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Author Killing Sprees: Pro and Cons

I must preface thDanger Signis topic with a big, gigantic SPOILER ALERT! I am not including any books published in the past year.  I apologize if I let something slip that was new to you.

We’ve all experienced that horrific moment in which a beloved character meets a gruesome and untimely fate. We get angry and curse the authors for creating such a wonderful character only to erase him from his fictional existence with a sentence or two.  Did you ever stop to wonder why you generate so many feelings for a fictional character? Think about it this way. Say you are watching an action movie in which people are blown up by the dozens and bad guys are getting picked off by our skilled sniper hero. Are you angry at the writer and director of this film? Not at all. There is no emotional connection to those characters. You don’t even know their names. You don’t know what they do for a living. You don’t know their family history. You don’t know their hobbies and interests. Now, think about the most devastating character death from your favorite books. You might even be tearing up right now just thinking about their demise. I know I am… a bit. It is because of the author’s dedication to creating such memorable and engaging characters that we feel that we must uselessly threaten these vicious writers for taking away our book friends.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone coverThis entire thought process began because of a conversation. I am a teen librarian and I recommended a book to one of my high school students.  I gave her Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.  A few days later I came into work to find a note taped to my desk, stating her hatred for me.  In Daughter of Smoke and Bone (a 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten selection), there are several deaths. One death in particular caused her to question why I would even give this book to her, knowing that this death was going to happen. This is the sign of a great book; when finishing the book leaves you so emotionally affected that you wish you never read the book. Taylor wrote a book that will stay with readers. Is this particular character’s death important to the story? Absolutely. His death was not gratuitous.  It set the stage for Karou’s development and transformation seen in the sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight. Despite its necessity, I feel I can lead all of us in a joint sob of thanks to Taylor for the artistic manipulation of our feelings.

There are other examples of author killing sprees that we as savvy readers should have seen coming, but still feel mortally wounded as the bodies hit the floor. Let’s look at the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. We are smart people. The series is about teens killing each other. Yet for some reason, the world of readers went ballistic when, in Mockingjay (a 2011 Teens’ Top Ten winner), Collins starts killing off characters left and right. This is a book about death and war. We would like to think that if Collins put so much effort into saving Prim in book one when Katniss volunteered as Tribute that she would ultimately be safe. Katniss has a sacrificial personality. She will put others first in order to save them while her own life hangs in the balance. Why should it be surprising that Prim would take after her older sister? In Mockingjay, Prim volunteers as a medic which is dangerous and ultimately leads to her death. Should we feel cheated that Prim dies anyway, even after everything Katniss did to save her? I think not. Things happen and there are rarely people exempt because of past experiences. How would you feel if Prim was present for the bombing, but somehow miraculously survived? It would feel fake and too easy. As a reader, you would subconsciously become harry_potter_hunger_gamesdisengaged from the story due to how unlikely the situation would be.

Speaking of unlikelihoods, I’m going to briefly mention the bawlfest that is the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I must be brief as I feel I could write a whole post strictly on these books. In seven books, Rowling created a world we want to visit with people we want to hang out with every day.  The book begins with the horrific deaths of Harry’s parents yet somehow the readers weren’t prepared for the possibility of other characters dying.  Here are the Top Three Most  Appalling Harry Potter Deaths, in my opinion.  They are:

  1. Dumbledore – Of course no one wanted Dumbledore to die. I will say that looking back, I can see that his death would happen. He was always preparing Harry, teaching him what to do in dangerous circumstances, etc. Dumbledore had to die so Harry would be forced to take the lead in defeating Voldemort. Now did I think that Snape would be behind his murder? No, I did not. Well done, Rowling.
  2. Sirius Black – Sirius was the closest thing Harry had to a loving family and Rowling had to snatch him away from Harry. It was surprising and I was inconsolably sad for a time, but like Dumbledore’s death, it served as a catalyst for Harry’s battle against Dumbledore.
  3. Fred – This death was more cry-worthy due to the fact that George did not die. The two are rarely apart in the entire series. It is only death that separates them. But, I do think that this death was important. It would seem unrealistic if so many of the students survived. She had to include a death that would truly hit home how vulnerable everything was.

Honorable Mentions: Snape, Cedric Diggory, Dobby, and Lupin/Tonks.

Now that I’ve forced you to relive some of your tear-filled memories, just remember this: if you have no feelings at the end of a book, something is wrong.  You may feel betrayed by your favorite authors but remember, that’s why you love them.

-Brandi Smits, currently reading Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King

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  1. Leslie C. Leslie C.

    How can you not mention Hedwig?!!!

    My mother is still upset that she killed Hedwig!!

    I was shocked and upset about most of the HP characters you mentioned, but especially Fred (really, you had to kill a twin?!) and Lupin and Tonks (brand new parents?! — reminded me of Harry).

    I know this is not a teen series, but the Last Battle in Robert Jordan’s final book Memory of Light has MAJOR characters dying off left & right! You don’t know if anyone will be left or if they will all be reborn???

  2. Brandi S. Brandi S.

    You are absolutely right! I can’t believe I overlooked Hedwig! I apologize profusely for my oversight.

  3. Barbara Barbara

    You said “One death in particular caused her to question why I would even give this book to her, knowing that this death was going to happen. This is the sign of a great book; when finishing the book leaves you so emotionally affected that you wish you never read the book. ”

    I beg to differ.

    If a book leaves you wishing you had never read it, how can it be great?

    For me, a great book is one that leaves me so emotionally affected I am THANKFUL I read it and know my life will be the better for having done so. Whether or not death is involved, whether it leaves me laughing or crying, if it leaves me a better person then it is a great book, at least to me.

    I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I know the death you are talking about, and I remember feeling – why? Why was it necessary for him to die? I felt empty. I have read other books where important characters die. In most cases the author leave me feeling sad, but understanding. This book did not, and that is part of the reason why, at least for me, I have no interest in the sequel.

  4. ShariKathryn ShariKathryn

    I remember bawling my eyes out and screaming “NO!” before throwing both The Hunger Games, and Deathly Hallows across the room upon Prim/Fred’s deaths. But I agree with the fact that they needed to die. Not so that the story could continue in a certain manner, but so that the wars could seem more real.
    I’ve never read a book that had a death I couldn’t understand. I have seen movies (Really Joss Weadon?? You had to kill Wash??), watched TV shows (I think Daniel died one too many times in StarGate SG1), and been to musicals (I will never understand why the Bartender in Rock of Ages dies, it added nothing accept giant angel wings). But in literature, it always made sense. Even as a kid, when the Pevensie children died in the last Chronicles of Narnia book, I understood why. It made sense. So being angry about a character’s death, I get. Being mad that you read the book…that I don’t get. Sounds like a great conversation to be had with that patron though. I’ll bet there is more to those feelings of anger than just the character dying, and maybe I’m just a nosy-small-town-teen-librarian, but I would want to know why they were so upset that they actually left the note…
    Just a thought!

  5. Alissa B Alissa B

    Actually, in the Harry Potter series, I was more upset by the death of Hedwig than those of Dumbledore, Sirius, Fred, Lupin, and Tonks combined. But then it always really got to me when the beloved literary pet was suddenly no more (I actually threw “Where the Red Fern Grows” across the room. True, I was 10 at the time, but still! Really, Mr. Rawls?! Is that the sort of plot twist to include in a children’s book that will undoubtedly be forced upon countless impressionable, animal-loving kids? I’m still mad at you!). Some character deaths have to happen, but death of Hedwig was completely and totally unnecessary. And don’t even get me started on what happened to Doby… Aagh! I’m getting upset just thinking about it.

    I need to go read something happy.

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