Killing off a beloved character is a surefire way to grab your reader’s attention and piss him/her off. Say, you’re slogging along, about 9,000 pages into Gone with the Wind, Scarlett’s already been married a couple dozen times, the South has burned and come back as a theme park, Rhett has decided that maybe it’s time to retire to Boca, and then (Jim tells me I have to issue a Spoiler Alert! here) Melanie dies. Seriously? Melanie? If anyone should kick the bucket in that book it’s clearly Ashley, he of the tedious sense of honor and the inability to choose the right woman to obsess over. You kill Ashley off and Melanie and Scarlett can just get on with their lives—go shopping for a decent outfit for Scarlett to replace the curtain gown, start a book club with the other Confederate widows that includes lots of cocktails, go back to Tara and redecorate, etc. But, no. Melanie’s dead and Ashley just goes back to being his ineffectual, wan self. I guess Melanie’s death was supposed to teach all the major players a lesson and Ms. Mitchell did win a Pulitzer for her epic novel, so who am I to gainsay her. Still, the choice rankles.
This piece in The Awl about beloved characters who were almost killed off by their authors has me brooding about literary deaths. I can’t help but muse about who would have gotten the ax if I were the one writing the book. Given my general feminist tendencies, there would probably be a lot more women still alive at the end of the classics, especially given some authors’ penchant for using death as punishment for rebelliousness in females—for every Sydney Carton and Cyrano de Bergerac dying heroic deaths, there are dozens of Anna Kareninas jumping ignominiously in front of trains, after all.
So, who would you kill off in your favorite books in place of the character who actually dies? And how would that change the narrative?
P.S. You guys cracked me up with your responses to my “high concept” blog post last week. After much cogitating (in a totally subjective and intellectually unrigorous manner) the mug goes to MS because the “what if” posted is both provocative and gives you an immediate idea of what the book/film would be about. Thank you all for playing along! (MS, please send your mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org.)