The title should explain it all. Back to Life is an extremely common trope in modern fiction, especially since it goes with another favorite trope: Killing Characters Off. After all, if you need a gripping twist in your story, what better way to upend the plot than to kill a favorite character? Violence may not always be the answer, but it’s definitely an answer.
However, writers always face the enormous problem of peer pressure (or is it fan pressure?) to bring back characters they’ve killed. We love to make our readers and viewers happy, so the Back to Life trope has become an art form among writers of all kinds.
In honor of the flash fiction contest that I am judging this quarter, I’m going to take two weeks to explore this trope. It also happens to be the theme of the contest. If you’re interested in submitting a story, head over to the Kingdom Writer’s Guild website for more details!
Today we’re going to take a look at the Back to Life trope as I’ve seen it used in modern fiction, both on the screen and on paper.
There are a number of ways that a writer can bring her character back to life. In fact, with every retelling, it seems that writers come up with more creative ways to bring back the lost souls of their fictional narratives. However, I’ve noticed a few common threads used to weave this trope into stories.
Let’s take a look at the most popular ways that writers explain their characters’ resurrections.
I thought it would be wise to start off with the most obvious one. Magic and sorcery (or necromancy, if you’re a stickler for proper terms) are likely the most common explanation used for bringing characters back to life. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, (Spoiler Alert!) Buffy Summers gives her life to save others and close the gates to a hell dimension. A short time later, her friends use a form of magic to bring her back from the dead.
The same thing happens to Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He is killed by the evil White Witch as a sacrifice in place of Edmund Pevensie. But later in the story, a “deeper magic” brings him back to life because he was innocent. This form of resurrection is possibly one of the easiest ways to bring your character back, since magic and sorcery don’t require much in the way of explanation.
Abracadabra, may you return to put smiles on my readers’ faces once more!
It’s a Fake!
The fakery form of resurrection has been around for quite a long time. It has been used in so many ways that I can’t name every example. Sleight of hand, mastery of illusion, doctoring of evidence–if you can name it, it’s been done.
In an infamous example, the BBC TV series Sherlock ends Season 2 with the main character jumping off of a tall building. The bloodied body is shown and everything. And yet somehow, in the first episode of Season 3, Sherlock reappears. No true explanation is ever given, only questionable solutions presented by various characters in the show.
Perhaps this one should be labeled as a category of the “It’s a Fake!” explanation. Science has been used on many an occasion to explain a character’s resurrection. Take, for instance, the resurrection of Agent Phil Coulson from Marvel’s The Avengers. As revealed in the Agents of SHIELD TV show, Coulson was stabbed through the heart by Loki and died on the operating table. However, through the use of alien matter, Coulson was brought back to life and his memory was wiped.
Another famous example is that of Juliet from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In order to be with her lover, Juliet drank a potion that rendered her body lifeless. Once the drug wore off, she was “resurrected”—though only for Romeo to die in her arms. Tragic, really.
Fate or Prophecy
This explanation is less commonly used. Fate/Prophecy requires the acknowledgment of a higher power than man, which seems a difficult pill to swallow for some.
Nonetheless, that did not stop the creators of The Matrix. Using the mysterious power of destiny and fate, they wove a prophecy into the storyline. At the end when Neo is killed by Agent Smith, all seems lost. But Triniti leans over his lifeless body and tells him that she believes he is The One and that he cannot die yet, because the Oracle told her she would fall in love with The One. Seconds later, when she kisses him, Neo comes back to life.
Another famous example is Gandalf’s resurrection in Lord of the Rings. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf the Grey sacrifices his life fighting a Balrog to save the other members of the Fellowship. But the highest power in the realm of Middle-Earth, Eru, sends him back as Gandalf the White to accomplish what he couldn’t before and help save Middle-Earth.
What Do You Think?
I’m sure there are many more clever examples of character resurrection. These are simply the few I could incorporate into a blog post! Which ones did I miss? What is the most clever resurrection you know of? Let me know in the comments below, or shoot me an email at email@example.com!
Next week, I’ll be exploring the Back to Life trope in the most-discussed resurrection of all time: Jesus Christ! If you’d like a reminder so you don’t miss it, click here and put your email down.
Thanks for joining me! Come back next week for Part 2 of the Back to Life trope!