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Author Topic: Fantasy Books with a Proven Afterlife - Is Death Still Scary?  (Read 2398 times)

Offline Peat

Re: Fantasy Books with a Proven Afterlife - Is Death Still Scary?
« Reply #15 on: October 24, 2016, 10:19:24 PM »
Xiagan and Raptori hit my first point; the fear for those you leave behind is still very real.

My second - somewhat quibbling -  how do people know they're going to the nice afterlife?

Assuming that everyone knows though beyond reasonable doubt that life after death is pretty cushty - and while there's plenty of ways you can do its real but people don't accept this, I think that runs somewhat counter to the spirit of the question - then yes, that takes some of the fear away.

There is still the fear of dying with things left undone though and still the fear of dying really painfully. I don't think those things go away. If you're Epic McHero and your quest is going wrong, you're not going to be all "Welp, time to try some of that divine ambrosia", you'll be "Oh crap, they're about feed me to wild shrews while playing Justin Bieber covers of smooth jazz while they destroy everything I ever loved".

Coffin dodger on their deathbed after all their generation has passed on and they've said goodbye to the family though? Yeah, they might not be trying too hard to hold on.
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Offline Lady Ty

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Re: Fantasy Books with a Proven Afterlife - Is Death Still Scary?
« Reply #16 on: October 25, 2016, 12:12:53 AM »
In my world (as my advance reader pointed out) people have concrete evidence that souls persist beyond death and there is, in fact, a rather pleasant afterlife. It is a proven fact. There is absolutely no doubt.

Many comments here are based on the certainty, or not, and the actual nature of this pleasant afterlife and reactions to death in your world will be affected by this. @tebakutis, without spoiling, please can you give us a bit more detail ?

I did wonder if "pleasant" could be a bit boring, and therefore unattractive, even if not actually unpleasant. We need to know more as with the queries here from @Nora  Apologies, bad scrolling @night_wrtr

For me, the follow would stand out to me if I were a character in your story:
You mention that the afterlife is a pleasant one, but how does it compare to the physical existence? Can they feel, can they indulge in the things that they did when they were once mortal? do they have the same degree of relationships or connections to others? Do they get the same exhilaration for certain experiences? Can a spirit get a thrill or the excitement of risk that they once had? Once a spirit, what exactly is there to risk? Would I long for my physical existence once I became a spirit, because of the things I can no longer do; or never got to do, or the emotions that I will never have because I am no longer mortal?

« Last Edit: October 25, 2016, 01:13:02 AM by Lady_Ty »
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Offline D_Bates

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Re: Fantasy Books with a Proven Afterlife - Is Death Still Scary?
« Reply #17 on: October 25, 2016, 01:13:39 AM »
So yeah, this is a fun one for reasons I won't state.

I guess I'll by also stating that I'm classified as an atheist, though I have a deep respect (read envy) for those who are religious and believe in an afterlife. There's nothing I wish I could change more about myself than that.

It's not really a question you should need to ask, because no matter what you classify yourself as, death is something everybody will experience at some point. For me, the terror is not so much about the body, but the consciousness.

Most people, I suspect, hate their body. At middle age I came to accept that there comes a point where it stops growing and starts breaking down. The fact that so many fill it with piercings, tattoos, drugs, alcohol, cosmetics, surgery etc attests to that. I can certainly live without my body, but my fear is to no longer exist in a conscious respect.

Nothing terrifies me more than when I go to sleep, and then I wake up, and 6-10 hours have just disappeared. That to me is what death is, except I don't ever wake up. So knowing for certain that there is an afterlife where my consciousness continues, whatever it may, would definitely have a huge impact on my living existance.

If I go into personal mode and open myself up to ridicule, I used to suffer from huge depression because of this. Past my 30's, still living with my parents, having never had a relationship and none likely ever on the horizon, and never being motivated towards a career or ever hoping I could achieve one, I often wondered what the point of life was. It's why I started writing, not to make easy money, or fame, or to get that big movie deal, but legacy. In a morbid way, I'm preparing for the day my consciousness ceases to exist, by trying to leave something behind that people will remember me by. For me, something that sells 10000 copies in a year and is forgetton isn't good enough. I want my work to be the stuff that's still being read centuries from now.

