Crying Over You: Why it’s OK to grieve over fictional characters

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” I try to make the readers feel they’ve lived the events of the book. Just as you grieve if a friend is killed, you should grieve if a fictional character is killed. You should care. If somebody dies and you just go get more popcorn, it’s a superficial experience isn’t it?”

~George R. R. Martin, author of the “Game of Thrones” novels

I remember as a child reading the classic novel “Little Womenwhich is still one of my favorites.  I always got choked up when dear, quiet, loving little Beth dies.  Beth, with her gentle nature and love for playing the piano, reminded me of one of my older sisters, so it was doubly painful.  Why, I asked myself, did favorite characters–especially characters as nice and good as Beth–have to die??

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Of course, I later realized if nothing dramatic happened in stories–no unexpected plot twists, no angst-filled characters, no opportunities for the surviving people within the stories to grieve, rage, seek revenge, to grow from their tragic experiences–we’d find such books and films and television shows considerably less compelling, wouldn’t we?

Still. It hurts. Especially if and when we feel the writers do not play fair with the characters.

I am not here to discuss the perceived bad choices and rather preposterous storylines given us by some of the writers for RA’s projects–I believe most of you know where I stand on that subject and that’s really for another post.

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This post is to say that it’s perfectly OK to feel shock, horror, anger, grief over the death of a character you have come to love and feel a distinct connection to, be it in a novel or film or television show.

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You’re not crazy, actually. You are reacting to the writing and to how the actor has crafted his role. When someone like Louisa May Alcott writes so delightfully of four sisters with distinct personalities and their faults and foibles, characters to whom you find yourself relating on various levels, it would be very difficult not to care and to invest yourself emotionally in their wellbeing.

When an actor such as Richard Armitage puts his heart and soul, along with his keen intelligence, into creating a character, flawed and very much human, yet still someone we can love and admire and respect–how can we not feel moved at the very thought of losing them, never mind watching it unfold onscreen before us ?  Yes, our hearts break a bit. We are sad. We cry. We’re human, too.

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And while I admit I don’t even want to contemplate it, I know the screen death of yet another character is going to take place. And I really do dread it.  Even thought it’s a year-and-a-half away, I dread it.

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I know I will grieve, that my grief will be shared by many around the world. And I know that it’s OK, no matter what some might say.

As Martin says, “You should grieve. You should care.”

And if you’re like me, you know they really haven’t died. No, they’ve been Loved Into Being, just like that velveteen rabbit in the children’s story, gaining So Not Dead status and going on to further adventures and greater glories. Living on in our fanfiction, fanvids, fanart, on our forums, in our blogs–and most of all, in our hearts.

Even so, it’s still perfectly OK to shed a few tears–or a lot of them–to go through Kleenexes and curl up in bed and have a good old crying jag, if you must.  In a way, it’s a true homage to the writers and actors who gave us these characters in the first place.

Long live the So Not Dead Present and Future–may they continue to bring joy and pleasure, beauty and laughter and heady adventure into our lives.

Sometimes, they even end up hanging out in your den eating brownies and getting milk mustaches. I swear . . .

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56 responses »

  1. YES! I agree completely with you and George R.R. Martin. This is why opera works. Take a look at the people leaving the opera house after a performance of “La Boheme”, “Madama Butterfly”, “La Traviata”, or any of the other tragic operas. No dry eyes, not even the men. Sometimes I think that’s why people go, so that they can cry in the dark, for the characters and for all of their own griefs, and it’s okay.

    I cannot bear to think of Sir Guy, John Porter, or even Lucas North really dead. For me, too, they have been loved into being, now enjoying the immortality of the SND (including the brownies). I will not let them go, not while I yet live.

  2. I love the fact that you have a SND area! My heart will break in a year and a half, I will cry the proverbial river, I will feel wrung out, confused but not alone. You, and all the others feeling the same will be there with me. I still cry over Guy, I won’t watch what happens to JP and Lucas will live on forever.

  3. I’ve always thought that a great deal of Guy’s inner indestructible goodness revealed itself when he tried to save Meg from execution and then grieved over her death in such a heartrending manner. And I will also (I’m sure) cry many painful tears in a year and a half when yet another of Richard’s characters goes away from us to the Land of SND. But at least we shall always have that, ladies.

  4. *puts fingers in ears, squeezes eyes shut and starts to rock back and forth* Think of your Happy Place Rebecca, Think of your Happy Place…

    • As soon as I saw the fingers in the ears bit I knew it was you! Don’t worry we’ll all be there for you, in spirit at least! And think of the fun he can have after! Sir Guy certainly seems to enjoy it!

  5. Great Post!! I’ve been reading about how many people (and not just folks in the Army) are dreading Thorin’s death. PJ and RA have made us care about this complex character. I know I’ll cry over Thorin as much as I cry every time I see Guy’s death.

