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I'm writing my own fantasy novel and the way I want it to end is with the villain showing his humanity to the hero, begging for mercy, and when the hero is about to spare him the villains stabs him with his sword. The hero becomes aware that the villain will never change and with his final breath he stabs the villain back, they both die, their deaths symbolize their duality; they might have similar goals but the way that they want to achieve those goals are completely opposed. Good cannot thrive without evil and evil cannot exist without good, they both go to their eternal sleep as the world is left in peace.

I want to know if this is a good idea and if there are any good examples of this idea in execution? Thanks for your help.

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    Is there any chance for a sequel? You may need to resurrect your hero somehow... – Alexander Aug 20 '18 at 23:41
  • I'm thinking of writing four novels, this would only happen in the last one. It would bring the protagonist's character arc to an end, as both he and the antagonist sacrifice themselfs for what they believe, bringing the story to a close. – Vítor Carvalho Aug 21 '18 at 0:15
  • There may be something to "evil cannot exist without good" and it's a well-worn fantasy trope but "good cannot thrive without evil" is just nonsense. – Bob Aug 21 '18 at 12:56
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    Without evil we wouldn't know what good even is. You only know that something is good because you've experienced the bad version of it, you know that happiness feels better than sadness because you have experienced both, if you're only happy, without having felt any pain, happiness wouldn't be something good, it would be average, mundane, status quo, you wouldn't value happiness the way you do now. – Vítor Carvalho Aug 21 '18 at 13:11
  • Good action are good because they are better than the average, we value good action because we know that it is something worth valuing, If everyone was good, then, good actions wouldn't be perceived as good. We appreciate good people because we know that not everyone is good. – Vítor Carvalho Aug 21 '18 at 13:12
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If it's what you're going for thematically, that their duality leads to mutual destruction, then by all means do it.

As long as the story builds to that, there's no reason not to do it. If you're just doing it as a twist out of nowhere (which according to your description, doesn't seem to be the case) then it will leave readers dissatisfied. But as-is, it's fine.

Best of luck.

  • Thank you. There will be a build up to it, and a few little moments of foreshadowing as well. I would also like to know if there any stories, that you know of, where something like this happens. – Vítor Carvalho Aug 21 '18 at 0:36
  • @VítorCarvalho In terms of a similar theme (not the begging for mercy part but the dual nature of life and death), I couldn't help but think of The Matrix Reloaded. Even if it expressed it differently. – Jason Bassford Aug 21 '18 at 0:52
  • @JasonBassford Thank you. I haven't watched The Matrix Reloaded in a long time, I think a rewatch might be needed. I'll be sure to take notes while watching it. – Vítor Carvalho Aug 21 '18 at 1:10
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Go ahead and kill them both. But don't do it to symbolize duality, do it because it makes sense for the story. Readers can tell when themes and metaphors start to poke through the story, and they (at least, I) don't like it. Themes and symbols are for the readers to invent and impose on the piece. It's the writer's job to just tell a great story so we keep turning the pages.

  • It does makes sense in a story sense. Both of are very determined people who stand proud of their ideals, they both are willing to kill each other for the greater good, even though what they believe the greater good to be is the same, the way that they believe that the greater good can be achieved is completely different. It only makes sense for them both to die for their convictions, they are equally matched, that only way for the battle to end is with both of them dead. – Vítor Carvalho Aug 21 '18 at 14:03
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    Good answer Ken. I'd add, though, that a "great story" can be more than just a page-turner, it can have linguistic embellishments or levels of meaning/interpretation that give the reader added value. The trick is to ensure these are complementary to the story rather than detracting from it. – Chappo Aug 21 '18 at 23:19
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I second @Matthew Dave answer: if that's the story you want to tell, you definetely should.

As for examples of this happening... Several spoilers ahead:

Martin's Song of Ice and Fire

Oberyn's Martell and Sandor Cleagane mutually destroy each other, even if death does not occur at the same time. It's relevant to our discussion, though: Oberyn manages to hit several times with his poisoned spear, sentencing Cleagane to death, but due to his distraction (or rather, his desire to make the enemy confess his crimes) Clegane manages to crush him before fainting. This, of course, isn't equal to your idea of the hero deciding to spare his enemy, but the "distraction" theme is present.

Sanderson's Mistborn saga:

In the third book, Vin understand that she can destroy Ruin, but this will require her sacrifice. So they destroy each other.

Tolkien's Lord of the Ring:

One example is in the first book, when Gandalf faces the Balrog. In the cinema adaptation, the wizard manages to make the Balrog fall from the bridge, but the Balrog manages to catch his leg with the whip in a moment of distraction. The fall eventually kills both. Another related episode is in the last book: Frodo and Sam destroy the One Ring (and thus Sauron) but they nearly die on Mount Doom. Even if they eventually get saved by the eagles, Frodo has being tainted by the ring and cannot enjoy simple life in the Shire anymore, and has to sail from the Grey Havens to the Elven lands (that can be seen as an exile or afterlife of sorts). It's heavily implied, anyway, that the whole journey has taken an heavy toll on the hobbit protagonist.

Rowling's Harry Potter Saga

Another vaguely related example: Harry Potter does die in the last book, only to kill Voldemort later.

Beowulf

He and the dragons kill each other in the end of the saga.

What I'm having trouble finding is the exact situation you've described, the whole "the hero forgives the enemy, the enemy strikes, and then the hero strikes back". To me, however, it does sounds like a common trope, so I'm pretty sure I've seen it around somewhere

E.g., in the Dragonball Z anime,

Goku manages to reduce Freezer to a near-death state, but Freezer asks for mercy. Goku accepts - gifting him some of his own energy, which Freezer immediately use to stab him in the back. In this example, though, Goku is able to react and kills his enemy outright, but he eventually gets caught in the explosion of the whole planet (if I remember correctly)

On a personal note, if the general idea you want to convey is "Good cannot thrive without evil and evil cannot exist without good", I would avoid the whole "the hero gets tricked" point.