Reading through comments here, I don't think the likes of martyrs don't fear death. In some cases they believe themselves already dead and just want to go out on a statement. In others they believe that whatever death holds is better than their life. That's rather similar to standard suicide victims, which is an indictment of modern living, and makes you wonder why there are not more literary works that explore suicide as a serious primary theme--one for my notebook!

I'm surprised at those who say they don't fear death, but rather the effect they're death may have on their loved ones. Noble as it is, I do wonder how honest it is. And, because I'm a bastard, let's challenge it with a simple scenario:
Your standing on a train platform, the train is coming in, and your loved one comes over dizzy and falls onto the tracks. You are capable of saving them, but in doing so, will end up dying in their place. What do you do?
Now, to quote xiagan only because he summed it up as neatly and cleanly as possible:
"It's the impact my death has on my loved ones that I fear, not death itself."
Such a statement suggests that the logical course of action would be to let your loved one perish, because allowing them to continue to live while you are dead is far worse fate than what death itself holds, correct? Yet I doubt very much that's what many here would do. So if you wouldn't, then what is it you fear more than the impact of your death on your loved ones?
When you consider what lengths people will go to in order to preserve and lengthen the lives of those they care for, even if it means shortening their own, is the fear of somebody else dying and what that death represents not a fear of death in and of itself?

Touching on religions aspect, one thing to note is, while they all have their own vision of a paradise afterlife, they also all have a criteria that has to be met in your real life in order to get a ticket in, one that usually involved promoting the religion and the idealogies of those who run it. Likewise, many have the alternative damnation for those who don't follow those life choices...

Which is funny really, since, like a crafty salesman, the paradise is tapping into that desire for continued consciousness that everybody wants to hook you in, so you'd think the bad version would just be flat out erasure. In a strange way, an eternity of damnation is still better than no longer existing at all.

But the point is, they need that mandate of living this life included, because the moment the afterlife becomes better than real life, what reason is there to live? Going into your world, Eric, if your characters know that when they die they will be reunited with their lost loved ones in a paradise known to exist and be waiting for them, why not just commit suicide after somebody they want to be with passes on? There's almost a masochistic streak running in somebody who loses one they care for, so much that their own life is a husk of its former self, yet knows where this loved one is and how to reunite with them, but chooses instead to torture themselves in this empty existence until it's 'their time' to join them. Does that make any sense?

Wow this is long. Apologies for babbling or to any I may have offended on what is no doubt a touchy subject for many.
« Last Edit: October 25, 2016, 01:16:50 AM by D_Bates »
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Offline xiagan

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Re: Fantasy Books with a Proven Afterlife - Is Death Still Scary?
« Reply #18 on: October 25, 2016, 04:12:02 AM »
Great post, D_Bates.
To answer your dilemma. Yes, if there is only one loved one to consider and if knowing that your death would destroy them but you know that you would suffer but be more resilient, the cognitive decision would be to let them die (if only one of you could make it). Of course, decisions like this are to a huge amount emotional and there are other loved ones to consider, so you never know what you'll do in the end. Hopefully no such situation will ever arrive...

If old people who lived a full life pass, I don't grieve for them but for the hole they left in their loved ones.

I'm an atheist too and don't believe the mind can live on without the body. Knowing that there is only this life doesn't freeze me in crippling anxiety or depression but leads me to embrace it to the fullest (not always ofc, I have bad days too!).

