you any more.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: J.C. is prone to making unabashedly racist remarks despite being constantly surrounded by a very ethnically diverse group. It's generally played for laughs, especially since he seems to be so shaky on the specifics that it borders on being an Innocent Bigot.
    J.C.: Hey! I don't deserve that. ... today. I've been good.
    Ivy: On the way here, you said - and I quote - "The police shouldn't be so racist to them towel-heads, because it isn't their fault they were born in China or wherever."
  • Popcultural Osmosis Failure: The loss of an aspect temporarily robs Stephen of all knowledge in their field, even the parts he had stored in his conscious mind. Since he'd been using Tobias as a sort of "none of the above" folder in addition to his other duties, his death makes Stephen into a decidedly creepy version of this trope. Among other things, he suddenly can't remember what the Eiffel Tower is.
  • Power Born of Madness: Lies of the Beholder makes clear that Stephen was suffering from schizophrenia for a long time, until Sandra trained him in her method of control. This allowed him to create aspects out of his original extremely frightening delusions. That said, between Stephen's status as Unreliable Narrator, a suggestion that he always had his rapid-study ability just not a way to recall it all, and the existence of a fully immersive and adaptive VR sim, means there's plenty of room to zig-zag the trope with With Great Power Comes Great Insanity and Lotus-Eater Machine.
  • Properly Paranoid: Played with. Never outright stated, but J.C.'s mental issue seems to be paranoia, and he's constantly referencing conspiracies that everyone else doesn't have clearance to know about. As a (imaginary) former Navy Seal though, it comes off like he would actually know these things, and given Stephen's usually investigating topics of interest to powerful people, he's often right when he sees trouble coming.
  • Reluctant Psycho: Stephen insists that while he may be crazy, he's not insane. He is functional, despite clear issues and outlandish requirements. While refusing to be studied he does try therapy, both with Ivy and someone real.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Audrey believes that she's a hallucination not because she actually is one, but because she's crazy.
  • Sequel Hook: The first book was deliberately written in the style of a TV pilot, and leaves several questions unanswered. The sequel continues the trend. While plans for a TV adaptation are on hold, the author is holding out hope for future changes and intends to keep the setting going.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: A woman named Sandra taught Stephen to use his mind this way, although it's ambiguous whether or not he was hallucinating before that. It's strongly implied their relationship was more than teaching. Unfortunately, she hopped on a train, without a word, ten years ago. Stephen is desperate for any leads to find her, enough to take Monica's case despite misgivings, and even he doesn't seem sure if he needs her for love or just to stabilize his mind.
  • Terrified of Germs: Ngozi, who would prefer to go outside in a hazmat suit, if possible.
  • The Reveal:
    • The reason the Mega-Corp could never get the camera to work properly without the inventor. The flash the inventor used was the key component to make it work. Stephen grabbed a sample, and one of his aspects is working on recreating the tech to help find Sandra.
    • Panos' body was stolen by his mother, who while disdaining his seemingly godless scientific work, wanted to give her son a proper religious burial and prevent I3 from cremating the body. The fresh garden plot she's working is actually his grave.
    • What actually happened with the bio-information tech in Skin Deep. The info was never on Panos' body, and there never was a cancer virus. Panos stole his own virus research from I3 and spliced it into a common harmless skin bacteria, and then made sure to shake a lot of hands, making lots of copies so it couldn't be destroyed. It's encrypted, but Stephen has the key. Panos' little brother had a dream of using the research as a vector for auto-delivering immunizations and eliminating disease wholesale.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted, though some aren't particularly helpful. Stephen has both Ivy and a non-hallucinatory psychiatrist, though we never see the latter.
  • Third-Person Person: Armando, the photography expert, styles himself the "Emperor of Mexico" and occasionally talks like this.
  • Third Wheel: Skin Deep opens with Stephen trying out a date. Ivy and Tobias are along and hamming up every detail, but he manages to avoid interacting with them (and thus freaking out his date) for a bit. Then he slips up. Then he fumblingly explains what it's like to be nuts. Then J.C. shows up checking the perimiter. Turns out the date was a plant for a reporter anyway.
  • Time Travel: Only indirectly. The first story is about a camera that can take pictures of the past, it just needs to be in the same location. The Mega-Corp that helped build it wants to use it to gain sensitive intel. The inventor who stole it back wants solid proof of his religion, pictures of the resurrection of Jesus.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Downplayed. Most of the hallucinations are aware that they aren't actually there, and Stephen often directly addresses it with them, but they tend to ignore or gloss over it whenever convenient. Breaking the illusion too much means breaking Stephen. The two exceptions are J.C., who refuses that explanation, and Audrey, who embraces being imaginary so much that Stephen concludes that not being real must be her own personal psychosis.
    • Brought full force in Lies of the Beholder. Stephen submits to an interview with a reporter named Jenny to pay off a favor, who is not only very well informed and asking piercing questions, but offers him a mission then follows him home when he bolts. Turns out, he's losing control so badly he invented the entire thing, and Jenny is a new aspect whose purpose he doesn't even understand.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The world at large seems to be more or less identical to our own, but cutting-edge research is constantly seen delving into areas of pure science fiction.
  • Unreliable Narrator: While the first two stories paint a picture of Stephen being in control of his problems, and able to distinguish between hallucination and reality, Lies of the Beholder makes clear Stephen is not nearly as stable as he likes to tell himself. It also calls into question his entire story arc - why, for instance, would he imagine a new mission about immersive VR tech, literally seconds before Sandra reappears in his life, who in the end is a test subject for that same tech company, and reveals she's abandoned the very path she put Stephen on? Stephen's sense of reality has definitely been tampered with, but whether an outside force is doing this to use or cure him, or Stephen is hiding information from himself until he can deal with it properly, is an open question.
  • Wacky Startup Workplace: In Legion: Skin Deep Stephen visits the headquarters of a technology startup called I3, which has things like treat bins in the halls, as well as a foosball table and arcade games in the lounge. As he comments in his internal monologue: "It was the type of environment carefully calculated to make creative types feel comfortable. Like a gorilla enclosure for nerds."
  • White Void Room: Stephen has one room in his mansion set up to look like this. The emptiness lets his mind focus on just the aspects and hallucinations, so he can call together a conference of all of them and get them all cracking on a single problem. They even use the walls as a whiteboard.

Alternative Title(s): Legion


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