This piece was written after Guil's death was posted in the Emerald City forums.
Modern fairytales are sanitized. They all end "happily ever after". Many modern cinematic and literary heroes are left with no ultimate ending. They ride off into the sunset with the rewards for their heroism.
Older, more powerful stories, don't end that way. Modern versions may stop at the victory, but what happens to the character next? And what of real-life heroes? Their stories aren't over with the dramatic moments.
Our characters are heroes. We play them to be the hero. But they don't get happy endings either. There's always another story, another challenge, rather it be an all-encompassing one that effects many, or a smaller, more personal one. Oh, we can choose, in this medium, to give our characters a happy ending. We can have them ride off into the sunset. Or we can keep playing them. They may die. If we maintain any sort of realism, they will die, sometime. Even the ones who don't age can die.
Guilford Yates is dead. Although I knew it was coming, it didn't stop me from reacting to reading the scene of his death. It was an epic, dramatic death. He died the way he would have wanted to, defending the Camarilla. Many of you knew Guilford as a point of frustration. He held exacting standards, and was difficult, especially for youngsters, to deal with. But he was an epic character. He was a man of a bygone era who had adapted to the modern world enough to be able to use a computer in his work, but not enough to fail to rise when a lady entered a room. He had, long ago, nearly lost his life in the defense of the Union that he loved. He died in defense of the Camarilla, another institution that he loved.
When I created Guilford, he wasn't meant to be a Prince. I expected him to become a primogen. He didn't have the power, not really, to be a proper Prince. I often wondered how much more I could have gotten away with taking. Would he have held up better as Prince if I had pushed for more in the stats department? Probably not. I didn't enjoy playing the Prince. But Guilford wouldn't have backed down from that, and so I kept up with it, for the integrity of the character, as well as for other reasons.
It's funny how characters change as we play them. Guil's loyalty to the Camarilla emphasized more during play than I had expected. But the real surprise to me as a player was the depth of his feeling for his wife. Nearly a hundred years after her death, he was still deeply, even passionately, in love with his wife. It was something I hadn't planned on, something I didn't write into the original character concept, but something that so suited him it came out during play, over and over again.
But how many people really knew that? How many people understood the depth of his loyalty to the Camarilla? How about his deep and passionate patriotism? Raina saw that, in a scene with one of the Ventrue visitors.
Vampires are monsters. But they are also, as many of us play them, protagonists. Tragic heroes in a sense, since they cannot be wholly noble and remain what they are. But isn't part of heroism overcoming one's flaws? Going beyond weaknesses, to greatness?
Guilford Yates got the end he deserved. Is that more satisfying than saying he "lived happily ever after"? It is for me. There might have been a chance to have him transferred, moved up in rank, given a different position of honor, or necessity for the Camarilla. I could have asked for that. But it wouldn't have been as satisfying.
I think "happily ever after" leaves a lot to be desired. You don't really get an ending. Good heroes should have endings. One of my favorites is the true ending of Robin Hood. It doesn't end with King Richard coming in, everything being put right, and Robin riding off with Marian as his wife. Many versions, and almost all modern ones, end there. But King Richard died, and John became King, and Robin grew old. The story ends with Robin on his deathbed, firing one final arrow into the air, to mark the place he will be buried. Sad? Yes, but satisfying.
A few modern fictional heroes have died dramatically, as they lived. Maximus in Gladiator comes to mind. Few modern stories let their heroes age, fade out, and eventually die. Recently I read about Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier one last time at an airshow at Edwards, where he broke it the first time. He said that though he will continue to fly, this is the last time he will pull off that stunt. There's an aging hero, fading into less drama, but a multitude of memories. John Glenn's triumphant return to space as a senior citizen is another example of an aging hero putting a capstone on his life.
How do your characters' stories end? Any time I retire a character, especially a beloved or powerful one (not powerful in terms of "kewl powerz", but powerful in a moving, dramatic, literary sense), I consider that. I write them an ending, though it may never be put on a page. If I can't think of an ending, those sorts of characters, the really good ones, haunt me. At least until I can think of an ending for them. Do they go out the way they lived, fighting for something they believed in? Do they die tragically? Or do they fade into darkness?
Guilford's ending is ultimately satisfying because he died the way he had to. He was just not the sort to fade into darkness. I couldn't leave him to that sort of ending, though it suits some characters.
All good stories deserve endings. Guilford had his. Others, well. . .
In the words of Tennyson's Ulysses, on the fading out of elder heroes:
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