When Authors Kill Their Darlings

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Disclaimer: This piece as spoilers for War and Peace, Harry Potter, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Love Story and Sherlock Holmes. If that is likely to upset you, don’t read further. (But hey! Please do.)

Too much harmony, says our in-house writing advisor, is not good in fiction. You have to kill your darlings.  I can’t refute him.

Let’s take the phrase literally. Doesn’t the well-known writer always do away with a darling character?

I recently gorged on all of the Harry Potter series and that’s when it struck me how Rowling killed so many of her darlings. So I teamed up with my colleague Neelima to make a list of some famous darlings killed in famous books.

  1. Prince Andrew in War and Peace: Among all the rich and spoilt elite, here’s the only man with a head on his shoulders! His love for Natasha is of the purest sort (even though his conduct towards his first wife during her pregnancy left much to be desired). He shows enough remorse to redeem himself in a fan-girl’s eyes. It is impossible not to wish him success in love, especially when he shares the stage with his good-hearted but absolutely goofy friend Pierre. And yet – he loses. Not once, but twice. The first time to the anxiety of a young girl desperate to love someone she can touch and feel, rather than someone who is far away from her. And the second time – alas! – just when the love of his life is his against all odds, death claims him. I still shed a tear for this darling of a brave, honest and intelligent gentleman!
  2. Tess in Tess of the d’Urbervilles: Neelima pitched in with this one and this is what she has to say – A virtuous epitome of femininity, Tess is a character women may love to hate today when female emancipation is technically a given, at least in some parts of the world. Hardy uses his literary expertise to bring all of what constitutes nature into one woman, and like the ravages of industrialization that engulf nature and tear it apart, Tess is executed for killing the man who thrust himself upon her and destroyed her chances in love. Even an angel (Tess’s love interest is called Angel) needs time to come to terms with being married to a woman who has been raped; society doesn’t give as many chances as life does. By the time Angel comes to his senses, Tess is done away with – it hurt me to read it and it must have hurt Hardy much more to pen her execution.
  3. Jennifer in Love Story (Erich Segal): Done to death concept of two lovers from opposite poles of society- Sweet, poor-ish, intelligent girl and obnoxious, rich, but ultimately tamable boy! But hey, isn’t that why we read the book again and again? To relive the mush. I couldn’t stop crying when I read this book again (Excuse me; I am not as tearful a person as this article may suggest).
  4. Dumbledore (and many others) in the Harry Potter Series: At that moment towards the end of the sixth book in the series, I hated Snape like no other character, real or fictional. After the loss of his parents, and the godfather who was discovered too late, Harry deserved that one friend, philosopher, guide and mentor.
    Didn’t I feel every bit of Harry’s frustrations and helplessness at the absence of this wise, old man? I missed him as much as Harry did. Harry could at least go to that magical portrait in the headmaster’s office after all the strife was over; what magical resort did I have?  As a mere mortal would, I cursed one of my favorite authors for doing what she did to me. And it’s not like I can forgive her for the deaths of Sirius, Lupin and Fred Weasley either.
  5. Karna in the Mahabharat epic: Another one from my colleague. Although epics don’t really have any favorites and Vyasa probably killed many darlings in this tantalizing saga, Karna the illustrious prince, wronged by his own mother, his teacher, and even divine intervention, has suffered a great deal more than a character like him deserved to. This warrior prince of Anga faced every humiliation men could suffer in those times- he was an illegitimate child thirsting to learn the ways of archery and fulfil his super hero destiny. He was born with Achillean armor but his life was punctuated by a series of curses. He died only because Krishna instructed the Pandava Prince Arjuna (his half brother) to kill at that very moment when his chariot wheels were mired in mud. It was only after his death that Arjun knew that he had killed his own blood. A story that makes you want to go deeper and deeper into this box of tales- one opening into another.
  6. Sherlock Holmes in The Final Problem: This is one detective who did not have a sentimental creator- Conan Doyle was only happy to push Holmes into the Reichenbach falls, though financial prudence on Doyles’s part brought the detective back to life once again much to the relief of the general public.

It seems criminal to write about characters dying and not mention A Song of Ice and Fire. I haven’t yet read any of the books; I don’t watch the TV series either. But I don’t live under a rock– I know all the jokes about Martin killing characters. While I get started on reading the Martin series, let’s get less tearful about the characters who are killed and laugh instead at some Game of Thrones jokes.

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Come on now. Spill it. Who is your favorite fictional darling who has been killed by the oh-so-heartless author?

6 Comments

  1. Fred Weasley was never a favourite, but his death hit me so hard. I think it’s because I don’t like to imagine George without him. In my version, therefore, Fred is very much alive.

  2. Oh, the hero of my first novel Dream’s Sake dies to try and make the dreams of his love come true. I actually felt lost for some days after I wrote that ending. And I did try to give my hero a happier destiny. But when you develop your book to reach a certain point, it is not possible to change that end point itself. No matter how sad it makes you. And killing my hero did make me sad for many days. I’m still in love with him!
    And my readers too. I still get mails from readers saying that they loved the book but hated the ending. “Why, why, why did Abhi have to die?” they still ask.

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