Resurrection of Characters

A common quest in fantasy series is the concept of ‘Resurrection’.  A hero has fallen and the remaining warriors go to revive him.  The main villain has been killed and there is now a plan to bring him back to life through a dark ritual.  The funny thing is that a lot of people groan about this quest.  It’s almost like you can’t win if you kill a character off because people will be upset if they stay dead and others will be upset if you bring them back.  Others will get annoyed if you refuse to kill anyone off.  Let’s face it: death in fiction is a heavy burden for the author, especially if the story continues after the character in question is killed.

So, how can you kill a character and have a suitable ‘resurrection’?  There are many methods that you can use and here are four of the easier ones:


If it’s good enough for Obi Wan Kenobi then it’s good enough for nearly everybody. A ghost can be used in multiple ways. Either as a mentor or an enraged spirit that has it in for former allies.  This isn’t a true resurrection because the character remains dead through the events.  An alternate of this is a zombie that can appear randomly or enslaved to the opposing side.

Miracle Max from Princess Bride

Miracle Max from Princess Bride

Mostly Dead

A funny thing in fantasy is that average characters aren’t always the best at telling when someone is dead.  At least without a clear wound.  I refer you to the picture and video above for more explanation of the details.  Plots like this can result in a quest for an item to revive their fallen ally or they’re forced to leave the afflicted behind.  The character is removed from the story with an opening to return if people want it.  Yes, this is the ‘in a coma’ storyline.

No Body

There’s a rule in fiction: No body, no confirmation of death.  Though, I think there are a few real world jobs that this refers to also.  A character might fall into an abyss and everyone assumes he or she is dead.  Then the character returns later and explains a harrowing survival.  Best example would be Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.  I will warn you that this is a trick that you probably only want to do once in a short series.  Twice is a possibility on a long series, but you have to be careful.

Rebirth Ritual

A character truly dies and is somehow reborn through a ritual.  This is typically a villain approach when a main villain or top minion dies.  Normally, this takes up an entire book and there’s an established system of magic to support this.  If there has been no magic or ritualistic ceremonies in the world then it’ll be harder to rationalize this.  A very important part of the Rebirth Ritual is that you need a combination of components, a rare item, and a special location.  This isn’t something that should be accomplished with kitchen ingredients in the living room.

Can you think of any other resurrection methods?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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15 Responses to Resurrection of Characters

  1. Kate Sparkes says:

    I have an “almost-mostly dead” character, but it’s clear that her body’s still alive, if just barely. More of a Sleeping Beauty than a Westley. 🙂

    I generally dislike it when characters are brought back from the dead, as it seems like the author killed them off for shock value or to rip readers’ hearts out, but then couldn’t carry on without that character (especially if the death is a cliffhanger and the character comes back quickly). That said, in the right context and with a proper explanation, it can work for a story. You’ve done a great job outlining the options here, and I suspect that if this is a trick you’ve got up your sleeve, it’ll be quite enjoyable.


    • I always wondered if someone tried to hold Sleeping Beauty’s nose to wake her up at some point.

      Resurrection is a tough trick to pull off and not get crap for it. I think the revolving door on the afterlife that comic books use puts it in a jokey category at times. As you said, context is key with this. I keep thinking back to Gandalf even though he didn’t die. It resulted in him coming back different, which I think is a major point if one uses this plot event.


  2. L. Marie says:

    There’s the Tleilaxu ghola clone method in Dune, ala Duncan Idaho.


  3. M T McGuire says:

    The old parallel universe trick? That way you can have the goodies as baddies and the baddies as goodies if you like, as well.


  4. IN SF and comics, there’s always the clone. Clones can have all the memories of the original, possibly allowing the character to be rejuvenated (if they were elderly). Or the clone may have none of those memories, thus raising the question of culpability, ie: could a clone of Stalin be held responsible for the gulags? Villains can also clone heroes and make them their best minions. Just look at Spider-Man’s history with clones for an idea of the possibilities. Or find a copy of C. J. Cherry’s Cyteen series, where the clone of a world leader struggles to become her own person.

    Or there’s body-switching, whether by magical or technological means. Heroes can become villains, their friends unaware. Villains can take over third persons in order to be undetected. Lots of possibilities there, too. There’s room for a lot of creativity. Again, look at Spider-Man, where in some of the titles Dr. Octopus has “occupied” Peter Parker’s body with all its powers. And, at the end of the third X-men movie, it appeared Professor X had inhabited the body of a brain-dead man.


    • I still have nightmares about the Spider-Clone Saga. I made it to the end of that one. That’s really the only positive thing I took from the entire debacle. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about Spider-Ock too, but I heard Peter is back.

      Sounds like clones are an abused plot twist in comics. At least with Marvel. I know DC does it every now and then, but I don’t hear that much fallout when it’s done.


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