Saturday, June 9, 2012

Good writers and the characters they killed

Well, okay, so that title is misleading. This post has almost nothing to do with specific writers (I just thought that title sounded cool), though it is about character death.

I have seen a lot of talk on the interwebz recently about character death. The posts ranged from "Death makes the danger real" to "Lol, I just kill them when things get boring" to analyses of one the best-depictions of character death in all of television.

It made me think of all the character deaths I've seen in fiction -- good, bad, shocking, laughable, etc. Funny enough, I couldn't find any definable trend in a "good" character death. Many were characters I really liked. Others weren't so much about who was killed, but more about the treatment of that death.

Here are the examples I came up with: (Note: they're not in order, but the ones closer to the bottom of the list had the biggest emotional impact.)

Watchmen (Alan Moore): I'm not referring to specific character deaths here. However, one of the areas where this graphic novel succeeds is in how it depicts apocalypse. One minute the characters are in the middle of a conversation, and the next they're dead.

Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro): This book is a tearjerker, and the deaths aren't quick. The reader knows they're coming, and the characters live their lives knowing they're coming.

Witches on the Road Tonight (Sheri Holman): The obsession with death runs through this book, both in a vague, cult humor sort of way, and in a very serious, traumatic way. The time frame of the book jumps around, so you know that a certain character is going to die. However, it's the fucked up events leading up to this character's death that make it simultaneously shocking and inevitable.

Harry Potter: I didn't cry when I read Sirius' death. I cried two hours later, when it finally hit me. And Dobby's death was beautiful in the cruelest way possible.

Otherland (Tad Williams): I really liked Paul Jonas. And although Orlando's death was inevitable, it wasn't any easier to read. (Too bad Tad Williams had to resurrect them at the end of the series. That ruined it for me.)

Feed (M. T. Anderson): Violet's desperation to cling to her life and memories is scary enough, but the really hard part is seeing Titus' reaction. He doesn't know how to deal with something of that magnitude, which makes it all the more scary.

The Hunger Games: This one is obvious. Some of them were the deaths of innocent characters (Prim, Rue). Others were characters you wish you got to know better (Thresh). And then, of course, there was Cinna, who I really, really liked.

Liar (Justine Larbaliester): (Review coming soon!) The death of a character plays a central role in the book, and you can see how it overwhelms the protagonist. The corporality of death is also beautifully explored in this book.

The Book Thief (Markus Zusak): No book handles character death like The Book Thief. You know these deaths are coming from very early on, but the characters are so sympathetic that it's impossible to let go of them. And the scene where Rudy gives the teddy bear to the dying soldier? That was probably one of the most touching scenes in the whole book. If you didn't cry when you read this book, you have no soul.

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