I imagine it's not a spoiler for Game of Thrones that Sean Bean dies quite early on. I also imagine that the average reader will know by this point that Boromir (that'll be Sean Bean's character in Lord of the Rings) also dies before the end of the first film. Having recently finished reading the end of the Harry Potter series, there are a fair few casualties, some more expected perhaps than others. Some characters have, by the end of their story, run their course and cannot survive without the world somehow being imbalanced. Their contribution is done, but their continued presence would somehow spoil the story that went before. Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted the Gladiator quotation on the front page in the last few days, one of the more low-key moments of that endlessly quotable film, but perhaps the single most touching moment of it. But Maximus cannot survive Commodus' death, because that alone is what drives him, his wife and son gone and waiting for him in the afterlife. There are characters in the Harry Potter books who don't seem to deserve their fate, dying in some cases for what seems to be a sort of pathos that ought to be generated in a different way. That last book also highlights the broad impossibility of making a big battle scene look good. You either go in close, or pull out to a wide angle and let the fog of war do its work. The films can do it better, because the switch in perspective is so clearly marked, but the books struggle with it. It's also hard to have a large group of people moving round together, because quite simply you have to write their names over and again, and it gets tiresome for the reader.
I have never thought about the arc of These Matters in a way that means I have the power or authority to kill off characters. They're not mine to kill, somehow. It's the story that dictates their lives and deaths, and there's a very real sense in which the story is outside or beyond me, and I only get to find out what it is in detail when I got there. Writing about dying is difficult, because the one thing anyone writing about anything hasn't done for themselves is to die. The rest of life's range of experiences are easier to get a handle on, from falling out with a parent to figuring something out or falling in love. It's therefore a genuine effort of imagination, rather than something where you just channel your experience into the book, to write about a character dying with anything like conviction. But I will confess this: when Guy Fletcher reads from the Bible as Lorenzo Calonna dies, I cry uncontrollably. It is those verses (of course, it is those verses), just as I can barely even speak the phrase "pure, lovely and of good report" any more, that set me off, but it is the scene as well. I don't praise my own writing, by the way, only that the story itself affects me here.
Writing, as I have been just recently, James Longshawe and George de Winter in book IV has been a different experience to Edward Strelley. I confess I haven't made much progress on William Pike's adventure just yet, but that will come in time. Longshawe is a simpler character, in a lot of ways, than any of the other three, loyal, clear of purpose, unable really to be dishonest. George de Winter has a kind of Cardinal Richelieu-ish quality to him, a fact which has become more apparent as time has gone on. He schemes and plots in ways that would be beyond even Strelley, but rather differently to Strelley, the world doesn't weigh on him. I can't imagine de Winter falling in love with anyone other than perhaps Mary herself, but he doesn't seem to have done so up to now. Strelley, of course, is a worrier, a deep thinker or an obsessive, depending on how you come at it. Unlike the others, when his mind won't go quiet, it pulls him apart and we see this in the snippets from the early part of book IV. Strelley seriously considers dying as a way of quieting his restless mind, stricken by what he feels for Elizabeth and what cannot be between them; not so much a suicide as a deliberate attempt to put himself in the way of fatal harm. It is this that aligns him with that restless mind about whom I have written a few times, Chris Cornell, a man who did in the end take his own life. What seems to be common is their contemplation not of the process of dying but the state of being dead, and that might somehow be better than the current state of being alive. Cornell's contemporary and briefly bandmate in Temple of the Dog, the much more famous and ultimately more successful Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, writes about suicide several times in the early days of Pearl Jam, but in each case it is the act that is significant, not the result. One need only read the lyrics to Like a Stone to understand that Cornell is the better writer by some distance, but also the one for whom fear, darkness and the reality of the end of his own life are tangible, not merely for the purpose of selling records. I wrote the dedication to No Evil from those lyrics: "For all that I've blessed and all that I've wronged..." Perhaps they are the same people, those that I've blessed and those that I've wronged. I can only hope that the former category outnumbers and outweighs the latter.
I do not fear Strelley's suicide, though. It is not, in the end, a part of who he is to consider taking his own life. I do fear - with some justification - that he will encounter such dangerous situations that not even my authorial intervention will be able to save him from himself. In terms of choices I have definitely made, one of very few that I didn't see coming was my decision to send Guy Fletcher to him in the south west, because Fletcher (he has matured, it seems, from 'Guy' to 'Fletcher' in book IV) has the power to draw Strelley back from the brink of self-destruction. I don't need him dead, because the long plan involves him. I can't yet see how his future will pan out, whether he will find any peace in the future. But that will have to wait, because for now book IV calls.
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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought