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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Beyond the Veil

August 19th, 2010 at 7:05

Day 29 – Saddest character death OR best/most satisfying character death (or both!)

Ha, this one is surprisingly easy, and for once I don’t feel the need to give a million different answers to a simple question.

To my mind, one of the absolute worst literary deaths of all time was Sirius Black, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

[spoilers for all but the last Harry Potter book in the post below, on the grounds that some of you are following the films rather than the books and don't know yet which Weasley twin is doomed]

I was very unhappy with most of the deaths in Book 7, as many of my favourites got the chop, and I remember being in absolute floods about one in particular (with others, quite frankly, enough damage had been done with stupid character decisions already that death was the best they could hope for). But that’s the sort of thing you sign up for, with books like that. I remember going into reading that last volume, being terribly stressed because I knew there would be casualties, and I didn’t want my favourites to get it in the neck.

But the one thing I desperately wanted/expected Book 7 to do was to bring back Sirius Black from beyond the veil, and the fact that it did not do this cemented his death as one of the worst in the history of literature, for me.

It’s not just that he was a good, interesting character who I was quite attached to (remember me and damaged heroes? Yep) who was sacrificed in order to make Harry, the hurtiest and aloneyest boy ever, extra hurt and alone. It’s not just that Sirius was already a gorgeously tragic figure, having spent eleven years in a hellish prison after being framed for the death of his best friend, and actually killing him off is like rescuing a tortured dog and then kicking it to death. It’s not just that Sirius was completely in love with Remus Lupin and after all their misery they needed to be together forever and ever omg. Okay, it’s mostly that.

But leaving aside my emotive reactions to the death, which I will accept are my own and which the author has no responsibility for (JK Rowling is not my bitch), the death of Sirius Black completely sucked from a narrative perspective. The point at which he died, at the end of the epic battle, vanishing from sight, is incredibly powerful. The shock and pain of Remus Lupin (together forever omg) and Harry was very well conveyed.

The method of his death though, was supremely stupid. Sirius Black, the man who survived the horrors of Azkaban by being harder than any wizard who ever lived, the rebel with a cause, scion of the wickedest wizarding family that ever was, died by falling through a curtain.

Yeah yeah it was a magic veil, and apparently there were dead people through there, and it had been set up a little beforehand. But the truth of the matter is, we don’t see Sirius die. A major battle scene, and he falls through a curtain. Yes, he is struck, and it’s likely that the curse kills him, but that’s hardly the point – the entire literary history of western culture has trained us to spot a loophole when we see one, and the lack of a visible body is a HUGE SIGNPOST. Worst of all from a narrative standpoint, Harry thinks at first that Sirius has just fallen through a curtain and they can fetch him back at any time. He has to be told (not shown) that Sirius can’t come back, that it is the Curtain of Doom, and Sirius can never ever ever ever come back, because that’s how Curtains of Doom work, don’t you know ANYTHING?

So yeah, quite frankly, the only thing narratively that made sense was that Sirius was coming back, Gandalf-style, in a later act. I waited patiently for this essential narrative pay off. Through Half-Blood Prince which did awful things to Remus and Tonks, though it did provide opportunities for Draco and Snape to brood broodingly, through Book 7 which even you who only follow the films must have heard by now is mostly about camping.

And I have no qualms about spoiling this particular detail about Book 7 for you, because I wish someone had told me ahead of time and put me out of my misery: the Curtain of Doom is a bloody red herring, and Sirius never comes back. He really was written out with a flick of dodgy CGI. In a book.

Wow, I really am still cross about this.

I hate the fact that my favourite character got bumped off, yes, but I mostly hate that it was done in such an unsatisfying way that I was tricked into thinking there had to be something more to it. Looking back, it’s pretty clear that Rowling was basically not interested in the adult characters, or in bringing their stories to narrative satisfaction, that it was all about Harry’s generation for her. After complaining at the lack of Remus, Tonks and Sirius in the film, I remember going back to the book and realised that actually, they were hardly in the book either, I just remembered it differently because they were the characters I was most interested in.

Cos, you know. I’m a grown up. And Harry Potter is (I know some of us forget this sometimes) a series of books for children to read. The adult characters (all pretty much my favourites) are entirely disposable. The Prisoner of Azkaban which sets up the epic story of Sirius Black and Remus Lupin is probably the favourite of so many adults because of that focus on the adult characters, but they were never intended to be anything other than handbags for Harry. And again, the blazing power of the relationships between Lupin, Snape and Black are mostly contained to one extraordinary scene which colours the memory of the whole book for me.

(there’s a reason that so many million words of Marauders fic have been written for teh internet. So many adult readers wanted that story, the one hiding just out of sight, that we never got enough of)

Sigh. So basically I have to suck it up and accept that Sirius Black was eaten by curtains, offstage, where no one got to see it.

On the bright side, at least I can go back and read Sam Storyteller’s fanfic any time I want to tell myself that Sirius and Remus truly did live happily forever and ever and that veil was totally just a narrative glitch that never got above itself.

Also, Rowling DID kill off Dumbledore spectacularly and prove my theory that he was the worst headmaster ever, so I am still quite fond of her, despite her obvious psychological issue with curtains. I’m pretty sure she intended her readers to be sad at Dumbledore’s death instead of going HA a lot, though.

HA. Worst headmaster ever.

Day 01 – A book series you wish had gone on longer OR a book series you wish would just freaking end already (or both!)
Day 02 – A book or series you wish more people were reading and talking about
Day 03 – The best book you’ve read in the last 12 months
Day 04 – Your favorite book or series ever
Day 05 – A book or series you hate
Day 06 – Favorite book of your favorite series OR your favorite book of all time
Day 07 – Least favorite plot device employed by way too many books you actually enjoyed otherwise
Day 08 – A book everyone should read at least once
Day 09 – Best scene ever
Day 10 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 11 – A book that disappointed you
Day 12 – A book or series of books you’ve read more than five times
Day 13 – Favorite childhood book OR current favorite YA book (or both!)
Day 14 – Favorite character in a book (of any sex or gender)
Day 15 – Your “comfort” book
Day 16 – Favorite poem or collection of poetry
Day 17 – Favorite story or collection of stories (short stories, novellas, novelettes, etc.)
Day 18 – Favorite beginning scene in a book
Day 19 – Favorite book cover (bonus points for posting an image!)
Day 20 – Favorite kiss
Day 21 – Favorite romantic/sexual relationship (including asexual romantic relationships)
Day 22 – Favorite non-sexual relationship (including asexual romantic relationships)
Day 23 – Most annoying character ever
Day 24 – Best quote from a novel
Day 25 – Any five books from your “to be read” stack
Day 26 – OMG WTF? OR most irritating/awful/annoying book ending
Day 27 – If a book contains ______, you will always read it (and a book or books that contain it)!
Day 28 – First favorite book or series obsession
Day 29 – Saddest character death OR best/most satisfying character death (or both!)
Day 30 – What book are you reading right now?

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2 Responses to “Beyond the Veil”

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