*** Spoilers follow ***
Where do characters go when they die?
It’s a question that dogs me. I know where flesh-and-blood people go when they die: whatever funeral customs are observed, they get returned to the ecosystem that they came from, that’s nourished them their entire lives, and then the Sun swells up and we all become stardust again. Parts of them live on in memories, expressions, habits, all taken in and made part of other people, just the same way we take in food and air and liquid and make it part of ourselves. Flesh, action, and thought, we are all part of the same ecosystem, we are formed from it, remade by it every moment of our lives, and then return to it.
But fictional characters, people who aren’t flesh and blood… Just because they’re not fleshy doesn’t mean they’re not ‘real’, and so don’t matter. In the end, we’re all going to be stardust. Nothing we do, think, feel, or make will last forever. So what matters is here, and now. What matters is what we’re thinking and feeling, if we’re happy or sad and why. All we have is our experiences of the world around us. And, when we connect with someone, they become an integral part of those experiences. They become a thread in the tapestry that is us. And there’s no reason why a fictional character can’t be just as important as any other thread. In fact, there are fictional characters that are far more important to me, far more integral parts of my tapestry, than a lot of flesh and blood people.
But these people don’t have fleshy bodies which break down and become part of the ecosystem again. And they’re even really dead–all I need to do is flick back to the beginning of the book and they’re alive and well. So where does that leave them? Trapped in an ever-repeating, never changing set of actions that I can flick through at my will, are they little more than animated gifs?
Well of course they’re not. Any work of fiction is a conversation between author and reader, the story hanging between them like the third body in a relationship. And although the words may not change, the reader will and so their side of the conversation will and, so, the third body will. So a character is not just one character. They are different every time someone new comes to their story, and different every time someone old returns to it.
Like a lot of humans, I find stories comforting. Here’s a story about fictional characters that makes me feel a bit better: a fictional character is like a river. As a reader or viewer or listener or whatever, we wade into the stream, dip in our cup and take a drink. Part of the river becomes part of ourself. But like any river, it is never the same when we return to it we can’t drink the same cup of water twice. But no matter how much we drink, how sweet or bitter or painful the drinking, the river will always flow.
I don’t know if that will comfort me next time I can’t read or watch because I’m crying. There’s still part of me that needs to know where Nighteyes and Hazel are. Much like there is a unique part of every person, some combination of parts to make whole that is lost when the parts are separated, there is a unique combination of parts which make a character. You can never visit the same river twice.
And so, I’m still left wondering: where do fictional characters go when they die? What happens to their soul? Perhaps if I had an answer to that, mourning them would be easier.
Smoker from here, and my apologies to him. Weed’s never made me think like that, it’s just made my brain go mushy. Dancing banana from here. Niagara Falls photo from here, and there’s some pretty cool photos in there of the American Falls completely dry.