Official site for the high/dark fantasy books of authors Barb Hendee and J. C. Hendee, including the Noble Dead Saga (a.k.a. The Noble Dead series), the Mist-Torn Witches series, the Vampire Memories series, and TNDS: Tales from the world of the Noble Dead Saga.

Q&A: Death can be Taxing (Character / the Undead)

There’s no doubt that most of us who read a fantasy series or episodic body of work get invested in one or more characters therein. And we don’t want it to end. When a character dies, we may feel it’s the end of everything, and maybe it is the end of that particular body of work. But where the undead are concerned, is it different… or not?

Q: How do you decide it’s time for a character’s demise? Is it plot-related or do you find you get tired of some characters?

JC: Well, most times there isn’t a decision to be made. The events and forces in play dictate who lives or dies. Yes, there are twists that can be done, but we prefer not to use those. We have to have an investment in the characters, just like the readers. If they are unkillable regardless of how much mortal damage they take, and merely dance to our whims, then they cease to live in the story. They are no longer characters and become what I call “meat puppets.” I’m sure most readers can think of some examples they’ve encountered.

Barb: We don’t believe in altering our world in order to avoid the consequences.  At the same time, we try to strike a balance for the reader’s emotional investment.  We play things a little real, gritty, and rough, though we recognize that readers do like their protagonists to go on… and on.  But most real world people facing the kinds of events found in fantasy wouldn’t survive them. 

JC: Most exceptional individuals would not make it through either. 

Barb: The story, the world, and the events seen as real will determine everything that happens, even in life and death. Without death, how could there be life?

JC: Without the risk of death, characters do not live let alone become exceptional. That has always been my problem with most classical mythology, the grand-sire of all fantasy. Then again, even Achilles (who I despise) had his “heel.” As to getting tired of a particular character, there are other ways around that beside killing them off. So far, we haven’t run into that problem, as the story has always dealt with the issue for us. Exit, stage left… and whether they re-enter or not later is a matter of story. There have actually been some second and third tier characters we didn’t want to die, but the story said otherwise.

Q: Is death the final end in your world?

JC: Well, that depends on how one dies and what is meant by “death” in a world where the dead rise again… and again.

Barb: Hey, hi there… have you met Chane? (giggle)

JC: Our Noble Dead (two kinds and one more to come), even for the pop-culture tropes we use or undercut, are a lot tougher than average, though we don’t often push them to defying the laws of physics. When they go down, even by the cliché ways of killing them off—hmm, if one can “kill” something already dead—they don’t always stay down. The reasons for this, as well as how they can be put down (or not), are often hinted at in the story if the reader gives it some thought in tossing aside popular notions.
Barb: Even our undead, especially the vampires, don’t always know the whys and whatnots until later… or too late. There’s no manual for undeath that tells them “well, this is what you need to worry about, and that is a bunch of hooey.”
JC: And we won’t write that manual out here, separately for our readers; that would spoil the surprises. Needless to say, this whole issue of death’s finality is more complicated when you’re working with the undead. In fact, other than necessary, all the metaphysics involved just becomes too… too… taxing!
     Like the living characters, it all has to be governed through verisimilitude within the story, or it just gets ridiculous. There are examples in the saga of undead that didn’t come back after a “second death,” though even calling that a “death” isn’t accurate.
     So the simple answer to the question is… maybe… or not.