The Worst Death

Grim_Reaper_by_totemicdruidI have experienced many deaths in reading, and some stay with me a long time. I don’t grieve for the character as I would a loved one, but I still feel a sadness drift down and rest on my shoulders like the ash that covered Pompeii. It’s all the worse since I have to witness each death alone in my own head and the world keeps on turning around me. No one else seems to notice that the most devastating thing just took place, but how would they?

When you’ve read thousands (I would guess) of books, you experience a lot of death in the writing. Especially if it’s some kind of fiction. You can generally expect death in horror, that seems like a given. It’s the same with crime and mystery. Not always, of course, but there’s a lot of it in there.

I have read about a lot of deaths that broke my heart. Rowling wrote a few that stung and George R.R. Martin wrote too many for me to handle. There have been a few close calls with Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Philip Pullman that had me completely devastated, only to find later that my fear was unnecessary.

Then we have the actual deaths in non-fiction that aren’t created for readers. Those cut deeply, whether they are adults, children, or animals.

When characters that we relate to are facing the worst, or they are removed from the book completely, it is a painful experience. We become so attached to characters that our brains can even believe that we are the ones experiencing what we are reading (according to a recent study that was all over the internet). These characters become part of your subconscious while you are reading, and they dig in deep.

The worst death in literature, for me, was probably that of Dumbledore (I know that’s potentially a spoiler, but that book has been out for years and years). Of all the deaths that I have read about, fiction and non-fiction, his was the only one that actually caused me to weep. I felt sadness wrap its cool fingers around my heart and settle there for days. To know that he sacrificed himself did nothing to make it better, it only made it worse. When Harry was feeding him that potion I didn’t want to keep reading. I wanted to open the pages, throw myself into them, and drink it for him so that he wouldn’t suffer anymore. I suffered along with him and the only way that I could repay him for his years of comfort and entertainment were to keep on reading, even if it hurt.

Let’s think about the brilliance of that. Ink smeared over a flat piece of mashed wood caused me to feel strong emotions. Another person, who I have never met, silently communicated some of the only written words that have made me cry. Those books and everything in them took place completely in my head while everything in the world just went along doing its thing. Dumbledore’s death meant more to me than the death of a movie star or even an author that I had loved. Why? Because I felt connected to his struggle. I felt like he was a part of my life. I felt as if I knew him. That’s an amazing feat in writing.

The practice of reading books is actually quite insane when you peel away the layers that makes it sensible. If you remove the details and shave it down to the most simple description, it sounds nonsensical. But there’s beauty and wonder in nonsense, and it’s only nonsense until it becomes socially accepted.

In reading, what was the worst death for you? What was the book?

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33 thoughts on “The Worst Death

      • It is a book based on the Bible. All the names are referenced to a biblical person. It is a tremendous work and yet it is hard to read. The white whale is it evil or good, is Ahab evil or corrupted. What about the men who follow him, doomed to hell or can they repent and go to heaven?

      • I’m sure I’ll be in the mood eventually. I have it sitting on a shelf, but I have trouble getting through the first few chapters. It sounds intriguing, and I know that many people have enjoyed it. I hope I can pick it up again sooner rather than later.

  1. When I was in middle school I read an obscure young adult novel titled, “The Year the Gypsies Came,” in which someone close to the narrator dies. I think I had several stressful things going on in my life then, and all I needed was a death in literature to light a “fuse”, because what followed after that death was twenty minutes of cathartic “why is lit so cruel!” weeping. Curious, what books can do…

    • It’s funny that we still continue to read these things, even though we know that they will hurt us. I’m curious about that book now, so I’m going to write it down.

  2. I couldn’t take it when Srius Black &Snape died…I mean why Sirus was close to his family and how could anyone be so alone in this mean world…Snape confessed everything in the end but after all his scarifice he deserved to live

  3. I have to say it was probably Martin’s GoT where Ned died. That came as an utter shock because I was so convinced that he would live on. I think I was in a literal state of denial for at least two days and my friends had to keep on telling me that it was a book. but the thing was, it felt so heart-wrenching. Because Ned was the best character in the twisted world.

  4. Nick Andros, in The Stand. Not only because I liked the character, but by Stephen King’s own admission he did it because he was stuck and needed to give the story a shot in the arm, and because that’s the point in the story where things seem to go off the rails.

    Also Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web, but I was five, so I’m not sure if that counts.

    • Charlotte totally counts! I read that as a child as well, I think I was about 7 or so. I felt really terrible when she died.

      I am just getting through The Stand now, but I have been told about it millions of times. It’s one of my friend’s favourite books, so at least now I can prepare myself!

      • Aw, crap. I’m sorry. If I had known you were in the process of reading it I wouldn’t have said anything. The book has plenty of other great stuff going for it though, so I doubt it will ruin the experience. Hope you enjoy it!

      • No worries! My friend has pretty much told me everything that happens anyway. I’m not really worried about spoilers in general, I don’t need to be surprised to enjoy it. 🙂

  5. I’m not really sure. I’ve become a little immune to deaths in books, so ones like Dumbledore’s (which hit me hard at the time) don’t affect me anymore. But I guess I really got hit hard when I read what happened to one of the main characters at the end of Battle Royale. Now that was a sad shock.

  6. hmmm…”only to find later that my fear was unneccessary”thats really true,because i had a similiar experience in the book:”THE TALES OF HUMA” A great & benevolent hero who fought to his last strength to rid his land of a rampaging evil queen.
    But for the people around me,i almost wept,when he died,though victoriously.
    Still i so much honour & admire the gallantry of a fictional hero and that book remains one of the best in my lirt.

  7. As another Harry Potter fan the worst death for me was actually Prof. Snape. I’ve always been a Snape fan (and an Alan Rickman fan), and was convinced from the onset of the series that despite his surliness Snape was really a good guy. I had many arguments with folks during the series in which I defended him while everyone else remained convinced he was an evil S.O.B. Until that final book came out that is. The part that got me the worst, right in the feels? The epilogue in which Harry says his son’s full name… Albus Severus Potter. Oh that single line makes me cry every time I read it.

    • I never knew what to think of Snape until the end. I was always suspicious. I despised him because he reminded me of someone that I knew, so I think that influenced how I thought of him in a definite way.

  8. The worst death…there were some really hard ones for me. Sirius Black’s death was very, very hard for me…

    …but the first book death over which I cried, and cried a lot, mind you, was Bridge to Terebithia. While the book has also been out since forever, since it’s less popular I’ll avoid spoilerage. The strange thing was a friend had accidentally spoiled that the character died, but when I got to that part…I still found it so devastating. Wound up being awkward as my mom poked her head in my room to tell me she was going to the store, be back soo- why are you crying hysterically? Although at least, being my mom, she understood better than a stranger might.

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