Main Character deaths are necessary
Good morning bookworms!
So, I’m trying this new thing where I talk about specific things I love or hate about books, as opposed to individual books themselves. I’ll still reference books I’ve read to make my point, but I want to talk about themes as well as gushing about “HOW MUCH I LOVE “. I thought I’d start off with something happy… MAIN CHARACTER DEATHS. (Nothing but sunshine, puppies and rainbows here, my loves! ?)
So, what is it about main character deaths that I absolutely live for? For me, it’s almost like a measurement of how well the author creates characters:
- If they do it well and I get attached to them, then I will be super sad when they die. Like, bawling my eyes out, great heaving, wracking sobs. That’s part of the magic of reading for me. Being so attached to a person I’ve only known for 200 pages that I genuinely cry when they die, that’s the mark of great character portrayal and I SUPER LIKELY to gush about this book.
- If they do it and I don’t really care (or worse and I’m cheering because the character annoyed the pants off me) then… I’m pretty sure that probably wasn’t the author’s intention, and I’m actually more likely to rate the book lower.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not always about characters dying – I like happy books too, and I can attach myself to characters who make it out alive just as much.
Now, I will admit, it’s actually super rare to see MCs die, mostly because it can attract so much heat from the fans, that I feel like this is something that should be considered heavily before it occurs. It also could mean the end of a series – if Harry had died, there wouldn’t be anymore potential follow up books (like Cursed Child *cough*).
In order to make my point more thoroughly, I’m going to discuss some books that MCs die in (and also some that they don’t die in, but I think they should have), but I don’t want to cause SPOILERS for you so I won’t mention the character in the open, but we’ll do the special thing where you can click on the arrow bit and read my thoughts if you want to.
Harry Potter (specifically, like, all of them? Nah, just books 5-7) – J.K. Rowling
You can fight me on this, but I see Sirius, Dumbledore, Hedwig, Dobby, Snape and Fred as all being pretty crucial in this universe, despite technically not being MCs. And I’m going to just say a few lines on each. (FYI – this is the longest discussion point by FAR, don’t be put off the others by this one.)
Sirius’ death is equally my fave and my least fave. To Harry, Sirius was equivalent to freedom. When he first met his godfather, Sirius was on the run, so of course Harry couldn’t spend his summers with him. But as soon as Sirius was absolved of all wrongdoing, he, and Harry’s freedom, was snatched away by an untimely death. This was also the first person that Harry really cared about who died. (You can’t really use his parents here as he doesn’t remember them, just the idea of them.)
Dumbledore’s death was more about teaching Harry about validation and betrayal. He longed for Snape to be the bad guy, and everyone kept trying to convince Harry that he was wrong, but they wouldn’t tell him why. So when Harry witnesses Snape using an unforgivable curse on Dumbly, he’s shocked by the betrayal – Dumbly was the main person who stuck up for Snape, and Snapey just stabbed him in the back (or cursed him in the front). But Harry also had this elation that he was totally right about Snape, and that really validated all those years of resentment. Also, it created additional mystery for plot points because Rowling killed off Harry’s mentor and the only person Voldy was scared of, which meant that Harry had to grow a pair and face Voldy himself.
Hedwig was a symbol of the first time that Harry started to feel genuine happiness in his childhood – his very first (real) birthday gift, and a gift from a beloved friend. Hedwig’s death was a symbol that there would be no more of these happy, carefree days – that his childhood was also dead.
Dobby, ah, Dobby. Definitely my second choice. Harry saved Dobby from slavery, and Dobby in turn saved Harry from possible death. Dobby took the dagger destined for someone else, sacrificing himself and his dream of being free, and Harry’s only solace was that Dobby knew he had been free for at least a few years before he was killed by the family he escaped from.
Snapey. Now, this death doesn’t bring mixed reviews, but the character certainly does. Snapey’s death taught Harry regret, and hopefully some wisdom about not judging people because you will never understand someone’s motives unless you’ve walked in their shoes. I don’t want to go into whether Snapey was good or bad, but his death represented something significant for Harry – otherwise he wouldn’t have named his kid after him.
