Yesterday was Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, a holiday celebrating Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead three days after his crucifixion. Putting aside the obligatory secular statement that the story of Jesus’s resurrection is just as fictional as other resurrection stories (which it is), I’d like to write a bit about the resurrection of heroes in fiction. Resurrection is so common in fiction that TV Tropes has a whole list of resurrection tropes, and though I cannot address all of the items on that list, I want to share some of my thoughts on some of the different types of sacrifice-and-resurrection stories about heroes and why I believe we human beings enjoy the resurrection trope in fiction so much.
There are what I’ll refer to as the symbolic sacrificial resurrections, the ones in which the character does not actually die, but is willing to die, usually for some cause that they are fighting for. Other characters and the audience may believe for some time period (whether a few minutes, a few episodes, or in between seasons or movies) that the character is dead, but it is later revealed that they weren’t really dead at all. There have been various superhero stories (including some recent movies) which include this symbolic resurrection. Recent instances which come to mind are Bruce Wayne (Batman) in The Dark Knight Risesand Tony Stark (Iron Man) in The Avengers. In both of these movies, the audience is lead to believe that the character has sacrificed himself, but he turns out to be alive. (In the case of Bruce Wayne, it’s interesting to note that Alfred Pennyworth reads the closing passage of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, a story in which resurrection is a main theme and in which a character goes willingly to his death at the end, at Wayne’s grave: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”) There’s also Harry Potter, who (if one accepts the in-universe rule that no magic can raise the dead) comes back after almost dying. He believes he is walking to his death, but a bit of magic prevents him from dying completely. Including these symbolic resurrections can be a way include the symbolism of sacrifice, whether in reference to the Biblical story or not, without breaking the rule that people can’t come back from the dead. I’ve mentioned before that these symbolic references in the story (whether religious or not) often leads me to find more meaning in these near-death pseudo-resurrections, because without the symbolism, the narrative can seem like a convenient plot device to force a happy ending. These near-death sacrificial scenarios of heroes show characters who were willing to die but who ultimately end up surviving. They may end up bloodied and require a visit to the intensive care unit at the local hospital (where there will likely be some other character waiting worriedly at their bedside) but they come out of the encounter very much alive. The sacrificial element is about their bravery and willingness to lose their lives for the cause they are fighting for.
As an aside, in accordance with the First Law of Resurrection (“If the creator wants to bring back a dead character, then that character will come back”), there are also what I’ll refer to as the authorial retcon sacrificial resurrections, which an author didn’t plan but ended up writing; the character was actually killed off, but then the author decided to bring them back later, either through actual resurrection or with a retcon (retroactive continuity) explanation of why the character hadn’t actually died. Perhaps the most famous instance of this is the resurrection of Sherlock Holmes, who his creator Arthur Conan Doyle killed off in “The Final Problem” and brought back in “The Adventure of the Empty House”. Kyle Freeman, in his introduction to Volumes II of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, notes somewhat humorously that, “It wasn’t long before Conan Doyle decided—perhaps after a wistful look at his bank balance—that the enforced absence of his sleuth had gone on for too long. In 1903 he called on his friend Dr. Watson once more for another series of stories about his colleague, and in October 1903 the Strand published ‘The Adventure of the Empty House.’ There it was revealed, almost plausibly, that only Moriarty had gone over the falls at Reichenbach. Thus readers learned to their delight that they would be treated to many more adventures of the world’s greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes.” He also writes that the new Holmes stories, post-resurrection, had some differences than the earlier ones. One could argue that there are many other resurrection stories which fall into this category, but most are not as clear as the case of Holmes. These types of resurrections are usually written after a decision to kill off a character for good, and may be written for various reasons, fandom interest in a particular character leading to an acute awareness on the part of creators that the popularity of the character would cause sequels to make more money than a different original story would. Less cynically, there are also times when an author has a new idea for continuing a story about a particular character or world and decides to come up with a way to bring the character back.
Then, there are the in-story sacrificial resurrections, in which the hero actually does die within the narrative and comes back through some contrivance, whether technological or magical. In J.R.R. Tolkin’s The Lord of the Rings, the wizard Gandalf the Grey dies at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm in Moria and comes back from the dead as Gandalf the White, surprising Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas. There are those who come back through medical means, such as James Kirk in the most recent Star Trek film Into Darkness (brought back through the use of the blood of Khan Noonien Singh) and Neelix in the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Mortal Coil” (brought back to life after being dead for over eighteen hours through the use of Borg nanoprobes). All three of these characters (and other besides) sacrifice themselves in some way during the course of their journey, whether to directly save their friends or in the course of their work as part of a team. Of these, Gandalf’s is perhaps includes the most Christian symbolism (understandably, given the religious beliefs of the author). His experience seems to have changed him. In the case of James Kirk, his sacrifice to save the USS Enterprise mirrors that of his father, who died in the previous film, and signals that Kirk has grown as a character and understands the responsibility of being a leader and Captain. Neelix dies in the course of his work as part of Voyager’s crew, and his resurrection leads him to have a spiritual crisis, because he didn’t go to the afterlife he believes in to be reunited with his family after his death. Each story is different despite containing the trope.
