Fiction Focus Week 6- “Coming back to Life”

Not only is it the week of YWS’ grand re-opening, for Christians all over the world it’s Holy Week as we approach Easter. So with these two things in mind, today I decided that we should discuss resurrection, which happens with an astonishing regularity in some genres of fiction that is hard to find elsewhere.

In fantasy and science-fiction, when a character dies, we often find ourselves wondering, “Yes, but are they really dead?” Sometimes we can tell whether it’s a true death or not by how many pages are left in the book, or even just the chapter. Even death, that last certainty that comes for us all, is put under scrutiny and questioning in fiction.

One of my favourite instances of this is in The Wish List by Eoin Colfer- yes, the man who wrote Artemis Fowl. This less famous book is nevertheless a favourite amongst Irish teenagers. It tells the story of Meg, who has lived a twelve-year-long life of crime and debauchery until she dies in a gas explosion. But her last act before dying is to save an elderly man. When she gets to the afterlife, she is stuck exactly halfway between Heaven and Hell. And so, Meg is given some extra time to decide which way she should go, and goes back to the old man to try and make him achieve his life long dreams. Meg is quite literally living on borrowed time and the whole novel we know that death is imminent. But it doesn’t stop her from having adventures, and finishing her business. One of my favourite things about the book is how St Peter and Beezlebub are a bit like celestial secret agents, tracking the reanimated girl as she tries to make her way into Heaven.

Another topical instance, although not strictly speaking a death and resurrection, is in The Host by Stephenie Meyer which is about to come out in cinemas (spoilers ahead). Yes, yes, I know, we all hate Twilight, bla bla bla, but bear with me on this. Near the end of the host, the protagonist does something very heroic and selfless and gives up her body to its other inhabitant, Melanie. This action in itself is made believable in the way her feelings have developed towards both Melanie and those that love her. It’s made heartbreaking by the way that Melanie begs her not to leave because their friendship is now so strong. However, there are still pages left at the end of the book and in the end the solution is one of those things that is so simple that nobody ever saw it. The fun thing about this example is that because the story is told in first person, we don’t see any of the in-between stuff. One minute, she goes under, ready to be removed and sent away, and the next she wakes up and is just confused about everything.

So up for discussion today: do you approve of authors pulling this trick? Have you done it in the past? Do you believe it when it happens in books? What makes it believable/not believable?

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3 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    I love The Wish List, it may be one of his lesser known books, but it’s equally enjoyable!

    It’s a trick you’ve got to pull off right is my way of thinking. I hated it in Harry Potter as I didn’t feel there was enough ground work for it. There wasn’t enough of a loop-hole to make it work and, to be honest, I didn’t find Harry a sympathetic enough character that I wanted it to work badly enough I’d overlook that.

    My current novel deals in angels and is all about resurrections, so I’m playing with it at the moment.

    I think what makes it believable is having some solid logic for it to work on, either already in place, or set up enough that when it comes to the big reveal, it’s a ‘oh, of course!’ rather than an ‘eh, that’s flimsy’. You should be as thrilled by the trick of the logic as you are at getting to have your character back alive again.

    It’s done particularly well in Brent Week’s books and has a nasty consequence, which also helps in the believability/ likeability factor.

  2. Stella says:

    It’s funny because Becki and I were just talking about this, albeit not to do with resurrection but plot twists in general. I think you’re right that having the groundwork in place is the trick. Otherwise, especially with something like resurrection, it’s very deus ex machina and it doesn’t make for a good story, it’s just as if the author has been making things up as they go along, and now they can’t deal with losing a character. It feels a bit like the author playing God- unless they do it right.

    I’m so glad you read The Wish List! It makes me very happy.

  3. Cadi says:

    In one of Robin Hobb’s books, a key character poisons themself to escape imprisonment. They die, are buried, live out of their body for a while, and are resurrected by the use of that forbidden magic. They then spend a month or six being taught how to be a person again. It works, partly because of the negative consequence of the resurrection, partly because the magic involved has been well set up for a long time, and partly because, to be honest, the character would have been better off dead! Hobb is a cruel taskmistress, and definitely knows how to make everything go wrong for them.

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