Finally, my poor baby Freddles. Fred is the only death that I am angry about in this entire series. Fred, Tonks, Lupin, Moody and a bunch of others are all meant to represent the bad things that happen because of war. Families broken apart, children raised as orphans, the ever-continuing cycle of loss and devastation, etc. etc. However, I think Rowling screwed up on this one. I agree one of the Weasley’s had to die. But, Rowling should have killed off Ron. Now, I don’t say this lightly (well, I kind of do), but I thought Ron was pretty annoying in the last couple of books. To be really honest, I thought he was pretty annoying throughout the whole series (I’m pretty sure he only existed as comic relief and so one of the trio could provide context of the wizarding world). But I might have appreciated him a bit more if he was dead at the end of book seven. Rowling should have had the guts to kill off a main character. And then Harry would have had to deal with actual loss, and Hermione could have married Fred instead (this ship will be discussed in a future post). (I don’t really like Harry that much either…)
Six of Crows Duology (specifically Crooked Kingdom) – Leigh Bardugo
Let’s talk about poor Matthias. He was really hard done by in this series. He overcame his own racism of Nina’s people, found his true love, grew to be a person who could commit dubious deeds; and for all of that, what he got was being shot by one of his own countrymen. Matthias’ death really annoyed a lot of the community as they didn’t think it was necessary. However, I disagree. Matthias’ death served a purpose. It showed what racism and hatred can do to a community. It showed what fear mongering and propaganda can do to young, impressionable minds. Matthias’ death will prove that he died by trying to show his people that there is more out in the world than the ‘facts’ that they are spoon-fed to you from birth. Matthias died a martyr to the cause, and it’s a cause that Nina will take up and carry because of the loss she experienced.
A Court of Thorns and Roses series (specifically A Court of Wings and Ruin) – Sarah J Maas
No one (except Feyre’s dad and some other minor characters) died in this. There was an EPIC BATTLE that lasted for entire chapters, and they all made it out alive (and then went on to slut shame, gay shame, and condone drinking and shopping as a way of dealing with PTSD). Look, I get that Rhys couldn’t die – but they should have left Amren dead. Or killed off Azriel or Lucien (love triangles are so unnecessary), or, better yet, kill off Elaine! (What a waste of page space she is…) Regardless, Maas should have murdered one of the inner circle. It’s entirely unrealistic that they all made it out alive, and it kind of ruined this book for me.
The Nevernight Chronicle (specifically Nevernight) – Jay Kristoff
Killing off the main love interest at the end of book one in a trilogy is gutsy. And really fucking cool. I mean, poor Tric, but WOW – I did not see that coming. It also meant that the new love interest had to work twice as hard to earn trust, because she was the one who killed the first love interest. Mia had some serious issues to deal with, and Ash had a challenge to overcome. It also gave the ending of Godsgrave a pretty freaking awesome twist, but this was just ballsy for me, and I love that Jay did it. Kudos, dude.
Also, if you think that anyone will be left standing at the end of Darkdawn, you should probably start preparing yourself now.
The Shepherd’s Crown (yes, this is the last Discworld book) – Terry Pratchett
I was VERY unprepared for Granny to cark it at the start of this one. As you may be aware, Granny is one of my all-time fave characters. She’s rude, abrupt, opinionated, doesn’t have time for idiots, and she’s got the best squint (and herb garden) in the business of witching. Since the age of 13, I have wanted to be Granny when I grow up. So, when Pratchett’s last book was released posthumously, I was pretty teary anyway. But then he goes and offs Granny in the first, what, three chapters? I was a total mess. And not like a hot mess. I was a freaking train wreck. But it was poetic in a way. Granny is one of the most loved Discworld characters out there, and it was fitting that Pratchett addressed his impending parting by taking one of his characters with him. It was a reminder that all of us will go eventually.
The Raven Cycle (specifically The Raven King) – Maggie Stiefvater
This might be considered cheating as Noah was technically dead the entire series, but Noah’s final parting at the end was more about sacrifice, righting wrongs, and putting characters in pain to rest, than ‘killing for plot’. Which I guess is a kind of plot point anyway. I will say that I was prepared for Gansey to die though. It would have been SUPER ROUGH, but I was ok with it. (I have a very black and shrivelled heart, ok?)
They Both Die at the End – Adam Silvera
This is probably going to be my only contemporary entry in this argument because it’s been too long since I read The Fault in our Stars, and not enough of you would know about Looking for Alibrandi. However, this book was really fascinating to me. Obviously you know the premise going into it – it’s in the title. However, Silvera’s writing is this strange mystical substance where he builds your hope up, only to tear it (and your heart) away from you, slice it into a million pieces, throw it in a blender, set it on fire, and then hand it back to you – and you thank him for the privilege. Also, it makes you question the premise of fate. If neither boy had been told that morning that they would die, would they have been in the situation that ultimately ended in their demise?
If you’re still with me after all of that
ranting discussion, I’m (super impressed and) very grateful. But, tell me what you think! Am I wrong? Do you disagree with me? Have I inadvertently killed off your fave character? Let’s chat!
J R Lynn
So I haven’t read my of these
(what am I doing with my life?)but your rantingdiscussion is awesome! ? I also hate the fact that some characters have to die, especially main characters, but what must be done must be done. I’ve only witnessed one character die (that I remember) and it ripped my heart out. It’s hard, especially when he’s alive and your reading about his hopes and dreams, his sins, and everything and then at the end he still dies!!!!
