In the second part of our Halloween Week extravaganza, the fantastic Lucy Hounsom provides us with her top three bizarre deaths.
Lucy's debut Starborn, the first part of The Worldmaker Trilogy, is out now in hardback. The Independent on Sunday said it 'Has all the elements to become a modern classic of the genre' and we wholeheartedly agree. Click the picture for an extract!
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Literature is full of people dying horribly, mysteriously, or suddenly. I’ve picked out just three for your delectation, all very different but equally macabre.
Whether it’s falling from the top of Orthanc onto a spike as depicted by Peter Jackson, or having his throat slit by his long-time servant Wormtongue in the text of The Return of the King, Saruman certainly gets what’s coming to him. Jackson’s version might be gruesome, but I think the fate Tolkien reserved for Saruman is worse. As one of the Maiar, Saruman cannot truly die. Instead of returning to rest in the Halls of Mandos, his spirit must wander ‘whither so-ever it was doomed to go.’ Our last sight of Saruman isn’t a pleasant one either. Frodo looks down at the body and sees that ‘long years of death were suddenly revealed in it, and it shrank, and the shrivelled face became rags of skin upon a hideous skull.’ Nice.
This is the protagonist of ‘The Secret Miracle’, a chilling short story by Borges, who is a real master of psychological horror. Hladik, a Jewish writer, is sentenced to death by firing squad during the Third Reich. Terrified by the prospect of dying at the hands of machine guns, he torments himself with images so that in his head, he ‘died hundreds of deaths in courtyards…machine gunned by soldiers…who at times killed him from a distance, at others from close by.’
The true horror of this story, however, comes when Hladik begs God for one more year to complete his unfinished play. God grants his wish and leaves Hladik frozen in the moment before his death. Paralysed like the soldiers, Hladik writes the play in his head. Once the final line is done, time unfreezes, the soldiers shoot and Hladik dies.
Edgar Allan Poe
Poe needs no introduction. His many stories from ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ to ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ are full of gruesome endings. But perhaps the most mysterious and intriguing death of all is Poe’s own. Found wandering the streets of Baltimore in clothes that weren’t his, an acquaintance, Snodgrass, described his face as “haggard, not to say bloated, and unwashed, his hair unkempt, and his whole physique repulsive.” Poe was taken to hospital where he died a few days later. On the night before his death, he repeatedly cried out the name “Reynolds”, though no one knows for certain to whom he referred. All medical records have mysteriously vanished.
It doesn’t end there. Not only was Poe buried in a shoddy coffin, his headstone, paid for by his cousin, never reached the site, but was destroyed when a train derailed and crashed into the yard where it had been made. Poor Poe was also dug up and later reburied and, once the exhumers had located the right grave (more controversy), his skull was said to be in excellent condition and immediately recognisable.
Do you have any favourite gruesome literary (or in Poe’s case actual) deaths? Because I want to hear them!