August 10th, 2006

Go, Bid The Soldiers Shoot!

I killed off a character the other day. I hadn't seen it coming, but suddenly the logic of the story demanded a death. It was a character I was very fond of. I feel quite wistful about it.

But of course a created character can't really die, because it was never really alive. 

On the other hand it lives for as long as there is anyone reading about it.

To take an example that won't require me to post spoiler notices: Hamlet dies at the end of the play; does this mean that Hamlet is dead? Not really. Turn back a page or two and- look- he's alive again.  Is he any deader then than Horatio or Fortinbras or the other characters who survive him? Of course not. We speak of them all  in the present tense. 

And in one sense he's livelier than any of them-  livelier almost than any other character in fiction.

And why grieve, as we do, for his death when he'd be dead now anyway? Almost every character imagined to be living at a  time before the middle of the twentieth century would be dead now anyway. Elizabeth Bennet ends her story alive but would now be dead. Darcy would be dead, Jane Eyre would be dead, Mr Pickwick would be dead and so on and on and on.

Yet it's plainly absurd to think that way. They're all still alive. As alive as they ever were. They outlive their creators. They exist in a timeless present

And that includes characters who are imagined to live in the future. James Kirk is dead; we saw him die in a movie. Yet James Kirk hasn't even been born yet.  Pah! Much more of this and my head will start hurting.

And yet I'm still very sorry for  the little person I just killed.