Wednesday, 28 September 2016

POVs And Death

A fictional narrative has either a single viewpoint character from beginning to end or alternating pov's. A narrative or a single section of a narrative can end with the death of its viewpoint character. One work by James Blish ends in mid-sentence. See here. Usually, a first person narrator is safe - how can someone be telling us the story if he is going to die at the end of it? - although there are exceptions even to this.

I remembering discussing deaths of viewpoint characters when posting about SM Stirling's Conquistador. On a naturalistic hypothesis, we do not experience "blackness" or "darkness" after death. We do not experience period. Even when the author and his characters believe in a hereafter, to describe the hereafter is, in literary terms, to transform the narrative from mainstream fiction or any other genre into fantasy. Perfectly respectable - see Dante etc - but fantasy nonetheless. In naturalistic fiction, the viewpoint ends at death.

"The last thing he heard was thunder. It sounded like the hoofs of horses bearing westward the Hunnish midnight." (Time Patrol, p. 465)

Anderson's Ensign Conway inwardly converses with death, then we read:

"KILLED IN ACTION: Lt Cmdr Jan H. Barneveldt, Ens. Donald R. Conway, Ens. James L. Kamekona....

"MOURN FOR: Keh't'hiw-a-Suq of Dzuaq, Whiccor the Bold, Nova Rachari's Son...."
-Poul Anderson, Fire Time (St Albans, Herts, 1974), XV, p. 174.

(Different naming styles among the aliens.)

In a long battle scene in Against The Tide Of Years, SM Stirling introduces Garrett Hopkins to have him killed:

"Blackness." (p. 361)


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I think the quote relating to King Ermanaric's death is an example of a naturalistic description of a man's death?

I see your point about Garrett Hopkins death. Whether or not one believes in a hereafter, it is a literary defect to describe a deceased character as experiencing "blackness." If anything, it actually implies a hereafter, else how could Hopkins experience it?

I had thought when Stirling uses "blackness" like that it was to indicate he did not believe in a real God or hereafter (despite treating honest believers with respect). Now I wonder if Stirling is at least not sure God is not real.

Or am I over thinking this? The way Stirling used "blackness" in Hopkins' death might be his attempt at indicating he does not believe in a hereafter.

Lastly, I have sometimes wondered had too many of his major characters implausibly surviving any number of battles and natural catastrophes. Or, alternatively, winning an implausible number of battles (as Marian Alston does). True, you need major view point characters in order to advance the plot of a book. But, if you have more than one such major character, I don't think killing him/her off would necessarily stall such a book.


Paul Shackley said...

Yes. Ermanaric thinks "midnight" before he dies but is not said to experience anything after it. I remember succumbing to a general anaesthetic. It was as if an irresistible force pushed me down into unconsciousness. I remember the last moment of consciousness and nothing more until I woke. That is what I expect to happen at death.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

That was probably what Stirling was trying to get across with his use of "Blackness" at Hopkins' death.

And I do believe there is a hereafter. Which means I have to regretfully disagree with you.