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(Dylan Thomas + Raymond Chandler = subject line win)

Happy Belated Halloween!  I hope everyone''s holiday was safe, fun, and spooky (not necessarily in that order).

As you might know, today and yesterday mark many cultures' observance of the Day of the Dead (El Dia de Los Muertos), which made me think of a weighty topic we've never discussed, one of life's two inevitables (the other being taxes).

Or is it inevitable?  In fantasy literature, death is not always a one-way trip. Characters can be resurrected by any number of means and are often transformed into something more powerful than what they were before.

*resists urge to quote Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars*

Is that the case in your books?  Is death permanent, or is it a gateway to a better or worse life?  In your worlds, what factors decide who lives and who dies?  How do your characters cope with this transition?  How does it change them physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually?

If writing and reading can be a form of therapy, does urban fantasy help us wrestle with our fear of death, by having it occasionally be optional, but also by showing us that there are worse fates?  Does urban fantasy "tame" death by making it ever-present?  Is death even one of the best sources of comedy?

As always, Members and Watchers alike are encouraged to share in the comments.  Note: since this is such a complex topic, Members, please feel free to share your thoughts in a separate post if you prefer.

Have a great week!

--Jeri Smith-Ready


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 2nd, 2009 02:59 pm (UTC)
I laugh because I *just* commented about this recently given my upcoming book is based on creating a latina superheroine origin myth via Dia de los Muertos. I have always had a child-like fear of death and I envy my MC's transition from sharing that uncertainty with me to finding her place in both this world and the next: she learns her purpose and lets go of her fears, embracing the family on both sides of the veil. This part of her journey meant *a lot* to me and involved some serious soul-searching (pun intended) as to what I believed, what my fears really were and what I would find comforting knowing that life, in one way, must end.
Nov. 2nd, 2009 08:34 pm (UTC)
Writer's Perspective:

Death is death. You're gone. You're finished. You've shuffled off this mortal coil and unless you've made extensive preparations, you're not coming back. (Curses, vampirism, "resuscitate me using crazy-experimental science" orders count as extensive preparation).

In urban fantasy, there's a lot of different mythos. If you're going to use the Rule of Cool (I want my bean-sidhes to sing RESPECT along Greek sirens at Carnegie Hall), you imply all the myths are true. Which in turn implies none of them are completely true - which completely sabotages a unified theory on the afterlife.

I don't have a great explanation for what happens after death. And I kind of prefer it that way - leave a little mystery. The characters are easier to relate to if they're like us - they don't know for sure what happens after death, even if they have some pretty solid suspicions.

As for the questions about urban fantasy and the psychology of death: Yes. To all of them. ^__^

Pure Reader Reaction:

I'm dislike "surprise, we're killing so-and-so to garner readership!" I dislike, even more, "surprise, we're resurrecting so-and-so to garner more readership!"

In story, it's fine if you have the things that (to some degree) cheated death - vampires, zombies, ghosts, whatever. It's just terribly annoying when characters keep dropping and popping (up) like a bad dance video. If you want the drama of killing a character, well, keep them dead. Otherwise it's a cheap gimmick - there are exceptions to this (Jesus), but it's done too often.

Nov. 2nd, 2009 08:58 pm (UTC)
I tend to mumble along vague Taoist leanings, with a little Egyptian flavouring... And to a degree this is reflexted in how I write death. I've yet to encounter characters who return from the dead in any form, but I'm sure it will be fun when it happens.
Nov. 4th, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC)
Hi :)
Thanks for the interesting post Jeri :)
I love the Queen Betsy series by MaryJanice Davidson in which she dies and returns in the first chapter.
Also the resurrection of a character (not mentioning who to avoid spoilers) in A Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin was unexpected but plausible and the character is vastly changed as a result. And I loved Gandalf returning from death in the Lord of the Rings.
The best thing about Fantasy is that it is just that.
All the best,
Nov. 4th, 2009 03:19 pm (UTC)
The problem with overcoming death (especially on a regular basis) is that there’s nothing in human experience to replace it. In real life, death marks The End. There’s a reason it’s, “until death do you part.” Overcoming death is the mark of the truly unique and extraordinary (i.e., Jesus [and I’m not advocating any religion, just using a well-known example]). When it becomes commonplace in a given fantasy world, it not only loses its depth, meaning and narrative weight, it leaves you without any ultimate threat for your characters. And if you do manage to come up with something that replaces death, then by definition it’s something outside the experience of your real world readers, and you lose the inherent empathy rooted in our common experiences of death.
Nov. 4th, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC)
This is an awesome topic.