I agree with your points about Eric's world. If there really is no doubt that a pleasant afterlife with your already passed on loved ones awaits you, suicide would be a lot higher.
It wouldn't be far fetched to assume that important people would take their partners or staff with them (like it was/is done in some cultures - ancient Egypt? Parts of India?).
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Fantasy Books with a Proven Afterlife - Is Death Still Scary?
« Reply #19 on: October 25, 2016, 05:44:40 AM »
A whole lotta good points have been made here already that I want to +1 - like the increased incidence of euthanasia (though possibly not "suicide" per se, since wanting to stop / cease to exist would not be helped by knowing that you're not going to, you're going to end up conscious in a damn afterlife ugh).

And I want to +1 a point that I think Nora made above, about reluctance to die being tied to experiencing the world. This resonates with me personally. For the purposes of this discussion, I'm functionally atheist, inasmuch as I have no beliefs about an afterlife. It doesn't matter to me. I'm not afraid of what comes after (though the pain/struggle aspect of dying doesn't appeal) but I'm not ready to stop experiencing the world. There's still too much of it that interests me. (And, to be honest, the idea of an afterlife sort of fatigues me. It's like spending all your potions on a boss fight only to find out there's another level of the game. Though I might feel differently about that if I'd know all along that that next level was coming.)

For another aspect: when my father died after a long fight with cancer, his dying concerns were for my mother and how she would get on without him. Having the ability to chat with him would be lovely, but it doesn't help her clean the gutters or change the car's oil, y'know?

Offline tebakutis

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Re: Fantasy Books with a Proven Afterlife - Is Death Still Scary?
« Reply #20 on: October 25, 2016, 03:00:57 PM »
Such a deep well of awesome thoughts. Thanks all! I honestly think you've helped me solve my problem.

Even though I'm three books into the series, while I have established that Soulmages can speak to those who've moved on and that an afterlife exists, I have only revealed this in specific cases to specific people, so I think I can still develop how people view in the third book without contradicting anything that came before. I've also never specified how much information my people have about the actual afterlife in any of the prose, so I can easily (in the third book) call out that they don't have much at all. Based on the suggestions people have offered, here's my thoughts on what would still make death a scary thing to the average person:

Uncertainty About the Nature of the Afterlife
This is the easiest to establish, I think, because I've never officially said how common Soulmages are. My thoughts have always been that they have never been numerous, even among my magic academies, and those who attend magic academies are a tiny fraction of the population. So the average person has never actually *met* a Soulmage in person (we're saying 0.01% of the population) and those who aren't familiar with magic academies and disciplines may have heard of them as rumors, at most. Therefore, the average person (and I'm talking my farmers, general peasantry, and townsfolk) still have quite a bit of uncertainty about *what* happens when they die. Is it pleasant? Is it boring? Is it dark and cold? No one really knows.

Secondly, while I've established that Soulmages can talk to those beyond, I've never explicitly specified how they handle those discussions. Readers of the first book see Jair (one of the Soulmages) talk to a soul or two, but I've never said how common that is. So I think I can easily say that Soulmages are very close-mouthed about what the afterlife is like, even to fellow students of magic. Is that because the Five forbid them from talking about it? Is it because they don't want to worry people? Again, uncertainty.

I've also established some additional uncertainties - not all souls can be contacted, and not even the Soulmages know why. Also, it is known that anyone who died more than 300 years ago has never been contacted ... why is that? What happens after 300 years in the afterlife? Again, no one knows, so the uncertainty remains. I think this does a good job of selling uncertainty and therefore, worry.

Regret for Leaving Things Unfinished
In the third book (hopefully generic enough to not be too spoilery) one of my characters actually *does* travel to the afterlife, and while I don't explicitly call it out, it's evident that those who die are not progressing in age or experience. So I will play that up and have the person think about it in a way that will cause the reader to consider it too.

As I've presented my afterlife, it remains a sort of limbo, in that you don't age. So for someone who died young (for example) they remain young in the Heavens - like Peter Pan, they'll never grow up. So let's say you never had a first kiss, or a first love, or never got married, or never had a child (or whatever your life goals are) before you died. You'll never get the chance to do that, and everyone only gets one shot at life (no reincarnation). So this is a downside to the afterlife I can play up during my character's visit.

