The Subject of Death
Death has been linked to life since the dawn of the single cell. Our reaction to death evolved into fear, acceptance, enjoyment and finally, infliction. Of course, writers tap into this subject with gusto. Why? Death represents so many extreme attributes.
“Do this or you will die!” “Are you willing to risk your life?” Simple and powerful statements. “Sam died to protect us.” OMG, how terrible. “Jane allowed her child to die in order to satisfy her beliefs.” No subject could be worse and an entire book could be based on that sentence.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have characters who embrace death. “Hi, Mom. I killed 100 people today. That’s nice honey. Dinner is on the table.” To make matters worse, there are actually people who encourage death on a horrific scale. I recently read the book Frozen Hell about the Russian-Finland war. In a single battle, Joseph Stalin ordered 27,500 Russian soldiers to their deaths. All of these soldiers were real people with real families and they died in the trivial pursuit of stealing territory from another country.
Death spans the story spectrum from being comic relief to the definition of horror. No matter how hard we try, we cannot avoid it. However, that stone-cold fact has not stopped people from trying. We created the entire branch of science (medicine) to keep death at bay. There is even the pseudoscience of freezing people with the hope of being brought back to life.
Authors embrace death and revolve their plots around it. When they took the topic to its limits, they developed physics-defying concepts. We now “have” immortals, vampires, and zombies. That’s correct. Authors have successfully cheated death. They even take it a step further with time travel. A child “can” go back in time to prevent their own death.
Fortunately, there is no such thing as time travel and zombies. Pure fiction. Nope. I read all about those 27,500 Russian soldiers as if they were transported into the future. Just like a zombie, these soldiers came back to life to entertain me. Alright, that may be a lofty technicality. However, once I put that book down, those brave soldiers may finally rest in peace. Nope. Just like an immortal, in 10 years, the Russian-Finland war will be “discovered” by another author. This author will go over the historical documents and write another groundbreaking book to entertain a new batch of readers. Zombies are real.
Even I am guilty of snatching death out of the grim reaper icy cold grasp. In my first book, the main character is a 500-year-old woman who survives by killing others. Her character is similar to a vampire and represents deaths ultimate duality. Am I taunting death? Seems like it.
We love fictional characters who take a hard slap at death. The recent Twilight story explored characters who murder without consequence. Video games take this a step further and allow a player to kill other characters. The computer vividly displays the opponent’s deaths by splattering blood all over the screen as if death’s hand is grasping the joystick.
Even non-fiction writers appreciate a good battle scene. In the book Frozen Hell, war is studied, glorified and put into a new perspective. Those 27,500 Russian soldiers are not real people (because they are dead); they are real story. Why would somebody want to glorify death? Good stories sell books and book sales pay author’s rent. Well, at least that is a worthy goal (that I have yet to experience.)
On a personal level, I fear death. I want to experience all I can out of life and I do my best to be healthy. Yet, I am curious. What will happen when I die? Science tells us that nothing will occur. Our cells will stop functioning and decay into dust. Religion, hope, and pseudoscience provide an alternative view. This included reincarnation, heaven, hell, and the afterlife. According to that logic, I can fulfill a minor goal and meet Amelia Earhart. That would be amazing.
I spend a lot of time thinking about death. This includes avoiding danger, embracing the topic in writing, exploring our deadly history and keeping my body healthy. I have come to understand that death is not necessarily bad. If humans were immortal, it would be impossible to feed everybody. Those who seek revenge could never accomplish their goals and wars would continue into eternity. Death wipes the slate clean and provides food for ants.
I suppose we should thank death. He has taken so much from us and left us an amazing world free from dying people. Plus, he provided endless story material. And yet, I really don’t want to die. Perhaps that makes death the best character there has ever been.
You’re the best -Bill
October 02 2019
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