Updated: Aug 5, 2021
We celebrate Easter by taking a look at the theme of Resurrection in literature.
Happy Easter! It’s a time to eat lots of chocolate, take advantage of the long bank holiday weekend, and (if you’re lucky) settle down to an enormous roast dinner with people you love. But it’s also a time where themes of life, death, and life after death are more present in the collective consciousness.
So, I thought I’d look a bit closer at how some famous books and stories tackle the resurrection of some of their characters. Easter’s meant to be a happy day, so I’ve picked the more cheerful examples, rather than anything too deeply philosophical or disturbing. However, I must warn you that this post contains spoilers…
1. Harry Potter
If, like me, you are one of the Potter Generation, where you were a child waiting MONTHS for each book to come out, then Harry Potter might be the first character you think of who comes back to life. After Dumbledore has left Harry the momentous task of hunting down and killing all the bits of soul that Voldemort has secreted around the country, Harry realises that there’s one extra piece inside his own body. Realising that he has to die in order for Voldemort to be killed, he sacrifices himself and Voldemort kills him. But after a pretty strange conversation with a dead Dumbledore in a heavenly Kings Cross station, he comes back to life – Voldemort’s killing curse killed the bit of Voldemort inside Harry, leaving Harry untouched.
Rowling borrows heavily from Christian themes throughout the Potter series, making a battle between light and dark, and the need for sacrificial love, central plot points, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that the central character sacrifices himself for the greater good and is resurrected by his mysterious, enigmatic heavenly father… Rowling does a pretty great job of seeding clues throughout the rest of the books, setting up this possibility as a logical option, so readers get the best of both worlds: a favourite character coming back to life without feeling cheated.
Before there was Rowling, there was Tolkien, and another sacrificial death and resurrection. Gandalf leads the Fellowship of the Ring on a perilous journey to Mordor, to destroy the One Ring and all its enormous potential for evil – it’s of world-saving importance that their journey is successful. But fleeing from the uncanny and orc-infested Mines of Moria, they are cornered by a Balrog, a terrifying fire demon. Gandalf sends the others on ahead and stays behind to face it – cue the very well-known “YOU. SHALL. NOT. PASS!” courtesy of Sir Ian McKellen – and is pulled by it off the cliff-edge, and down many many miles to his death. Or so we think. He reappears in the next book, The Two Towers, just in time to aid the Fellowship in their fight against Saruman. Gandalf explains his resurrection as a feature of a world which has magic and powers beyond our understanding. And as very few people can claim to actually understand the entirety of the colossal world Tolkien created, his explanation stands.
3. Sherlock Holmes
Holmes’ death and resurrection are tenuous, as he faked his own death rather than actually dying, but as it’s so famous, and he pulled it off so well, I’m including it anyway. Challenged and hounded by the evil Professor Moriarty, he finds himself alone at the top of a plunging waterfall, in a fight to the death. Watson, who has been lured away from the scene, returns too late, and finds only a set of footprints leading right to the edge, and a note from Holmes explaining that he’s cornered by Moriarty and is going to die. Watson, and readers, assume that they fell over the edge together, Holmes dying in a blaze of glory, taking the world’s biggest villain with him. Conan Doyle intended this to be the actual death of Holmes – he wanted to focus on ‘better’ literary pursuits – but there was such ridiculous, hysterical outcry at his death that he caved, and wrote a couple of new stories, including a convoluted but typically Holmesian explanation for how he faked his own death.
Who doesn’t love The Princess Bride? It’s so sweet and so ridiculous. An excellent example comes in the ‘death’ of Westley. He’s been imprisoned in the Zoo of Death by the vile Prince Humperdinck, and is tortured until he dies. His comrades appear too late to save him, and carry his corpse away to Miracle Max and his wife Valerie, hoping that there might be a miracle for Westley. After much thought and clanging, they create a miracle pill, which works because, and I quote, Westley was only ‘mostly dead’. Westley survives/resurrects, and he and Buttercup are free to live happy ever after. Goldman has created such a successful parody of the arbitrary nature of happy endings in fairy-tales that we scarcely blink an eye at this miracle pill – it’s part of Goldman’s brilliance that we can acknowledge it’s completely ludicrous whilst not caring at all!
Last but not least, there’s Aslan. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the White Witch proclaims Edmund a traitor, and demands his death, according to the laws of Narnia. Aslan offers himself instead, which overjoys the Witch. She binds him, mocks him, and kills him, and leaves in triumph. But unbeknownst to her, the Old Magic of Narnia means that if an innocent victim willingly sacrifices himself in the place a guilty offender, then death reverses, new things spring and blossom, and the world is set to rights and made new. Any of this sounding familiar? Lewis wrote Narnia as an allegory for the Christian view of life, death, and resurrection, and the self-sacrifice of Aslan is a direct parallel to the self-sacrifice of Jesus. Whatever your religious beliefs, there are few more thrilling moments of nobility, compassion and love in all of literature – in fact, I might go and reread my copy now…
Blog Post Crafted by Rebecca
Background: Rebecca is one of our most popular tutors, with a degree in English from the University of Cambridge and hundreds of hours of private tuition experience in 7+, 11+, English and Maths. She is also an assessor for Titanium Tutors, observing the mock lessons taught by potential tutors and deciding whether or not they meet the high standards of the agency.