Character Profiles: The Crazy Person who Knows Something

“So … do we call you Peet?” Janner asked, fishing for more answers to his mounting questions. “Is that your real name?”

The Sock Man stirred the boiling pot with a long wooden spoon and didn’t answer.

The Igibys stared at him in an awkward silence.

“What’s a real name?” Peet said finally. He pointed the spoon at Janner. “Is Janner Igiby your real name?”

“Yes sir.”

“Is it?”

– Andrew Peterson, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Small town, boys. Crazy people hear lots of things. – Peet the Sock Man

Peet the Sock Man was crazy. You knew it from the moment you saw him – a ragged man with a haggard face and filthy knitted stockings on his hands. He talked gibberish to lampposts and attacked street signs, but for all that he was harmless. Even to street signs, which tended to have the best of whatever contests the Sock Man challenged them to.

The Glipwood townspeople often saw him in town. Sometimes he skipped through with a stick in his mouth, or with one eye shut. Sometimes they saw him juggling buckets by the cliffs, or walking on his hands while chanting nonsense rhymes.

But nobody ever talked to him.

When Janner Igiby finally did, he heard – even if he did not recognize – the first ringing of a truth that overturned his world.

Peet the Sock Man was a Crazy Person who Knows Something.

Crazy People who Know Something are loads of fun*. They’re usually an unknown quantity, and always an unstable one. The right of such characters is unconventional behavior; the purpose is mystery and sometimes even amusement.

Frequently – maybe even usually – the Crazy Person is not actually crazy. The reputation of madness is created by misunderstanding or even malice. Sometimes it’s just eccentricity mistaken for insanity – for the line between the two, though real, can grow very fine.

And sometimes – as with the Sock Man – the insanity is genuine. I’ve seen this less. A truly mad, yet knowing, person is a harder balance, a more demanding character. It’s not always simple to write a character who has lost his mind, but not all of it – insanity leavened with sanity. Peet, accurately enough, called himself crazy. But he wouldn’t have known he was crazy unless he was at least somewhat sane.

Whether mad in reputation or in fact, the Crazy Person always does Know Something. You wonder how. You wonder what – being crazy or just strange – he’s going to do about it.

* In fiction, anyway