Cheat Taxes, Not Death Apr15

Cheat Taxes, Not Death...

When I was young, I wanted to live forever. That would be so cool, I thought. I could use all that time to learn languages, read all the books I ever wanted to read, see all the movies I wanted to see. Let me be clear here. When I talk of immortality, I mean physical immortality. As in NOT dying. I’m not talking about an afterlife or heaven. I didn’t want to die. I wanted to hang around on earth and continue living this life. Now, obviously my definition of “cool” left much to be desired, but I think there is something quite profound about my childish wish to live forever. Though I didn’t realize it at the time (I hadn’t gotten around to reading all those books), the desire for immortality is at the heart of various myths, legends, and stories: from the Gilgamesh’s question for immortality in the epic that bears his name, to the quest for the Holy Grail, to the stories of alchemy and the mythical fountain of youth. Many people have told stories about the search for a method to cheat that most mysterious of all human experiences, death. And I think that it’s that very thing that makes death so important: it’s something we all go through. They say the only two certainties are death and taxes. Well, some people have been able to cheat on their taxes. No one I know has cheated death. In an attempt to live forever, Voldemort loses his human life. And I don’t think my younger self was out to cheat death. I can’t remember thinking that. Certainly I am not aware of an experience of death that would have triggered that kind of response. I just felt there was so much...

Meet me in the river Aug19

Meet me in the river

Walking in death: this is the power of the Abhorsen. Where magic is portrayed as a gift in many stories, it almost seems like a curse for the Abhorsen, a faithful servant of Charter magic, whose duty is to lay the dead to rest. In Garth Nix’s Abhorsen Chronicles, the Old Kingdom is a world caught in a constant battle between life and death, between Charter magic and Free magic. This is a land plagued with necromancers who use the corrupted power of Free magic to raise the dead in order to achieve their own goals of dominion and destruction. Their enemy is the Abhorsen. The series is comprised of three books—Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen—and follows two would-be Abhorsens: Sabriel and Lirael (whose story picks up 20 years after Sabriel’s). Both are stories in which the protagonists learn about their inheritance as the next Abhorsen and must defeat great evil while doing so. A common theme in fantasy is that everything has a time to die. The Abhorsen has the ability to walk in the spiritual realm of death, which plays just as much a role in these books as the land of the living. Death is portrayed as a river with nine gates and precincts through which spirits must pass before they come to their final resting place. Here, death is dangerous and sinister. Everything is grey and devoid of light, except for occasional bursts of red fire; the river itself is icy cold, its treacherous current tugging spirits further into its depths. Any spirit that lingers too long becomes a twisted reflection of what it once was. Necromancers and Abhorsens alike have to take care lest they find themselves swept away along with the dead. Everyone in this land seems to have an innate fear of that...

Link is fated to die

So this sage fellow tells you that you’re the legendary Hero of Time, and it’s your destiny to save the land from evil. At this news, perhaps your soul puffs up with the righteous thought of your future victory. Or, if you’re like me, you get annoyed at the guy who’s not only telling you what to do, but what you’re going to do, as if you didn’t have a choice. Either way, let’s do this, you say. If it’s your destiny, after all, how can you fail? But then, somewhere along the line, you die. Whether it’s because you let an Octorok spit one too many rocks at you, or because you couldn’t figure out the trick with the first boss, Link’s health will eventually go down accompanied by the annoying beeping and his slight gasp before he falls in slow motion to his doom. Or so it would seem. A second later, however, he’s up and at it with only a few missing hearts to show for his trouble. Now that’s what I call a Hero of Time. Death seems to have found its way so readily into video games because it was the logical fail safe for arcades. You couldn’t have one quarter lasting someone for hours, after all. Pac-Man has to die sometime. Mario can’t avoid being bowled over by Donkey Kong forever.It’s my fate as a gamer to win and fail at the same time in a clashing set of universes. Not only does this impending doom rake in the coins for arcades, but games just wouldn’t be fun without that chance of failure looming over the player’s head. A lot of older games capitalized on the thrill of terror and release. As Churchill put it: “Nothing in life...

