Okay, I should warn you this post is going to read more like deep reflection and advice than my usual what's-been-happening rant. I should also add a "sentimental" advisory that the following information may cause tears. Get the tissue box ready!
What prompted me to write about this topic started when I tuned into a movie channel on TV the other night. Stand by Me, one of my all time favorites, was playing. Those familiar with the plot will know that one of the main characters, a boy named Gordie, had lost an older brother in a horrible accident the year before. Dealing with his own grief and his father's, a broken man who seems to resent Gordie being the one son left alive, is central to the young boy's actions.
Yeah, this is morbid, I know, but it started me thinking about death, that is, the death of fictional characters. How readers deal with such a sad event is sometimes not an easy thing to do, especially for younger readers. In fact, for them it's like real death. Think back to the first time you read Bambi. Poor little fella lost his mother and he was all alone in the world. What made it worse was how Mom was shot by a hunter. (I'm sure that has caused a lot of grief for hunters.) And who can forget Littlefoot's mom killed by Sharptooth in Land Before Time? Or how about Mufasa in The Lion King? Murdered by his own brother, no less? But that's only about children's stories. Grown ups have plenty to deal with, too. I cried buckets of tears when Marly died in Marly and Me. (I'm a real puddle of goo when it comes to animals dying. I can't watch I am Legend without skipping over that scene. You know the one.) And I was absolutely in shock when Dumbledore fell to his death. I mean, I reread that passage over and over, thinking I must have got it wrong. Then, reading further, even into the next book, I wouldn't give up hope that it was all a hoax, that he never died. Shame on you, J.K Rowlings! I was heartbroken for months!
I'm sure you have your own list of favorite characters who've gone on to visit the pearly gates. As you watched or read about their demise you probably grieved, screamed and maybe spewed expletives on the unfairness of such cruelty. I feel your angst. BUT there's hope for us all. Well, maybe it's not a solution to end the pain and suffering. Still, like with therapy, maybe the following advice will help in some way.
All right, then. Let's get to it ...
First, is acceptance. There's no reason to keep on denying the character died. If the author did his job right, the character's death had a purpose, and in that death you found a deeper meaning of that character, how he/she/it affected other characters, how the death may have helped those others to grow.
Second, (and I know this may sound silly ... after all, these are fictional characters we're talking about) it's okay to cry and be angry over the loss. Trust me, it helps. As an author I'm constantly reminded that my job is to write a story that will evoke a reader's emotions. Cry, laugh, shiver with fear, love until your heart breaks. So, let go and vent! It's what readers should do.
Third, (and here is where it gets a bit weird) remember the happy times. Just like with the loved ones you've lost (in REAL life, folks) you try to recall all those cheerful moments, when they smiled, laughed, made you laugh. Maybe this will help you get over your grief.
And last, in a more creative effort, rewrite the scene, have the character live! Yes, it can be done. It's called fan fiction where you decide to rewrite a popular story, and if you so choose, make everyone live happily ever after! Joy.
Whether you choose to use any of these or not, I hope reading about the demise of any favored character doesn't make you quit reading. Or worse? You may find yourself in danger of turning into an angry, crazed fan who goes ballistic on her favorite author and destroys his leg while he's chained to the bed! Remember the Stephen King novel, Misery? *maliciously grinning* Please, don't. We need avid readers and great authors to live!
That's it for this week, folks. Enjoy the weekend and ... happy reading!
Kathryn Long, author of
A Deadly Deed Grows and other mysteries