I’ve recently read a few books where major characters died–and I’m talking viewpoint or main cast characters–only to be resurrected. Then, you know, they all live happily ever after.
When this dead-but-resurrected-thing happened the first time, I was annoyed but okay. My mood elevated to disgruntled by the second time, then shot into the orbit of WTF by the third. I’ve been hovering up here since.
Now, my beloved genre is speculative fiction, so this post will be focused on all books that fall into the speculative category. Especially since the theme of resurrection typically appears in speculative stories.
Before we get too deeply into this, I just want to clarify. I don’t mean deaths that seem to happen but the character in question is really faking their demise, or deaths that happen off the page or are implied, then turn out to be wrong. I also don’t mean necromancy.
Additionally, these opinions don’t apply to satirical stories or stories featuring immortal characters. Though, even those usually come with a loophole and can be killed somehow, so whatever.
Ready? Okay. Here’s why I abhor this trend.
Sacrifice? What Sacrifice?
Friends, Romans, well, all of you, lend me your eyes. The death of a character can never be just a random event in a story. If someone dies between the pages of a book (or in any story, for that matter) there has to be a very specific reason for the event.
Sometimes, the protagonist can’t face their mammoth struggle alone, so some of their friends and loved ones sacrifice themselves to help the protag reach their goal. Whether it’s to keep the antagonist busy and buy the protag time, or to channel their magical strength though the protag, this here is good, noble stuff.
Sometimes, characters die because they were in the way of the antagonist’s plans, and these poor souls become collateral damage in the greater scheme of things. But they often need to be avenged, which means somewhere, a character is moved into motion due to the death of another character.
Whatever the reason, their sacrifice is diminished if they’re resurrected later.
Doctor Who Spoilers Incoming. 🙂
Let’s take Clara, for example. Her death scene was pretty moving, fans and non-fans of the character can agree. She was reckless and took on a death sentence that couldn’t be revoked, and she paid for her recklessness with her life. In fact, she was pretty noble about the whole thing, and her final moments caused many fans who hadn’t liked her (myself included) to review their opinions of her.
Her sacrifice moved the Doctor in ways he’d never imagined he could be moved, which brought us two of the best ever episodes of the series (which also showcased Capaldi’s brilliance as an actor, IMO). It was great.
Then, by softly resurrecting Clara, handing her a TARDIS and a companion of her own, then sending her off into the galaxy, everything she had learned, and the Doctor’s resulting deeds and immense growth were diminished. Fans were disgruntled, and the forums were flooded with angry essays.
Spoilers Complete. 😉
I recently read a series where multiple characters–viewpoint, main and supporting cast members–all died in the final battle. Some of the most heart-wrenching moments followed, but don’t worry, all but one of them were resurrected.
Oh, did I mention the antagonist and their cronies stayed dead? Same world, advanced tech, better-honed powers, but, nope. Those arseholes picked the wrong team and got what they deserved for trying to take over the world. No resurrection for them.
All I want to know is why did character A die in the first place, if they were just going to be brought back to life five seconds later? People faint for longer than that.
Which brings me to the next point.
All the Emotions
If you, my dear author, are going to make me cry all the tears and rip out the pages, do not, and I repeat, DO NOT take it back. If I’ve invested enough of myself into this book to care so deeply about a character’s death, it’s really not funny when you take their life, then say, “Tadaa! Fooled ya!”
Especially not when this phenomenon is true for multiple characters in the same book. #notcool
I can’t speak for the rest of readers, but I sure as hell lose my trust in an author when characters die only to be resurrected in the name of eliciting an emotional response from me. At one point or another, I’m going to stop worrying. Sure, she’s dead, but who cares. She’ll be back.
For example. We all know Marlena Evans won’t stay down for long, we’ve watched of Days of Our Lives. Maybe a newcomer to the show will experience shock and horror when Marlena’s pronounced dead (again) but for the rest of us, it’s just another Tuesday. By now, we know she’s immortal. Not really, but really. (I miss you, Ouma.)
Constant resurrection dulls the reader’s emotions–probably the exact opposite of what the author was going for.
In other words, if they all die just to jerk around my heart, my heart won’t be so easily jerked in the future. I won’t invest as much of myself into the book and characters, because past experience will cause me to put up my defences.
It also kind of ruins me for other books in the genre. While this trend continues, I’m not going to believe anyone is dead until they’re put to rest somehow, in which case I’m not going to care anyway, because the moment has passed.
I understand not wanting to have readers hate you, but either way, you’re screwed. Some readers will hate you for killing off a character (George RR isn’t doing too poorly, though) and others will hate you for resurrecting that same character.
The point of this whole ranty essay is simple.
If they’re just going to be hauled out of the grave without any real purpose, maybe they shouldn’t have died in the first place?
Please don’t do this to me anymore.