If your hero dies because he showed mercy, it may feel cheap to the reader. At least, I would feel his death as less important, since it stems from a mistake - rather that the natural climax of the narrative plot.

The problem with black and white ethics is that they may seem a little unbelievable in a real context, if your targeting an audience of "oldest" younger adults or older people still. After all, is it really a good thing to let the evil antagonist go with his life?

It would be more significant - again, in my opinion - if the hero died by the received wounds, or during the fight; after all he fought well knowing the risks and the eventual cost.

  • I didn't go into much details because I didn't want to "spoil" my story before it even came out. I can tell you with certainty that the ethics aren't as black and white as you might think. The fantasy world that I created has wizards and witches as the main focus, the wizard world as been forced into hiding by humanity's desire for power, a long time ago humanity hunted wizards and killed them, with the wizard dead the humans could steel their powers. In the present day, no human knows about wizard kind and the wizards just decided that it would be better to forget the dark past that happened. – Vítor Carvalho Aug 21 '18 at 12:54
  • Our antagonist perceives the humans as horrible and chaotic beings, he believes that the rules created by wizard kind to hide wizards from humans are only beneficial to the humans, he believes that if humanity was eradicated from the planet it would be a perfect utopia, he perceives wizards as some sort of deity that should be praised by humans. He's end goal is a better life for his people and getting back the world that was taken from them. – Vítor Carvalho Aug 21 '18 at 12:54
  • What if I changed it to something like this. Our protagonist, after fighting valiantly against our antagonist, understands that they are equally matched and both of them won't stop fighting until the other perishes, they have an incredible amount of determination for their ideals, one would not stand see the other survive. With this, our protagonist jumps in front of the antagonist's blade, getting stabbed trough the chest, and so our protagonist is close enough to give the final blow to the antagonist, they both lie dead on the ground as they both go to their eternal sleep. – Vítor Carvalho Aug 21 '18 at 13:03
  • I was just giving my gut feeling about your idea, ofc you can go with whatever you please; but in the end, yes, the idea you're proposing seems already more satisfying. Hope the references were useful. – Liquid Aug 21 '18 at 13:09
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    Thank you. Yes, your references were quite helpful, they will come in handy if I have a hard time executing some of my ideas, I can always find inspiration in them. – Vítor Carvalho Aug 21 '18 at 13:17
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Killing the villain and the hero as an end to a long running conflict between them is a perfectly reasonable endgame in many cases, however:

  • If either the hero or the villain is willing to kill the other, and this is not their first encounter, someone should be dead already. Unless you can contrive to keep the two characters away from each other for the rest of the narrative one or the other should have taken out their opposite number already. They could have tried and failed but they need to have shown a willingness to go that far or their mutual knife work will be a jarring and off-flavour ending.

  • If the hero doesn't show a willingness to kill other villains before his ill fated final encounter his sudden change of heart in the face of impending death will tarnish his heroism, and be a jarring end note to the tale. He may still kill the villain as a consequence of his death, like having a, literal, death grip on the villain and pulling him off a building as his legs give out for example.

  • If the villain doesn't go out of their way to try and kill the hero at other times in the piece they can't get stabby at the last minute without justification. Think Heath Ledger's Joker, who'd rather toy with the hero than try to kill him, a sudden about face in a saner character who had shown the same proclivity would be jarring if left unjustified. Justification can take many forms though, the villain may discover the who the hero is, and that he's banging the villain's sister or similar. The villain may experience a lose, whatever something has to change the way he relates to the hero if he wasn't taking a purely homicidal approach to their relationship already.

  • The villain does not hate the hero, in any way, chape or form. The villains plans his to kill humanity so that wizard kind may survive, he his only killing because he believes it is the best option for everyone, he does not see himself as a bad person. Our hero is a wizard as well, our villain finds the heroes determination honorable but naive, the villain knows that not many people will agree with his viewpoint so he knows why the hero wants to stop him. The villain his smart, he knows how to get people to do his dirty work, he confronts the hero several but never in a direct way, – Vítor Carvalho Aug 21 '18 at 13:26
  • @VítorCarvalho I didn't say anything about anyone hating anyone, I said trying to kill each other nothing more and nothing less. All I'm saying is that unless the two of them are demonstrably willing to kill generally, and preferably kill each other specifically, the final scene has potential issues. – Ash Aug 21 '18 at 13:31
  • fighting the hero is not part of his plan, he manipulates his pawns to fight him while he continues with his plan. Only when "something that I prefer not mention, because it is a big part of the last book" happens, does the villain understand that he his out of options, all of his plans failed, his hopes, his dreams, shattered by this one person, the honour that he felt towards the protagonist quickly turns into hate, he didn't want to turn this but he will have to kill the hero and so the final battle commences. They have had their fair share of interactions in the past but this is the end. – Vítor Carvalho Aug 21 '18 at 13:33
  • @VítorCarvalho So he does hate the hero? Regardless that sounds like it would fall under "The villain may experience a lose" and definitely fulfills my assertion that "something has to change the way he [the villain] relates to the hero". – Ash Aug 21 '18 at 13:38
  • The villain his willing to kill for the greater good, just like the hero. The thing is that the villain believes that he does not need to fight the hero himself, he does not need the hero dead, he is doing what he believes his right and he wouldn't try to kill someone just because they don't see it the way he does. Only when he understands that he has no other choice but to kill the hero does he do so. He does not see himself as a murderer but he knows what has to be done if he wants his world to survive. – Vítor Carvalho Aug 21 '18 at 13:39

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