Believing death’s lies: a walk with Sir Terry Apr23

Believing death’s lies: a walk with Sir Terry...

The sudden appearance of a tall, black-robed character speaking in unquoted capitals is the first hint that something has gone terribly awry. On March 12, 2015,  the world saw these words appear on Sir Terry Pratchett’s Twitter feed: AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER. One of the world’s most beloved authors had finally succumbed to the rare form of Alzheimer’s with which he had been diagnosed eight years prior. It was a fitting tribute to Sir Terry’s work that the news was delivered by Death himself. Out of 40 Discworld novels, Death makes an appearance in all but two, and features as a main character in five. The character of Death is far more complex than simply a “grim reaper,” though he clearly borrows the reaper’s aesthetic. I think he died believing that it truly was the end.Death, as Sir Terry imagined him, does not choose those who will die; he simply collects their spirits and helps them cross over to whatever happens next. Death is something of a philosopher—having a rather unique perspective on the human condition—and is surprisingly sympathetic to humanity. Though Death is, with extremely rare exceptions, an unavoidable reality, he is not unkind. Death is not, in Sir Terry’s world, an enemy to be feared. His is an appointment to be avoided, surely, but Death himself is not our enemy. It would be nice if we could end there, if we could simply say “farewell” to Sir Terry, imagining him meeting Death, shaking his hand, and moving on to whatever comes next. It would be nice, but it would be for our own comfort and not truly representative of what Sir Terry believed. In the Discworld companion book, Art of Discworld, written several years before he received his own diagnosis, Sir Terry writes on the character of Death: “Sometimes I get nice letters from people who know they’re due to meet him soon, and hope I’ve got him right. Those are the kind of letters that cause me to stare at the wall for some time…” Death himself gives us some insight into the situation. In the novel Hogfather, Death has a conversation with his human granddaughter (long story), Susan, about the nature of belief. Susan is logical, her world is black and white. Death, on the other hand, sees the need for people to believe. “All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need…fantasies to make life bearable.” REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE. “Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—” YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES. “So we can believe the big ones?” YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING. For all that his imagination had created a world populated by gods, monsters and anthropomorphic personifications, Terry Pratchett was a humanist. He did not believe in the supernatural, but he did believe in humanity’s ability to imagine a world that is better than the current world and to “believe” that world into existence. As Death points out to Susan, YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN’T TRUE. HOW ELSE CAN THEY BECOME? If we side completely with Sir Terry, we have to ask, “Is everything worth believing in just a lie we tell ourselves in order to create a more liveable world?” If so, it seems like a secret we’d best keep quiet. When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate speaking of “truth”, Pilate famously asked, “What is truth?” Pilate’s truth was that he could have Jesus crucified. In the face of that, even the most beautiful lies melt away like a snowflake in the August sun.HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. Sir Terry admired many of our truths and is frequently quoted as having said that he was “rather...

The battle of cute and deadly Mar27

The battle of cute and deadly

Tired, old Yoda was strolling along through the Dagobah swamp like nothing was wrong when suddenly Mega Gnar popped out of the mist and pummeled into Yoda with his great, big fist Yoda force-shoved him back, Gnar landed on his feet Gnar leapt away through the air as they both felt the heat of a lightning bolt crashing between them on the ground and Pikachu came tumbling through the air with the sound of “Pika!” he cried as he zapped Gnar away then “Kupo!” Mog the moogle chose to join in the fray for a moment there was silence, when from out of the fog sinking teeth into Mog’s ear was the Rabbit of Caerbannog Then River Tam, Skull the Troll, Reepicheep, Krtek the mole, Mogwai Gizmo, the Duck of Doom, May Chang’s panda and Rocket Raccoon shouted “for Narnia!” and “Bring the pain!” and “I can kill you with my brain.” Killua Zoldyk sauntered in with a sigh dodging every strike like it was easy as pie Gizmo tried with a leap to jump on his head Gnar was standing by a tree and looking kinda fed Nibbler toddled in, confusion on his face Skull the Troll aimed to smash his head in with a mace Then Nibbler bared his teeth, they were ready to rend And he gobbled up the group entirely. So satisfied. The...

