I want to make up for leaving this space empty for two weeks while I gallivanted about England, and Shawna Reppert hasd kindly consented to help. We talked with Shawna back in May about her novel The Stolen Luck. This time, psychopomp, she guides us on a trip in quite another direction, into the mysteries and conventions of death, and the return therefrom.
The year died yesterday. At least, it did on the Celtic calendar where the festival of Samhain (later Christianized to All Hallow’s Eve, or Hallowe’en) marks the end of the old year. In Mexico, today is the start of Dia de los Muertos, when the memories of loved ones are honored and spirits are said to walk the Earth. It’s a good time to think about the power of the death/rebirth cycle in fiction, one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s toolbox.
The death can be literal— Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Wesley in The Princess Bride. It can be a ‘near-death’ experience where a character faces great peril and is believed by other characters to be dead— Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes in His Last Bow. (Though the latter is a special case as Doyle claims to have originally intended to leave the detective dead.) It can even be a symbolic death where the character loses everything he holds dear and comes through the experience transformed for good or ill. Loki in the first Thor movie discovered that everything that he thought he knew about his identity was wrong, and as a result becomes the very worst of what people expected of him. Even Scrooge’s brush with the afterlife in the visitation by ghosts and witnessing his own future grave and the subsequent transformation could be considered a symbolic death and rebirth.
On a simple level, the death/rebirth sequence is a catalyst for the character to change. And really, that’s what fiction is all about. Who wants to read a story where nothing happens? Having a character die (or almost-die) is a great way to raise the stakes, increasing tension. It also plays with a reader’s emotions, taking them from the depths of despair when they think the hero is dead to the heights of joy when the hero returns. To make it work, the danger needs to feel real. It’s stronger if the resurrection comes at a cost.
The tenth Doctor’s regeneration in the long-running BBC TV series Doctor Who carried more impact than any of his predecessors because he raged so hard against it. The earlier Doctors seemed to accept regeneration as at worst an annoyance. David Tennant’s Doctor makes it clear that he considers regeneration as a form of personal death, even though his mind and memories will continue in a new body.
In my urban fantasy Ravensblood, the first death/rebirth sequence comes relatively early in the novel, when Raven’s long-buried conscience will no longer allow him to serve William Blanchard, a dark mage who would overthrow the elected government and set up his own rule by power and fear. Raven survives, but he still suffers from the attempt. The new role into which he is metaphorically reborn— that of spy in William’s camp— comes with the threat of a death far more gruesome than the one he would have chosen for himself.
When a writer uses the death/rebirth sequence, they tap into powerful resonances, from the Stag God who is hunter and hunted and feeds the people with his death, to Osiris murdered and dismembered by Set and reassembled and resurrected by his wife, to Odin hanging on the World Tree, and Christ dying on the cross and rising again. It is the cycle of nature, the reality of our existence, the grain that is reaped in autumn and rises again as green shoots in spring. Readers may or may not consciously recognize the reference, but on a subconscious level it strikes a powerful cord. The death and rebirth cycle joins modern fiction with the power of myths older than time.
More about RavensbloodIn a life of impossible choices when sometimes death magic is the lesser of the evils, can a dark mage save the world and his own soul?
Corwyn Ravenscroft. Raven. The last heir of an ancient family of dark mages, he holds the secret to recreating the Ravensblood, a legendary magical artifact of immense power.
Cassandra Greensdowne is a Guardian. Magical law enforcement for the elected council— and Raven’s former apprentice and lover. She is trying to live down her past. And then her past comes to the door, asking for her help.
As a youth, Raven wanted to be a Guardian but was rejected because of his ancestry. In his pride and his anger, he had turned to William, the darkest and most powerful mage of their time. William wants a return to the old ways, where the most powerful mage was ruler absolute. But William would not be a True King from the fairy tales. He would reign in blood and terror and darkest magic.
Raven discovers that he does have a conscience. It’s rather inconvenient. He becomes a spy for the council that William wants to overthrow, with Cassandra as his contact. Cass and Raven have a plan to trap William outside his warded sanctuary. But William is one step ahead of the game, with Raven’s life, his soul, and the Ravensblood all in danger.
Ravensblood is available here!
More about Shawna Reppert
From earliest childhood, Shawna Reppert has had a passion for stories – for reading them and for writing them. She obtained a BA in English with a Writing Option from Penn State University and has participated in numerous writing workshops and seminars given by the likes of Charles de Lint, David Farland and Elizabeth Lyon. Two of her stories have won honorable mentions from Writers of the Future. Previous short stories sold to "10 Flash Quarterly" and to "Everyday Fiction". Several ‘indie’ short stories are available for sale at Amazon, and her story ‘The Beast Within’ appears in the steampunk anthology Gears and Levers 2 edited by Phyllis Irene Radford. Her first novel The Stolen Luck came out as a Carina Press e-book in May 2013 and is also available in Audible format.
In college, Shawna volunteered at a raptor rehabilitation center, which became valuable background for her short story "The Sword and the Kestrel". Shawna has always had an affinity for wolves, and used to keep a wolf-dog hybrid as a pet, giving her first-hand experience to put the wolf in her werewolves. Her current four-footed children are a Lipizzan stallion and an orange-and-black cat named Samhain. She enjoys Irish social dancing and is an ardent supporter of live Irish music. Shawna also likes to play with the Society for Creative Anachronism and can sometimes be found in medieval garb on a caparisoned horse, throwing javelins into innocent hay bales that never did anything to her.
A Pennsylvania native, she currently lives in the beautiful wine county of Oregon.