    • While I really love The Hobbit’s version of Thorin, I have to remark that readers of the book have been crying over his death for almost 70 years.

      • I’ve read the book several times, the first time being over thirty years ago, and I don’t remember ever crying over Thorin. Rereading again last year, I remember having a feeling of dread for the end, but I didn’t cry either. (And I cry over commercials and cat video’s.) I know I was certainly shocked by his death, but I didn’t have those feeling of sympathy for the novel’s Thorin as I do for the movie’s Thorin. I thought he was a little bit of a jerk. I also remember thinking Bilbo was a bit a jerk near the end, too. My main point is that I’ve been reading post’s on Middle-Earth blogs where people who are bigger Tolkien fans than I, are stating that they’ll be more upset, at the ending, because of RA’s portrayal. His portrayal has made some of them feel differently about Thorin. They are revising their old belief’s just because of Richard and PJ. I know they’ve certainly made me care a great deal more about Thorin. Yes, I know some of that is because I’m a big Richard fan. I just think it’s amazing that he’s made me change my mind about that cantankerous old goat!

        • I think that if Richard aimed his considerable talents to changing the world, he probably could–look at what he’s done already.

          • Reading everyone’s comments and appreciating them. I am glad I wrote this entry. This has been a shut-down sort of day for me. Feeling very emotional, stayed away from the internet, TV, phone. Jack still missing. To best of my knowledge, Leigh’s cat Lucky has still not come home, either. Feeling overwhelmed at times. Watching a dog food commercial is enough to do me in. Thanks for all your kind comments, thoughts and prayers.

            • Again, Angie–I’m so sorry and shedding a few tears myself. I did not know about Leigh’s cat, but also sending hope and good wishes there as well. The sadness is overwhelming.

  6. I cried when Will’s Dad Dan died and he wasn’t even a major character. You know what I did the first time Guy died. I was distraught for days. I’ve read the Hobbit more times than I can count and seen the cartoon. I didn’t cry then. I will now, darn you RA…. However, now I can make a SND place. That was lovely sentiment written up there, my friend. I am going to remember it well, in fact, might I share it on my blog? (oh, by the by… I cried when Uncle Remus walked away from the little boy at the end of the Disney movie Brer Rabbit.)

    • I’ve cried every time I’ve read The Hobbit, and so have most readers I know. Thorin at the end of The Hobbit is quite a different person than we meet at the beginning, and for me it’s the grief that this new Thorin will not have a chance that brings me out in tears every time.

      • Absolutely Cill. The fact that RA has put an incredibly complex personality to Thorin just through his facial expressions is one of the reasons I am dreading the final chapter of his journey. When he closes those baby blues for the final time, there will a collective sob heard “round the world.” Be sure to pre-order Part 3 before it comes out, it will be months before you get it in stores.

        • Was finding it quite hard to cope with idea of the third film, then you mentioned closing his baby blues and that’s it, I’m a wreck! I love the hobbit book, read it a lot, but the Thorin in the book never evoked the emotions that the Thorin on the screen does. That, I guess, is the genius of Tolkien, Armitage and Jackson! A team that will make an indelible mark on our hearts!

          • Without a doubt, Dee. I think when you’re (or we) are reading The Hobbit or any book for that matter, we are taken into the completeness of the scene. You forget that you are reading and begin to live in the page. When one of the characters dies or leaves or is no longer part of the pages, you feel a loss and then move on. You relive that loss when you re-read the book. With RA he leaves a part of himself and his character so deeply embedded inside of you that it becomes a truly physical pain to see his character suffer any kind of hurt. That is the sign of a true artist. I called Margaret more than a few nasty names when she left John standing at the window. Knowing Thorin had to wake up after being attacked by Azog at the end of the movie didn’t make it any less traumatic to see him die on that rock. My first reaction to that scene was “Holy Crap (I actually used a bit stronger language) Sir Peter got it wrong! He’s not supposed to die yet!” I still don’t believe Lucas jumped off the roof. He’s in the lunchroom getting a Latte, and you’ll never convince me otherwise.

            • I actually had harsher words (and thoughts) about Margaret when she refused his proposal in the sitting room–considering her cruelty, the look of abject heartbreak on his face completely undid me. Conflicted feelings are one thing–being insensitive and cruel are something else entirely.

            • Yes Lucas is having a swift latte, John Porter is driving that jeep into the sunset and Guy found out that the leather took most of the blow and he’s fine! Here’s to the dedication and craft of Richard armitage!

            • If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think he died in the mouth of the warg, just badly injured.
              (If he *had* died, and Gandalf raises him from the dead, it begs the question of why Gandalf wasn’t using this handy trick more often in LOTR, or how TH writers will explain the fact that Gandalf cannot raise any of those who die at the end of The Hobbit)

          • I’m having a hard time even imagining it. Think I’ll wait until the bridge is actually here to be crossed.