This means that death becomes less frightening as you grow older (someone who has done most of what they want may not be as scared as someone who's still very young and has a full life ahead of them) but again, due to the uncertainty I've established by leaving the *specifics* of the afterlife unknown, people would still have reservations, especially younger folks. It means giving up the chance to experience life.

The fact that not all souls can be contacted (and no one knows why) also lends some uncertainty. Are those souls simply not responding? Or did the violate some unknown rule, and as a consequence, they were not allowed into the afterlife at all? These uncertainties would eat at folks, as there could be a fear that they've trangressed against the Five and might not even know why/how.

Only the (Main) Characters Have this Knowledge
In my second book, one character gets confirmation (from someone he doesn't expect) that his family is safe and happy in the afterlife, but it's possible that person could be lying, since they aren't exactly trustworthy. And the main characters have all had some interesting insights into death (trying to avoid first book spoilers) but they are unique ... again, the average person lacks this insight. So while my main characters might feel slightly less worried about death, due to knowing there's somewhere they'll go after, again, the average person is still going to be worried/nervous/uncertain. I think I can still sell that.

So, again, thanks for all the insights and deep thoughts. This is still totally workable. Also, it's a really interesting discussion. :)

Offline m3mnoch

Re: Fantasy Books with a Proven Afterlife - Is Death Still Scary?
« Reply #21 on: October 25, 2016, 03:24:46 PM »
man.  such a good, good pondering post.

i keep having thoughts, then need to wait until i have time to write them down.  then, someone posts about the same or newer thoughts.  then, i have even newer ones, but need to wait until i get a chance to write something. 

at this point, it's obvious, i'm going to just have to splat my way in here.

anyway, aside from the vigorous agreement, the only original thing i think i can add is "what about purgatory?"  it can handle awkwardness about the afterlife knowledge AND add interest to the soulmage abilities.

basically, you can have a holding pen for souls before they're sorted and shuttled off to the the realm of one of gods. (or wherever)  this way, the soulmage-soul relationship works while the soul is in purgatory, but once the soul is gone -- nobody really knows what happens to them.

you can introduce the concept of being judged before you get shuttled off to wherever you deserve.  this will keep the suicides in line along with the mindless deaths.  (can you imagine the effect that'd have if we all KNEW you'd be judged and by whom?!)  it'll add multi-god flavor.  priest recruiting tactics.  information wars.  etc.

also, it can add some ambiguity/limits on your soulmages.  their power could depend on who was available -- whether in quantity or cardinality -- in purgatory at that moment/place.

Offline Kaybee

Re: Fantasy Books with a Proven Afterlife - Is Death Still Scary?
« Reply #22 on: October 26, 2016, 08:10:33 PM »
My first thoughts are that yes, there would still be fear in death, especially if, as you said, there's still separation. It isn't as though late Grandpa John can still gather with us all for Sunday brunch and give us his wise advice, with the only difference is that he's been made young again and appears somewhat transparent to our eyes.

It's scary and sad to actually separate from people and lives we're familiar with. Even if we look forward to the next step beyond our familiar world, we have ways of always putting it off and only liking it from a distance, because we so want to cling to the familiar. Kind of like the family who always planned to move to the tropics and start up a diving school, but never quite did, and stayed as accountants in small town temperate zone USA instead.

In the same way a high school graduate knows there's life after high school and looks forward to the next life adventure, he can still be full of apprehension when the time actually comes to tour the huge unfamiliar university and walk through new dorms full of strangers.

And as others have mentioned, it isn't always death itself, but whether it will be physically painful. Will there be a long slow decline in a body no longer able to enjoy life? Will there be air hunger? Will there be pain that can't be alleviated while the death takes its time shedding the body? Imagine if going from an okay high school to a fabulous college meant complete separation from home town friends (no phone calls or emails), and the way to get there is unknown, and could be painful, miserable, involve entrapment for months or even years in a painful body... and then the paradise of college would at last be reached.
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