Thursday, August 15, 2013

Killing Characters

I finally got around to reading THE GAME OF THRONES (and watching the first episode of the TV series). You’ve probably heard the joke that goes, “George Martin’s Twitter account got canceled because he killed off all 140 characters,” and from only the first installment of the series, I understand the joke. How do you feel about the deaths of major characters? Not in a work labeled as tragedy, where it’s expected, but in other kinds of dramatic fiction? Sometimes letting a protagonist meet a heroic end works, as in THE ROBE, where Christian converts Marcus and Diana joyfully embrace martyrdom on the final page. However, that kind of scenario violates most readers’ expectations of most novels.

Lots of people die in GONE WITH THE WIND (after all, much of it takes place during a war), including Melanie, a major character. She’s still a secondary character, though, and her death has a critical, plot-justified impact on the development of Scarlett, the protagonist. I had a different feeling about the death of Duncan’s beloved Tessa in the HIGHLANDER TV series. Not that I couldn’t accept having the hero’s lover die as a contribution to his character development, but that her fate was so pointless. Immediately after getting rescued from the villain, she got murdered in a mugging. This incident was probably intended to reflect the randomness of real life, but I found it dramatically unsatisfying. J. K. Rowling killed Harry Potter, but not really. If Harry’s sacrifice had resulted in his permanent death, readers would have been outraged—justly, in my opinion. In a seven-book saga centered on a single protagonist, the author has an implied contract with the audience to reward the hero’s efforts and sufferings. How about a novel with an ensemble cast, such as GAME OF THRONES? I was shocked when the closest that novel has to a main protagonist, and one of the few thoroughly admirable persons in the cast of characters, got killed off at the whim of a tyrant. (I won’t go into further detail in case you haven’t read the book.)

In a “nobody is safe” fictional universe, do you appreciate the realism of knowing anybody can die, just as in real life? Or does the death of a central character turn a book into a wall-banger for you?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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