Deadpool: Flirting with death Mar24

Deadpool: Flirting with death...

The fear of death serves as an agent for many stories, especially within the Marvel universe. From the death of Uncle Ben to Bruce Banner’s constant state of panic about the monster lying in wait ready to reap death and destruction on the world, death is something to be feared. Most characters do whatever it takes to not die. But not Deadpool. Deadpool does not run from death; in fact, he’s fallen in love. Born as Wade Wilson, he made his living as an assassin. His motivations were unclear, but we know he was very good at what he did, and what he did wasn’t very nice. While at the top of his game, Wilson developed an aggressive form of cancer. He voluntarily entered the Weapon X program (which, you may remember, is how Wolverine got those fancy metal upgrades to his bone claws) in the hopes of preserving his life. Weapon X infused Wolverine’s healing ability with Wilson’s DNA, but at a supercharged rate. What if we were to love death? Wilson flirted with death while he was being experimented on. Literally. He was so close to dying most of the time that he would often see Death (in the form of a woman) looming over him. He eventually fell in love with her, and she found herself irresistibly attracted to him. It was his time with Death that made those torturous days of experimentation bearable for him. Wilson’s cancer interacted with the increased healing factor and made it even more powerful (according to comic book science). Thus, Wade Wilson was reborn as Deadpool, and as much as he wanted to die to spend eternity with Death, he became virtually unkillable. During his adventures, Deadpool has his head cut off, half of his body liquefied, and...

Clara should have died at Trenzalore Mar19

Clara should have died at Trenzalore

I never much liked Clara Oswald. She just didn’t have a lot going for her in series seven, and didn’t seem bring anything new to the table. With Rose we had a romantic relationship. With Martha we had unrequited love. With Donna we had a fiery best friend, and with Amy we had Rory. But Clara was sort of just… there. The one interesting thing going for Clara was the gigantic mystery surrounding her. Who was she, and why had the Doctor met her several times? How is it possible that she had died twice already? This mystery was the only reason I tolerated watching her traipsing around the universe with the Doctor in series seven. When “The Name of the Doctor” rolled around, Clara had a shining moment that completely redefined her character in my eyes. She sacrificed herself by entering the Doctor’s timeline to undo the damage caused by the Great Intelligence. Numerous incarnations of herself were created and appeared throughout the Doctor’s timeline, saving his life again and again, though he only notices a few. It felt like Clara’s story arc was now meaningless and her sacrifice wasn’t much of a sacrifice at all. Looking back, I can see that the entire series had been leading up to this point, to this sacrifice. The previous incarnations we had met had also died for the Doctor. Clara was his saviour. Clara’s sacrifice, her dying at the end of the season for a cause bigger than herself, that was beautiful. That was worthwhile. That redeemed her character in every way and made her one of the most valuable and impacting companions in the Doctor’s history. But then… the Doctor does what we’re told he can’t do, enters his own timeline and somehow pulls her out. What? What? What??? It felt cheap. It felt superficial. It felt like Clara’s story arc was now meaningless and her sacrifice wasn’t much of a sacrifice at all. Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually think Clara becomes very interesting in the next season and some of my favourite moments are her standing up to the Doctor. But as far as series seven is concerned, I think for the finale to have an astounding impact, she should have...

Snuffed Out – Fire Emblem: Awakening and Death...