        • I’ll have to remember to take a really large box of Kleenex and wear something very absorbent when I go to see that, since I already know what I’m walking into–but somehow don’t think it will help much. I’ve watched Guy’s death once, and probably won’t again–have not seen the one of John Porter and had a terrible time watching Lucas’s.

    • Sometimes, and I’ve never especially understood why this is, I have great difficulty allowing myself to cry, even in the event of something cataclysmic. In that case, when my face is about to explode, I have a number of tried and true movies to fall back on that inevitably do the trick (a biggie, even after so many years is the original “Steel Magnolias”). But there are also books I can still return to that will affect me the same way, one of them being “Little Women”, especially the loss of Beth. I do find it hard to go back and watch scenes reflecting the loss of one of Richard’s chaRActers–I know I will cry, but the inner pain is almost too much to deal with. That is how much he affects me, this dear, lovely man in all his incarnations, and I don’t see that changing.

      • As George RR Martin said, you grieve over the loss of a friend, why shouldn’t you grieve over the loss of fictional characters in whom you’ve deeply invested your intellect and your emotions? Richard’s characters become flesh and blood to us, as real as people we know, and it IS a blow to lose them, even when we know it is coming, that it’s inevitable.

        As for Thorin, I have to say I was not at deeply affected by his death when I initially read the book as I am now with Richard and PJ’s take on the character. I found it harder to relate to this haughty, cantankerous grump, although he clearly realized the error of his ways–too late, alas. NOW, however—I just don’t want to think about it. Not right now. The Thorin we see onscreen is so beautifully nuanced and fleshed out compared to what we get in the book, lovely as it is–Tolkienists, don’t hate me, but I see RA’s version of Thorin as an improvement on what we are given in the original book. *hides behind couch*

        • I would very much agree with you on that particular point, Angie–Richard’s Thorin is such an amazing, nuanced portrayal that it does seem to improve the story (and no, I am not a Tolkien purist at all). I will be waiting to cross that sorrowful bridge when it comes and trying very hard not to think about it all yet.

          • Of course, it was written as a children’s book and so there wasn’t a great deal of fleshing out of a number of the characters–heck, most of the dwarves I only knew apart from the color of their hoods. And Bombur was fat. That’s what stood out. 😉 And while I’ve been a fan of Tolkien since reading LOTR as a young teenager, I am definitely not a purist.

            • I was perusing the foreword of LOTR last night looking for something and JRR Tolkien had written a note to a friend about “the purists.” He was amused that they were so upset whenever they perceived an “error” in editing in a new edition. They would write him letters pointing out his or the printers’ mistakes based on their VAST knowledge of Tolkien’s world. He got to the point where the only time he made a correction was when HE felt like it or when he decided to change something to because he or Christopher thought it might sound better. As for hiding behind the couch, I checked behind mine. I have an exercise machine behind mine, so I can’t fit. If I used the exercise machine more, I could probably fit. Then I could sell the exercise machine and buy a new couch.

              • Don’t worry about it–looks like we’re having a party behind mine.

          • Make room for me behind the couch, too, please. I found Tolkien nearly insufferable in parts, but Richard’s Thorin has me fully engaged.

            • It’s quite a big couch, so there’s plenty of room. 😉 Giving us the backstory and seeing what happened to lead Thorin to being angry and bitter, knowing the heavy burden he felt–I appreciate the writers for giving us that and for Richard bringing it all to life so vividly on that screen. Otherwise, I think the character could have come off dangerously lacking in dimension.

        • Well, I would agree that this Thorin is more likeable and far more nuanced than the book. Characterization in The Hobbit was not Tolkien’s strong point IMO, especially of the dwarves. It almost seems as if he had difficulty in conceiving of personalities for them. Most of the dwarves have no dialogue at all, are barely described physically and don’t do much. The only dwarves who have any personality are Bombur (always hungry, butt of jokes because of his size), Balin (kindly) and Thorin (cranky and self-important).
          However, at the book goes on, Thorin’s personality developes some other dimensions, but they are not really attractive characteristics, e.g. stubborness, rage, obsession.
          The difference between the movie Thorin and the book Thorin is that in the movie we get to see the heroic and multi-dimensional Thorin much earlier on and develop that respect for him which comes as someone here said too late in the boo.

  7. After the battle of 5 armies is over (with all major characters surviving) and Smaug is destroyed, Thorin collects me from the gates of Erebor, I swing up behind him on his horse, bury my face in his pelt and we ride off into the sunset. THE END!

