I don’t know about you, but I don’t like it when my favorite characters die. Usually, they’re not the primary characters, but the peripheral ones who add interest and color to the story. Many will argue that such deaths imbue a plot with tension, the characters with obstacles (such as heartache, betrayal, or a consequent loss of status or effectiveness), and the author's world with a necessary sense of reality. While I know they’re often right, it still hurts when the characters I care about die.
When these deaths arrive organically, as a consequence of the protagonist’s (or antagonist’s) actions, I can deal with such deaths better. I read the Star Wars novel Darksaber by Kevin J. Anderson back in February 2009, and the death of the clone Dorsk 81 still shines like a beacon in my mind. I’ve read a lot of books since then, and probably couldn’t adequately describe the characters in most of them. But somehow, Dorsk 81’s supreme sacrifice branded itself into my memory.
I’ve recently reread Phoenix by Steven Brust. When events force Vlad to choose between getting his wife out of prison and everything he has built, his decision turns friends into enemies, and makes any potential return to his former life impossible. His second-in-command Kragar must strike down one employee who tries to kill Vlad. Although we never learn the man's motives, it seems as though he either chose personal gain or loyalty to his House over his duty to Vlad. Another of his employees, and an even more memorable character, dies defending Vlad in another attempt on his life. These characters lived in my consciousness just like real, breathing people. Reliving their deaths still hurt.
In television and movies, other concerns come into play beyond a writer’s concern for what’s best for a particular story or series. Perhaps the most famous case in Sci-fi comes from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in which Mr. Spock dies. Leonard Nimoy had endured years of legal wrangling with Paramount, and it was this enticement, to play a good death scene, that lured him back to the franchise. But Spock had been an integral part of Star Trek’s enduring popularity, and thus, in the following movie, a way was found to resurrect him.
Bizarrely, the Star Trek folks didn’t learn from their mistake, and later decided to kick off The Next Generation movies by killing off Captain Kirk. Even after all these years, I cannot understand the movie producers' reasoning. If there was one character that the fans were fascinated with, it was Mr. Spock. If there was one character that most fans saw as a role model, it was Captain Kirk. Again, Paramount bowed to outraged fans, and in the later novels, a way was found to bring Kirk back to life.
Now, if only Steven Brust would bring back the two characters he killed off in Phoenix, and Kevin J. Anderson would resurrect Dorsk 81. Authors, hear my plea!
This entry will conclude with When Your Favorite Characters Die: Part 2.