I want to be able to come out and say that, in my Evy Stone books, dead is dead. But even that's not quite true. Dead is dead, unless someone pays a hefty price to bring you back--with consequences for both of you.

Death and resurrection was a huge thing I had to consider when I developed the premise for THREE DAYS TO DEAD. I didn't want bringing someone back from the dead to be an easy thing, because that cheapens the deaths of other characters. The magic required to cross those boundaries and restore a soul had to be something of equal or greater value, so that other folks didn't run around resurrecting their dead friends. There are consequences. And the obvious consequences for the resurrected person--they need an intact body to inhabit, which comes with its own unique set of problems.

So it's possible to cheat death, but it costs. And in all other ways, death is permanent.

I have no idea what comes next, so I do sort of agree that reading and writing about death can be somewhat therapeutic. For me, at least. :)
Nov. 4th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
Oops, that was me. Forgot to login.
Nov. 4th, 2009 04:13 pm (UTC)
Death is a fairly permanent state in the UF series I have coming out from Orbit in 2011. There is one character who dies more than once, but that's a complicated issue and too spoilery to be discussed in detail.

I like the idea of death's uncertainty in UF. Keeps things interesting.

-Kristen Painter
Nov. 4th, 2009 04:23 pm (UTC)
In DEADTOWN there's undead, and then there's dead. (Sort of like Laura's Princess Bride quote, but not quite.) I think of the undead characters as transformed into new creatures so that death no longer threatens them in the same way it does humans and other "alive" characters. What happens after death to those "alive" characters is still an open question.

Vicky, my protagonist, lost someone close to her ten years ago and she doesn't know whether any trace of him still exists. The character was killed by a Hellion, who claims to have destroyed both his body and his soul. Vicky sometimes tries to find a trace of him beyond the grave--looking for signs of his presence in dreams and in waking life--but gets only silence. The issue of what happened to him is something I'll keep exploring in subsequent books.
Nov. 4th, 2009 04:48 pm (UTC)
In my Shifters series, dead is dead, which means death carries a lot of weight. But in my Soul Screamers series, which is about death, and the creatures that can mess with/mess up death, it's not always so permanent. Or so complete. ;-)
Nov. 4th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
Great topic, Jeri. I find I'm most fascinated with the point at which death occurs. That point where a body *cannot* come back. Is it when your heart stops beating? Your brain waves cease? Near death experiences. Are those near death or are those actually coming back from being dead? For ex. the Doctor calls time of death b/c you've flatlined and then ten minutes later your heart starts beating again. So did you have a 'near death' experience or did you really 'come back from the dead'? Is there an intermission period (not sure how else to say that, lol) from the time you're medically considered dead to the time you're human/soul/spirit dead? Otherwise how can doctors account for all these near death experiences when the doc says a person is dead, and yet that person wakes up with a sheet over their face?

For me, when I wrote about Charlie's (my heroine)near death experience, it was from this viewpoint and these questions that, yes, often plague me. Medically, she was dead. Her heart stopped beating. But she came back -- just like thousands of other people in real life. But I wonder how much time passes before a person cannot come back from the brink... What's the point of no return?

As a writer I don't want to get immune to death, to the weight of it. The key, I think, is staying true to your world and characters and making the actions and reactions appropriate whether it be death or violence or whatnot. And, I'm just rambling now... but interesting topic for sure!
Nov. 4th, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC)
For the most part death is absolute in my writing, but I do find the idea of dying and returning terribly interesting -- and I don't think I'm alone. In my opinion if you're going to bring a character back there had better be a good reason for it. Or consequences. Always consequences. :-)
Nov. 5th, 2009 01:36 am (UTC)
If a character dies, you can just go ahead and say goodbye. I'm not a overly large fan of the kill 'em, bring'em back.

The one exception to this is not so much an exception as a character didn't have all the facts--she thought her family was murdered, and really, they weren't. They were changed by a rival vampire coven. But other than that...yeah. Dead's dead, and if someone dies, they won't show up later.

I have issues with immortality, though. Most of my characters, although supernatural, have some control over their lifespans. I don't want some poor tortured soul who had to watch everyone they have ever known die of old age or what have you. I'd rather the character get to decide that if his wife is killed in a car accident, he can join her--and no, not by suicide, cause I have issues with that too.

Nov. 5th, 2009 02:50 am (UTC)
I have a character who went from being Death to being alive. Does that count?
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


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