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My Favorite Dead (Fictional) Characters

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One’s cultural experiences are often as vivid as one’s ‘real’ life. I can remember seeing the Death Star explode, the seats in the theater (Swagath in Bangalore) creaking, popcorn and Thums-up. I can remember wiping away a tear when Oy, the billy-bumbler is killed when fighting Mordred Deschain in The Dark Tower. Musical memories resonate through one when a chord of a familiar song plays on the radio – “Fever” reminds one of a desolate night when one realized the fragility of young romance, You Look Wonderful Tonight has a celebratory tinge of a new year’s dawn.

Some characters become part of our lives while we experience their virtual lives, and live on after their fictive universe is snuffed, or they themselves are. Here’s my subjective list of my favorite dead (fictional) characters:

  • Captain Ahab from Moby-Dick: Although I’d personally identify more with Ishmael than the idealistic Captain Ahab, he survives the fatal chase, and thence must be considered immortal in the fictiverse of the novel. Captain Ahab, on the other hand, has a glorious and ‘clear spirit’, and an engulfing end that is in line with his life’s mission to be at one with the whale and the sea. “Some men die at ebb tide; some at low water; some at the full of the flood; — and I feel now like a billow that’s all one crested comb, Starbuck. I am old; — shake hands with me, man.”
  • Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker: From Ahab’s rigidity of character to Anakin’s vacillation and need to find identity might be a galactic leap, yet there is much in common between them – Lord Vader’s senseless cruelty even after losing the object of his original quest can be contrasted with Ahab’s determination to persevere after an unattainable goal. They differ in one significant aspect – Vader is redeemed before his end, and steps back from the brink of the abyss. I can watch the series end to end a gazillion times before I die, and probably will.
  • Kenny from South Park: “But Kenny dies all the time!” – South Park has, for all it’s sophomoric humor, succeeded in going places and exploring facets of society that more genteel cultural creations shy away from. Kenny’s ritualistic death may seem senseless, but is often the catharsis for deriving the true moral of the story, whether it is the Schiavo-like near-death of Best Friends Forever or the post-9/11 “Osama Bin Laden Has Farty Pants” which expressed the traditional requiem somewhat differently as “Oh Allah!, Koshtand Keyvan o!”
  • Minor exegesis: numerous characters are resurrected by the force of the narrative – Kenny, Superman, Mr Spock… one shall refrain from choosing other characters that are undead in this manner.

  • Neo, or Thomas Anderson: The Christ of programmers, the avenging angel who rescues the world from the machines, Neo is an archetypal hero; in his final act, he obtains the trade-off that those who achieve awareness shall be free of The Matrix.
  • Sherlock Holmes: The Master presents a special problem to the Holmesian aficionado. His death is never explicitly stated, thus, in the fictiverse, he lives on forever. At the same time, the Final Problem saw his apparent demise, and he was never quite the same after, and may indeed have been a different person. His personality, from his analytical, modus ponens approach to problem-solving, to his fastidiousness have made him a memorable person, and to me, a critical role model.

    I made every disposition of my property before leaving England and handed it to my brother Mycroft. Pray give my greetings to Mrs. Watson, and believe me to be, my dear fellow

    Very sincerely yours,

  • Leto Atreides I: The Red Duke was a visionary and political ruler. His awareness of the galactic machinations did not need the spice to realize his visions. All the same, his vision was aborted, and the Imperium, and finally the Golden Path had to arise before humanity could be assured survival. His grandson, Leto II, God Emperor of Dune, is another special case of an undying character, returning to the worms and sands of Dune.
  • Edgar Stiles: He may not have done much more than run a few traces on the bad guys, and seen his mother die when a nuclear reactor melted down, but his persistent efforts on the side of the ‘good guys’ made one begin to truly like his clumsy and simpering demeanor. His smile earlier this season on 24 when he realizes that Chloe is a softie after all was evidence of an affection he felt but couldn’t express. He’ll be missed
  • Sméagol/Gollum: The LOTR characters have a knack for undying – whether it’s Gandalf, or Frodo, or even Samwise Gamgee, but Gollum gave his life for his precious ring, and in the end, he was necessary for the Ring to meet its doom. Sméagol was a more interesting character, exhibiting signs of friendship and loyalty, as well as a determination which overshadowed that of many of the major characters in the LOTR.“Precious, precious, precious! My Precious! O my Precious!”
  • Armand the Vampire: Idealism turned to cynicism, this undead prince is perhaps overshadowed by Lestat, but the insightful know that it is with him that one finds true strength of character and glamour.
  • HAL-9000: The computer that did not want to die, a possible future for evolution, and for true geeks, epitomizing the temptation and danger of technology run wild.

    “Dave, stop. Stop will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a-fraid

  • King Kong: While Beauty killed the beast, this ‘king in his native land’ lives on in our memories as a victim of stronger forces, and in the numerous remakes as a pale shadow of his true self, killed atop the city that stole him from his jungles.
  • Charles Foster Kane: He chose love on his own terms, and died a lonely man — a fractured character who ruined lives, lived richly and was unable to command the love and respect he desired. Perhaps this is why he remains such a memorable character.

Who would you pick as your favorite dead fictional characters? What makes them memorable?

The 100 favorite fictional characters of British literary luminaries.

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About aacool

  • Very enjoyable post (as usual), Aaman. Some of your favorites are mine too.

    One that stands out for me is Quentin Compson from Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. As you note, though a character has died that doesn’t end his/her fictional existence. Faulkner used Quentin in short stories as well as the narrator of another fantastic novel, Absalom, Absalom!.

  • Fron the title, I thought they were all going to dead characters, not those that die as well.

    Joe Willis, Sunset Blvd. We first meeting him floating in a swimming pool as he narrates his story.

    Just in case someone doesn’t know about this movie, I’ll say The Sixth Sense and leave it at that.

    The father, Nathaniel, on Six Feet Under. A great narrative device to allow us to better see inside the show’s characters.

    While impossible to recreate with words, HAL’s demise is so much more powerful with the pauses.

    Cool Hand Luke, Randle McMurphy, and since many of these stories have Christ-like figures, we might as well include Christ himself.

    I can already see the outrage forming, so let me cut it off at the pass and explain that while Christ was probably a real person, I would submit that he has also been a fictional charcter in a number of works.

  • I just remembered a great one, the old man from Poe’s “The tell-Tale Heart”.

  • Where’s Captain James T. Kirk?

  • Are you referring to the death of Kirk after ST: Generations? Hmmm, didn’t consider that – what would your list look like?