- Supernumerary: the classic unknown in a red top beaming down with Captain Kirk, Spock, et al, picked off by an alien sniper to show the viewer that this planet is hostile. 0/10
- Unexpected: Joanna, heroine of the 1975 film The Stepford Wives, strangled by the robot who was to replace her. See also the death of Henry Blake in M.A.S.H.. High No! What? They can't do that! factor, 6/10
- About time too: Little Beth, always sickly, not quite killed off in Little Women, finally conked out in one of the sequels (don't know which one, don't care). 1/10
- Oh good: my daughter was briefly and worryingly infatuated with a two-volume tome of Catholic martyrs, all of whom went cheerily to their unpleasant deaths as they knew next thing they'd be in heaven, hurray! 0/10
- Box of tissues required: a perfect example is Mary Renault's The Bull from the Sea. I cry each time I read it, at the death of Hippolyta, then Hippolytus, and finally Theseus. How does she do it? 10/10
Sunday, 2 May 2010
Insignificant and significant deaths in fiction
I've just been listening for the first time to The Devil's Disciple on Radio 7, by George Bernard Shaw. The hero, Dick Dudgeon, spends a large part of the play waiting to be taken out and hanged. He's extremely laid back about this impending nasty end, discussing it calmly and joking about it, so that I would have been astonished and outraged had he not got off at the last moment - as of course he does.
And it got me thinking about death in fiction, how it can devastate the reader or leave him entirely unruffled. I've rated the following types of demise, with marks out of ten for how much we care.
As writers, this is something we need to get right; we shouldn't trivialize death, or pretend some deaths don't matter, even in 'cosy' mysteries or violent thrillers; and when we confound the reader's expectations, it should be deliberate.
Posted by Lexi at Sunday, May 02, 2010