Death sucks—but chances are you’ll get over it, in the world of video gaming at least. There’s been plenty a first-year college paper written about how death has no meaning in video games because blah blah extra lives, blah blah respawn points… which of course, are totally appropriate and necessary to creating a game that people will play for more than 90 seconds. So you might say that death in games is necessarily meaningless—with a few notable exceptions. One example is that of the Fire Emblem series—a strategy-RPG franchise from Nintendo, long confined to the shores of Japan but one that has experienced a surprisingly warm reception in recent years, thanks to its expert storytelling, a large ensemble cast of fleshed-out characters, and its unique permanent death mechanic (provided you’re playing in “Classic” mode). In Fire Emblem, there are no nameless allies, only friends. For those unfamiliar with the series, almost every game involves a different cast of characters in a medieval setting, wherein the player controls the whole entourage on a tactical grid-based battlefield. Party members (all with names and often full backstories, even among the supporting cast) hold varying movement and attack abilities as part of their respective job classes, which, in some games can be changed and customized for the purpose of optimizing special abilities. While certainly not the only series to go for greater gravitas in the death department, Fire Emblem perhaps stands alone in how seamlessly it merges its strategy mechanics with the reality of permanent death. Losing a character in battle means that that character is dead for keeps. No Phoenix Downs, no 1-ups, and no wishing them back with the Dragon Balls; make the wrong moves on the grid and your buddy gets a one-way ticket to the casket factory—which makes carefully planning your strategy a necessity if you’re the kind of person (like me) who couldn’t bear to leave a pal behind. Though permanent death is a fixture throughout the Fire Emblem series, it is perhaps best realized in the franchise’s 2013 release, Fire Emblem: Awakening, thanks to the excellent storytelling featured in the game’s “support” conversations between battles. In Awakening, allied party members can form various support relationships based on their proximity to one another on the battlefield. When two characters join up to take down an opponent, their bonds grow stronger, allowing for a greater on-field chemistry for unlocking combos when teaming up against enemies. But additionally, building support relationships opens up side conversations, wherein the player is given story elements to accompany the increased support level. It’s even possible for two characters to form an “S-Support” relationship, which unites them as companions in marriage, and is in turn played out with a short scene involving a proposal, acceptance, etc. Certain relationships even provide the possibility of children, something that matchmakers and hopeless romantics have latched onto with great adoration. Make the wrong moves on the grid and your buddy gets a one-way ticket to the casket factory. Whereas other games might gloss over the death of a playable character or simply give the gamer another chance to collect their fallen comrades at battle’s end, Awakening plays by a different set of rules. Through its focus on character development and commitment to the permanence of death, Awakening challenges the player to hold even their lowliest foot soldiers in close regard. It encourages you see the death of a party member in the same way as if a real person’s life were cut short all too suddenly. Because if Kellam, or Sully, or Vaike, or Stahl, or Miriel, or Olivia, or any other member of your crew fall in battle… that’s it. You never get to hear the rest of their stories. Their support conversations disappear from the narrative going forward. They might never have a chance to get married or to have a family of their own. Or, if...

Characters who should have died but didn’t Mar13

Characters who should have died but didn’t

There will always be characters who just aren’t that interesting but are required to help drive the story along. Then there are the characters who do their best to burn the story to the ground. Here are our ten. 1. Delores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix We’re pretty sure she was more evil than Voldemort. 2. Dawn Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer It was always me me me me. Sure fine she was abandoned (in Joss’s words) by “about six parental figures” but whiny is whiny. 3. The entire Lannister line except Tyrion from Song of Ice and Fire ‘Cept we kinda like Jaime too. 4. Harry Kim from Star Trek: Voyager He’s kind of the Dawn Summers of the Star Trek universe. 5. Navi from Ocarina of Time “Hey, listen!” “You’re dead to me.” 6. The dog from Duck Hunt And now in Super Smash Bros. Wii U, he CAN die! 7. Willie Scott from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom This. 8. Slippy from StarFox Really? You’re in trouble AGAIN!? You need my help AGAIN!? How about no? 9. Rose Thomas from Fullmetal Alchemist Dress up in a frog costume and fly a space-ship already. 10. Jar Jar Binks from The Phantom Menace We made him last so you can channel all your hate there. Okay, so who’d we...