  8. This post really speaks to me.
    I have practically drowned in De-Nile over the ends of a certain MI5 spy, MI6 officer and formerly evil Henchman, as well as a king under the mountain, and of course tons of other fictional characters. (The death of Theoden for example, Beth in Little Women, even Spock in Star Trek II (and he comes back to life!) . I’m an easy mark)
    I re-read stories hoping they will end differently, but writers are cruel and I usually end up giving a big boost to the facial tissue and hankie industry with my sobbing and nose-blowing.

    • It’s nice to know that this is normal and healthy 🙂
      Although I should already have known this, because in university we were taught that the ancient Greeks created tragedy as an art form to purge negative emotions.

  9. Exactly right, Sis. Evoking genuine grief for a character is a testament to the artiists’ skill (be s/he an author, actor, compser, etc). I have mourned many fictional characters and make no apolofies for it. None are needed, imo. P.S. Thanks for the comment re Beth..

  10. Dear Fedoralady, I really loved your words so heartfelt respect to the life and death of our favorite characters. I was personally very sad with the end of the character of John Porter, mostly because I knew as he continued the story and see the moment in which he´s shoot really hit me. Something stronger has happened to me with the character of Lucas North, which I have not even finished watching the season 9, I don’t want to see its end. Beyond the questions wrong or not posed by the screenwriters for the character. And so, as these related to the characters played by Richard in particular situations, it happen to me with others. But perhaps there lies the magic and the wonder of books and films. That is good, as the power share it here. Thank you! Love!

  11. I loved this post… some of my favorite books are like medicine. They’re so potent I can only take them out once in a very great while, because they will make me A WRECK for the whole day I read the ending. Or sometimes even more than a day. I’m saving a couple of them for later in the summer, when some particularly strong catharsis will be needed. :} Generally characters on screen don’t affect me the same way, but RA has such a hold on me that I haven’t even watched the painful parts of *any* series yet. I’m a big wuss and I admit it!! :}

  12. Thankyou for the explanation. Right now I have watched Doctor Who and I have been crying for 3 hours about Amelia Pond an 11th Doctor. I wish they were still in Doctor Who. They were the best people for it 😭😭😭😭 I am gonna be so depressed about it now and the best thing is I already knew Amelia died but for some reason it’s hit me like a tone of bricks right now. But it didn’t before. And same with the Doctor regenerating, now he just looks like a old grampa. I cried this much since my nan died of Lung cancer. Which was January 2014.

    • I am also a Doctor Who fan and I really loved Rory and Amy and their relationships with each other and with the Doctor. I understand being upset and depressed about it all. Amazing how these characters can well and truly get under our skin and into our hearts. My condolences on the loss of your nan as well. ((hugs)) from across the pond.

      • Yeah, at first I thought I was losing it because I couldn’t stop crying. Until I found this website and found out it’s normal to cry over a character that is not real. I also found out that the actoress who played Amelia was emotional for 2 weeks when filming the episode that Amelia dies in.

        • Well, I am certainly glad my post helped you, that I was my goal in writing it, to let other fans out there know they weren’t alone in feeling sadness and genuinely mourning the passing of a character.

          The majority of Richard Armitage’s characters so far have ended up dying at the end of the series/film and it hurts each and every time. I cried at the end of the final Hobbit film even though, having read the book, I knew exactly what was coming. My sweet husband was very kind and understanding about it.

          It’s good to have people in your life who understand, whether in RL or online. And remember, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. And the actors do, indeed, have difficulty wrestling with the death of a character that has become special to them, too.

  13. I am a huge fan of Attack on Titan and the author, Hajime Isayama, said that all the characters where basically created to die. One if my favourite characters, Marco Bodt, died very early on. He is still in a lot of flash-backs now and again. But he was so kind, and at first I was annoyed with Jean because he didn’t check his 3DM-Gear worked properly or something. But after Marco’s death, Jean was… Different. The guy who was so determined to join the Military Police and be safe inside the interior wall suddenly picked the Survey Corps, the regiment responsible for mission outside the walls and reclaiming Wall Maria, the regiment with the highest death rate. Isayama said that Marco’s death helped with Jean’s character progression. So Jean went from the easy life to danger lurking around every corner because of Marco? No matter what Marco’s death is still one of the ones that will make me cry almost just by thinking about it. My friends kind of think I am over reacting, but it’s not if you love the characters and the story to bits.
    Thorin, Fili and Kíli’s death in the book had me crying into my pillow for about five minutes, to the point were I was almost screaming.
    Sorry about this being very long, I guess I’m not very good at describing things, especially how I feel about spomething.

    • No need to apologize. I think we all understand around here about having those deep feelings for fictional characters and really grieving and feeling troubled when they die. I’ve gone through periods of being really down and breaking into tears way more often than I’d like to admit. I’ve decided I would rather be someone who feels things deeply than a person who just doesn’t care, whether it’s real life or fiction. Welcome and thanks for your comment!

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