(You will not believe how livid I was. And he’s life could have been saved if the MC wasn’t some stuck-up idiot who was too selfish to realize the world doesn’t revolve around her stupid little self.)
You really wish things could turn out different but ?♀️
Great post 🙂
Thanks JR! That sounds HORRIBLE!! (But did it prove that one person’s selfishness can affect other people’s lives? I don’t know what that book is, so I’m just guessing here!!) ?
J R Lynn
In my opinion yes. But the book (The Good Girl) is supposed to be about the mystery of what happened to the girl after she was kidnapped and made her way back home with amnesia. I ranted about the ending here if you want a spoiler
I’m not really big on thrillers, so I’m off to the spoiler!! ?
GREAT review on GR!! Loved the spoiler bit – also, the stereotyping and racial profiling of characters is disgusting!
J R Lynn
Thank you! And yes…as I said in the review, BLACKNESS DOES NOT MEAN THAT A CHARACTER IS EVIL!!!!! I don’t know why some people can’t just understand that. ?
Xandra @ Starry Sky Books
I agree so much! At first I was a little sad to hear about main character deaths, but they are necessary sometimes. I actually wrote an essay about how the deaths in Harry Potter were crucial to Harry’s understanding of his identity and purpose (and his acceptance of all that in the end of Deathly Hallows).
I also really liked They Both Die at The End, but of course it’s sad 🙂 Great post!
Thanks Xandra!! Is your essay on your blog?? I really want to read it now! x
Xandra @ Starry Sky Books
No, it’s not on my blog yet, but I hope to write a post about it soon! 🙂
I look forward to seeing it!! x
Kay Wisteria | Hammock of Books
I definitely think major character deaths are necessary in huge battles to be realistic
Yes!!!! I hate it when everyone walks out alive and they’re all “Wow, that broke a sweat! You hungry? Let’s get dinner!” Like… it’s war, you idiots!
I think main character deaths only works in certain genres [such as the books you’ve mentioned]. Sometimes I think they are unnecessary, I know not everything should be happiness and ever afters but sometimes when an author kill a character without need I’m just like …. really people [one death I really did not like was in the book The Law of Moses and even in the sequel, I was so disappointed in that aspect]. I just hate loving a character for them to end up dying .-.
I haven’t read The Law of Moses, so I can’t really comment on that one, but I often find that there is a reason that the author kills them off. But yes, it can be devastating!!
Main character deaths are good in some books. Just like Harry Potter, it was good for the story but made me sad still. But Divergent is still one where i hate the death of the MC ?
I haven’t read it!! And I probably won’t. I saw the first two movies and didn’t really enjoy them. I’m not really a huge dystopia fan, I’ve decided… ??
MCD are great! Even if they regularly break my heart, they keep the story interesting. If you know upfront that everybody just ends up happy and safe, there’s no excitement.
I’d add George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series to your list. He’s the master of MCDs!
I can’t say as I’ve only ever read the first 50 pages of A Game of Thrones, but I do love the TV show. I was having a discussion with hubby about it because we’re excited for S7, and that is what prompted this post!! So, thank you for the tie-in! I feel like I’ve come full circle on this topic now ?
Beware Of The Reader
Well Meeghan I can live with it (even if I am super sad) if there is a purpose to killing the MC! In some books their death was just gratuitous! Spoiler here so don’t read further if you haven’t read the Divergent series or The Fifth Wave but Tris ‘s death was totally unnecessary. She was not the only one who could do that action. Her brother could have done it too. So why condemn her? Same with the Fifth Wave. Honestly I am still raging. Now take other books like They Both Die in the End or Bright Side or A Thousand Boy Kisses and these I get!
Haha, I haven’t read Divergent or The Fifth Wave (but I likely won’t, I’m not a huge dystopian fan), but these other to you mention (Bright Side, A Thousand Boy Kisses) I need to get my hands on!! Not having read the others I can’t agree on their necessity… but I accept your argument! x
Kaleena @ Reader Voracious
I love and hate main character deaths, because my soul gets crushed and it’s never okay again. But then again I also like that no one is safe? It makes the stakes even higher and I like the tension of not knowing how everything is going to turn out.
Then again it’s been like a decade since the Serenity movie and I am still not okay, so…
Oh that movie ripped me to shreds too!!!!! ????
I feel like main characters could die more often – it gets quite boring if everyone else is in danger but the protagonists wear a protective cannot-die jacket because they happen to be the main character… Makes everything much more interesting and the few times main characters died on me I was devastated. =)
YAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSS!!! I 100% agree with this statement. Why should they be bulletproof (or fire proof, etc) just because they are the MC. Does being MC give them special powers so that they have to live happily ever after??