Tuesday, January 08, 2008

On Death...

I don't know about everyone else, but when my life is full of stress I like my entertainment to be as mindless as possible--entertainment that doesn't force me to think. Conversely, when my life is cruising along smoothly I always end up drifting back to books and movies with darker content. I like stuff that explores the darker side of the human psyche but I need to be in my happy place to handle the extra baggage. Fortunately for me, life has been good to me lately and I've been going back and reading some great dark fiction-- serial killers, monsters, children-in-peril; all that upbeat stuff. Other than fantasy, my favorite type of fiction is in the mystery-thriller genre. I've mentioned before that I love John Sandford, Dennis Lehane and pretty much any other author that can pump up the suspense while exploring twisted human motivations. I read a book last week called "Heart Sick" that has the unusual element of a female serial killer--almost in the Hannibal Lecter vein; good stuff. But what it really got me thinking about is how different genres handle death. I love looking at different themes in entertainment and how they're handled. When I read suspense fiction--without any fantasy/sci-fi elements-- death is finite and very very scary. But fantasy and science fiction offers both the author and the reader/viewer certain loopholes where death is concerned. I mentioned before in my post about Christ figures in sci-fi and how resurrection is a common out when a hero is killed. And even beyond resurrection you have so many types of fantasy/sci-fi characters that never seem to die. It seems like every book that features mages or elves gives those particular personas eternal, or very long life. Paranormal fiction is all the rage right now and vampires--in all their eternal life--seem to be leaping out of every book. Death can also be a literal character in fantasy. Christoper Moore features death as a job in a comedic interpretation in A Dirty Job and Piers Anthony put his stamp on the subject in his book On a Pale Horse. I've always loved books like this; that try to put death and the afterlife into some kind of context. Which is also very likely why I was so enthralled with Greek Myth when I was younger. And I think that's whats so great about fantasy and sci-fi. There always seems to be this yearning toward understanding the mysteries we live with every day. I will, probably until I die, believe that religion comes from a simple desire to know what faces us after death. If we can put a face on it, it is much less scary. That doesn't mean any religion or faith is wrong, it simply means that we won't know the answers until we pass beyond the veil ourselves. Until then, I will continue to enjoy the stories that others tell to try to make sense of probably life's greatest mystery.


Stewart Sternberg said...

Having gone through a death phobia in my forties (it is quieted now, but still there in the background), I have spent a good deal of time reading and watching entertainments dealing with death. From Piers Anthony's excellent "Incarnations of Immortality" series to the absurdist cartoon "Grim and Mandy", the subject has fascinated me. Above all else, I enjoy the personification of death.

May I recommend the following depictions:

1. "Love and Death"...Woody Allen and the Grim Reaper dance in a strange lampooning of Bergman. Also, Woody Allen's recent "Scoop".

2. Peter Jackson's "Frighteners" with Michael J. Fox gives us an eerie personification of death and dead.

3. And speaking of Bergman, if you like artsy stuff, "The Seventh Seal" is a nihilisitic expression in black and white.

I won't even get into the Simpsons and Family Guy.

furiousBall said...

I've had that dark pondering in my noggin too, especially going through this divorce and adjusting from having my kids so far away from me.

Charles Gramlich said...

I tend to find death in all it's forms integral to the fiction I generally read and write. But like you, I tend to read much less really dark stuff when I'm unhappy myself.

Avery DeBow said...

I just watched "Sunshine" last night. It's the Sci Fi story about the crew of astronauts sent to reignite the dying sun with a massive bomb. The story was building nicely towards the existence of God, and the crew finding Him in different aspects of their journey, but it never came together. It's too bad; I could've been watching a compelling tale of life, death, and the will of God versus the will of Man. Instead, I got a watered-down, pointless ending.

SQT said...

Stu, I haven't gotten there yet, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time. Thanks for the recommendations. "The Frighteners" sounds great, and I've never even heard of it.


Ouch. Family drama is the worst. It's bad to say, but I'm glad my parents have moved away. Much much less drama.


It's silly that entertainment can do that to me, but it does. It's good to know I'm in good company.


It's pretty rare when Hollywood manages to actually deliver on the big ending. Sucks even more when they give you that glimmer of hope.

Crunchy Carpets said...

I have been rummaging my bookcases for a book we read called 'The Palace of Eternity' by Bob Shaw.

I really liked the ideas he was going for there.

And who can talk about Death without mentioning Neil Gaiman's sexy personification.

SolShine7 said...

Very good points SQT. SF deals with death in all kind of interesting ways.

For me, as a Christian, eternal life starts now. Life is my time on this planet, the eternal part is when I get to Heaven.

Whenever I get a little scared or nervous about death or dying, reading the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible calms me. Especially the last chapter.