Game comments that may end in your death Mar06

Game comments that may end in your death

Board games have the potential to bring people together in genuine and beautiful community. But once in a while, a single phrase can tear down everything. So listen. your life depends on this. Don’t say them. Don’t even think them. Say them and you’re dead. They might come to you fast. Faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back, don’t look away, and don’t say them. Good luck. 1. “I will sell you all my properties for $1.” 2. *halfway through the game* “What time is it? Oh, I should go.” 3. “Oops, I bent your cards.” 4. “You realize Alli’s about to screw you over by [insert ingenious plan and ruin it here], right?” 5. “Well if you trade with me I’ll give you a brick and a back rub later.” 6. “I’ll just throw all the pieces into the box. You can sort it later.” 7. “Well I only lost because [insert long whining rant here].” 8. *Five minutes of silence goes by* “Oh, it’s my turn?” 9. “I’m not going to trade with you because you always win.” 10. “Let’s gang up on...

The journey doesn’t end here Mar05

The journey doesn’t end here

In the Return of the King, Pippin collapses beside a blood-stained Gandalf as they both listen to the orc army chop away at the final barricade in Minas Tirith. Emotionally and physically depleted, Pippin looks over at Gandalf and says, “I didn’t think it would end this way.” Gandalf looks just about as tired and scared as the little hobbit—and certainly they are in a  seemingly-hopeless situation—but he perks up, sensing the same inauthenticity, the same falseness we feel when a story is too glib or too grim when it portrays death. “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path… One that we all must take,” Gandalf says. “The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass… and then you see it.” “What? Gandalf? See what?” “White shores.. and beyond. A far green country under a swift sunrise.” “Well, that isn’t so bad.” “No, no, it isn’t.” Death is a truth of mortality that cannot be faked Tolkien explains that The Lord of the Rings is ultimately about mortality. In an interview with the BBC, he claims that all stories are really about death, quoting Simone de Beauvoir, “There’s no such thing as a natural death. Nothing that happens to man is ever natural. His presence calls the whole world into question. All men must die: but for every man his death is an accident and, even if he knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation.” Death is an important theme in fiction, perhaps the most important theme. The stakes have to be high to keep people’s attention, and there’s nothing more exciting than a battle for life. The reason high stakes are so gripping is because, in the end, most of our art is consumed by thoughts of mortality. And when a character appears immortal, we break free from the narrative. The Song of Fire and Ice series is intoxicating because of its brutal treatment of characters and “no one is safe” rule. Characters are on the chopping block (sometimes literally) almost every chapter. There are no redshirts here, or more accurately, anyone could peel off their coat and find a crimson uniform underneath. George R.R. Martin doesn’t shy away from the brutal truth: we know instinctively, deep down, that our time can be up at any juncture, any chapter. But more than just the fascination with dying, viewers and readers are moved by sacrifice. In the original Transformers film (the 1986 version), the most iconic Transformer, Optimus Prime, dies 20 minutes in. His death inspires Ultra-Magnus and the rest of the Auto-Bots to victory. Throughout the film, your mind returns to Optimus, wondering if he will come back, if he will be rebuilt. But he never is. The Auto-Bots end up winning, but their win costs them. They do not emerge unscarred because Optimus Prime is gone forever. Fast-forward to 2007 and the Michael Bay version of the same franchise. Throughout the film, you hear the quote: “No sacrifice, no victory.” And Optimus Prime himself says, “[I am] a necessary sacrifice to bring peace to this planet” and “If I cannot defeat Megatron, you must push the Cube into my chest. I will sacrifice myself to destroy it.” “No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path… One that we all must take,” Everything in the rebooted Transformers points towards the sacrificial death of Prime. But in the end, Sam uses the cube to destroy Megatron and everything is right in the world. Optimus doesn’t die, and the death of Megatron costs so little that the victory feels superficial. Sacrifice is often what makes a good story great. Take Superman’s death; he sacrifices himself so someone else can live. Take Gandalf the Grey, who metamorphoses into Gandalf the White, or Peter Parker, who emerges from the death of uncle Ben changed forever. Death doesn’t...