Among Kurt Vonnegut’s oft-quoted tips for creative writing is this gem: “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” Sometimes the vicious, persnickety folks we know as authors take that advice and turn it up to 11, killing the characters you have come to know and love in gruesome, heart-rending, and altogether horrific ways. Sometimes we find out what these characters are made of because they’ve been ritually disemboweled in front of our reading eyes.
“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” the authors sneer at you as you sit, quiet and still, agape at the events unfolding before you. These characters—these beautiful friends of ours—deserve an In Memoriam montage. Here are a few of the poor souls, taken too soon, who should have lived, through whatever deus ex machina necessary. Word to the wise: proceed with caution, because ALL OF THE SPOILERS.
There’s only one thing to say about the heartless murder of one half of a twin set: Why? Not that there aren’t a slew of other characters coldly snuffed out by J.K. Rowling, but Fred’s death during the Battle of Hogwarts, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is perhaps the cruelest (though Teddy Lupin might disagree). Fred and George were a set. They went together. They were small-business owners together. What do you have against free enterprise, Rowling?
Once again, there are kids dying all over the place in The Hunger Games, but Rue, sweet, pretty Rue—why did it have to be Rue? I know, I know, it’s the law of the arena, but it doesn’t mean Rue’s death didn’t cut deep.
This is the only partial death on the list, I’ll grant you, but when the main character of an entire series (in this case Neil Gaiman’s Sandman) kicks it, even sort of, it’s a big deal. Morpheus and his beautiful Robert Smith-esque mane enter death’s realm, even as Dream of the Endless continues on because he is, well, endless. Even after the neatest, and most well-attended, wake in history, I wished Morpheus would find a way to cheat death, if for no other reason than his once-Daniel, now-Dream, forever-albino successor weirds me out.
Fili and Kili
Proving that Tolkien really didn’t “get” women, he up and kills the young, hot, sweetie-pie dwarves in The Hobbit. Can’t wait to watch that unfold in 2014! Of course, I was sorry to see Thorin Oakenshield go, but he’d led a long life and finally accomplished what he’d longed for. But Fili and Kili could have spawned a whole beautiful race of luscious-locked dwarves that maybe could have been distinguished from dwarven women.
Papa, can you hear me? The Book Thief is one giant life-is-unfair buffet, but Hans Hubermann should have lived. For the sake of my tear ducts, he should have lived and played the accordion and read to Liesel until he was an old, old man who would greet death as an old friend.
The only other fictional rodent I’d invested in before reading Flowers for Algernon was Templeton the rat, and that’s only because we shared the same insatiable desire to fill our gaping maws with as much foodstuffs as we could find. Predictably, Algernon the Einstein mouse’s fate was slightly more damaging. The tragedy of Algernon is that if he lived, not only would it have been lovely for him, but it would have meant a different life for the man whose story was irretrievably intertwined with his: poor Charlie Gordon.
It had to be said. Of all the characters—heck, of all the Starks—to greet the icy hand of George R.R. “Dr. Death” Martin, none was e’er so fair or so cruelly dispatched as the Young Wolf and his Grey Wind (excepting maybe Lady). So beautiful, so like dearly departed Ned, whose death we were just getting over when his eldest meets his maker. After the Red Wedding in A Storm of Swords, I just wanted to go back to Winterfell, circa Robert Baratheon’s early reign, when everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
Tom Robinson should have lived because Tom Robinson was innocent, and no court of law, real or fictional, is needed to tell you that. The appeal Atticus promised in To Kill a Mockingbird might not have cleared his name, but what’s even more abhorrent about Tom’s fatal prison escape attempt is how little it matters in the eyes of Maycomb County’s denizens.
I don’t even want to go into it. It’s still too soon.
Killing Lennie (a title miraculously as yet unwritten by Bill O’Reilly) is akin to Lennie killing that puppy: it makes you want to swoop in and fix the big, bad, mean old world that would allow something like this to happen—that would allot this man the option of being mercifully shot by his friend or lynched for a crime he did not intend to commit. The death of innocence is the saddest of them all, and that’s what John Steinbeck gave us in Of Mice and Men, before packing up his old kit bag to go torture the Joads.
Achilles and Patroclus
You might be saying, “Achilles was cool, sure, but I do not remember ever mustering the slightest whiff of sentiment for Patroclus in The Iliad. In point of fact, I barely remember The Iliad except for that one Brad Pitt movie.” Allow me to direct you to Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, Homer’s epic for the Tumblr generation. Miller paints an intimate love between Achilles and Patroclus that will not only make you ship them, but also compel you to try to tear out your aorta when they inevitably end up six feet under.
Holy parasitic relationship, Batman! Greed is bad. It seems impossible that a book that ends with “And the tree was happy” could be so incredibly sad, but it is when the tree’s now a stump thanks to some ingrate. Between this and Ferngully, many an environmental scientist has been born. All we’re saying is give trees a chance.
Which character’s death do you most wish you could undo?