Why it’s ok to grieve for the loss of a character in a book

Character Death and Grieving sherlock holmes dead

I see it all the time in myself and in others who really love the books their reading.  A favorite character of yours dies and you grieve, and then people judge you in some way because in their words, “it’s just a book.”

Now if the book is non-fiction and someone dies then people may be more accepting of your grief but eventually they say something along the lines of, “well it’s sad but you didn’t know them.”

The thing that these people don’t get is that you did know them.  And the fictional characters you knew them too.  The book opened up their lives and stories to you, and there you got to know them.  Whether they are real or not when a character you love dies it’s a very sad experience, and as with any loss it’s ok to grieve.

Now I’m not saying you should wallow in your room for weeks on end, but it’s ok to feel a sense of loss when a character dies.  Who cares if they were in a book that was fictional?  During the time you spent with them while reading they were as real as anything.  They are for me anyway.  I’m still upset that (SPOILER) Fred died in the last Harry Potter book!

Characters Come to Life

When you read a book the author draws you into their world, into the lives of the characters.  Their job is to make you fall in love with their characters.  To care about their lives and what happens to them.

If you are not emotionally invested in the characters on the page than what’s the point?  If you start reading a book and half way through you still don’t care one way or the other what happens to the characters why keep reading it?

The plot and setting are important parts of a story, but it’s the characters that bring the story to life.  That give those places and times meaning.  If the characters are bland and boring and people you wouldn’t even look twice at the book falls apart at the seams (pardon the pun).  If the author has not written a story with characters that you can be emotionally invested in then they’ve failed at their job.

Most authors do not fail at their job so of course you feel emotionally invested in the lives of these characters.  You celebrate their joy with them.  You feel their sadness when they are hurt.  You yell at them, “No you’re not supposed to be with him you’re supposed to be with the other guy!” when they make a fumble in romance.  You shake your head at them when they do something stupid.

With all these emotions that you feel for them they become real people to you. Why wouldn’t you feel a sense of loss and grieve when the characters that have become real for you die?

My books have always been very special to me.  They were some of my closest friends growing up and still are now.  The characters in them became people I cared about, and really I never saw anything wrong with that.  I still don’t.

Yes I know they’re not real, that’s really not the point.  When I had a bad day it was nice to open a book and escape into a world nothing like my own reality for a little while.  And the characters in them invited me into their lives and took me on their adventures.

Even when I wasn’t having a bad day it was fun to do that.  That’s what books are for.  To take you out of yourself for a little while.  To join a band of characters that at least during your time between the covers are as real as you are.

So for anyone who still feels embarrassed that they feel grief over the death of a character, don’t.  It’s perfectly natural to feel that loss.  For anyone who tells you “it’s just a book” know that they are not a true book lover like you.

Why it Really is Ok

If you still feel awkward about it here’s something to ease your mind:

Back when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was writing his Sherlock Holmes stories he got tired of writing about Holmes so he decided to do what a lot of authors do when they get bored with a character: he killed him off.  The response to that was immediate and surprising.

Apparently Sherlock Holmes had become so popular and so much a part of people’s lives in London that when news of his death came in people were so grief-stricken they mourned him literally.  All over London people hung black wreaths on their doors (a symbol for mourning), they dressed in black, a memorial service was held and a lot of people actually showed up!

They behaved as if the character Sherlock Holmes was a real guy, and quite a few people thought he was.  There is an actual 221B Baker Street address in London. The real residents who lived their got condolence cards.

The mourning and outrage was so absolute that Doyle brought Holmes back to life.  Now the real residents of 221B Baker Street went back to their normal letters: job offers for Mr. Holmes.

There was a pole done in recent years that asked young people of today if they thought Sherlock Holmes was a real person.  Eighty percent of them said yes he was.  I tell you this so that you can take comfort in the fact that no matter how much you grieve for a characters’ death you will never be the craziest person out there.

So long as you stay away from sending condolence cards to a fictional character’s address, mourning the loss of a beloved character is normal and perfectly acceptable.  You loved them, now their gone, and you’re sad.  It’s that simple.