Resurrection can be handled in a variety of ways, from humorous to serious to technical (or some combination of these and other things) and can have a variety of meanings and messages. There are different ways to tell the story, different motivations which may play a role in deciding to write the story a certain way, and different themes which result from those motivations and choices. In this essay, I’m focusing on the subcategory of character who’ve died a sacrificial death in some way, so there is often a message that these characters died while doing something good. The character themselves react differently to their death and resurrection. Some don’t know it’s coming while others knowingly sacrifice themselves. There is sadness, humor, existential crisis, and a whole host of other experiences related to the death and resurrection of the character, both on the part of the resurrected characters themselves and the other characters in the story. These stories can be used to explore the meaning of life or can just be a convenient way to bring back the main character to make sure the story continues in the future.
On a practical level, to the writer (and the publishing company), resurrecting a character, of course, has the double benefit of providing an emotional narrative with a sacrificial hero while still having the character around in order to make future stories. One could argue (and fans sometimes do) that a character ought to have died for real and stayed dead, in order for the sacrifice to have more emotional resonance and meaning. At the same time, fans often want more canon of the stories they love and want their favorite characters to come back, despite the inconvenient fact that the characters have died. Fans often wish that their favorite characters had not died, writing fan fiction of the Fix-it fic (or Fix Fic) category which resurrects their favorite dead characters and changes other things they didn’t like about the canon. Fans also write lengthy analyses arguing that a character either isn’t really dead or will come back from the dead, citing details from the canon with varying levels relevance. One cannot blame fans, I suppose, for thinking that their favorite characters will come back, considering how common the resurrection trope is. There’s even a handy Sorting Algorithm of Deadness available for the purpose of figuring out how likely it is that a character will come back from the dead. Resurrection in fiction is, clearly, a thing that will be around for a while.
Humans seem to love the idea of resurrection almost as much as we love the idea of an afterlife. This isn’t all that surprising, given that death is incredibly frightening. Even those of us who aren’t religious can still appreciate stories with resurrection, just as we can appreciate stories with martyrs and messiahs, even if we don’ t believe in a religion with any of these concepts. These ideas are very human ones, born of our fear of death and desire to defeat it. Jesus’s death is said to have ended death for believers, but I think all of these resurrection stories appeal to us for just that reason: the idea that death is not final, not the end. And so we tell these stories to quell the fear within our souls, to tell ourselves that life wins over death, that anything can be defeated, even the thing that no human has ever found a way to defeat. And so no matter how much of a trope it is, no matter how cliché it might become, resurrection will continue to be a part of the stories we tell each other.
This essay does not do justice to the many resurrection stories there are in fiction, not even to all the sacrifice-and-resurrection stories, but I thought it was an appropriate time to write about this topic. I’m looking forward to writing more on death, the afterlife, and resurrection in the future.
 “Easter”. Wikipedia Entry. Retrieved on 19 April 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter.
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 Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. 1859. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2004, Book the Third, Ch 15, p. 372.
 Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000, Ch 36, pp. 605-6.; Rowling, J.K. “Albus Dumbledore on ‘Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump’”. The Tales of Beedle the Bard. London: Bloomsbury, 2008, pp. 78-9. cf. Spartz, Emerson; Schoen, Ben; Kimsey Jeanne. “Does Harry Potter Die in Deathly Hallows”. In: MuggleNet.com’s Harry Potter Should Have Died. Berkeley: Ulysses Press, 2009, p. 18-9.
 Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. London: Bloomsbury, 2007, Ch 33, p. 550-Ch 36, p. 580.
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 Freeman, Kyle. “Introduction to Volume II”. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume II. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003, pp. xxiii-xxxvii (direct quote from p. xxiii).
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 Spartz, Emerson; Schoen, Ben; and Kimsey, Jeanne. “Would the series be stronger if Voldemort had killed Harry?” In: MuggleNet.com’s Harry Potter Should Have Died. Berkeley: Ulysses Press, 2009, p.103.
 Sharmin, Ani J. “We Do It Out of Love: a poem about fan fiction writers”. Posted on 29 February 2012 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 20 Apri 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/we-do-it-out-of-love-a-poem/.
 “Fix-it”. Entry at Fanlore. Retrieved on 20 April 2014 from http://fanlore.org/wiki/Fix-it.
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 Sharmin, Ani J. “Comments on Martyrs and Messiahs Outside of Religion”. Posted on 2 September 2013 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 19 April 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/comments-on-messiahs-and-martyrs-outside-of-religion/.