Thu
Feb 13 2014 2:00pm

Seven Science Fiction/Fantasy Martyrs Who Give Saint Valentine a Run for His Money

In many ways the conception of Valentine’s Day feels a bit like a science fiction thing, or at the very least, an urban legend. Unlike Saint Patrick, who totally, for real, drove snakes out of Ireland (maybe), details about exactly what Saint Valentine did are dubiously muddled. The essential fact is this: at some point there was a Saint Valentine who was certainly a martyr, so it might as well be for love!

But when you stop to reflect on it, science fiction and fantasy is lousy with martyrs, and we probably know much more about them than we’ll ever know about Saint Valentine. Here are seven martyrs who keep sci-fi and fantasy going, mostly because they seem to always come back after they’ve died!

Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings)

One of the nice things about being a genre-fiction martyr is that you often get to come back to life at just the right moment. That being said, Gandalf’s “Fly, you fools!” line is probably one of the best parting lines of all time. Gandalf is so badass that he insults you while he’s saving you from the Balrog. Also, if you’re going to check out as a martyr, you might as well go out fighting the Balrog known as “Durin’s Bane,” whilst bellowing “You shall not pass!” like a maniac. It’s hard to be a cooler martyr than Gandalf, though some have tried. And does Gandalf coming back as the slightly more amoral Gandalf the White ruin his martyrdom? No! However, he was probably at his wizardly slickest in those Mines of Moria.

 

John Sheridan (Babylon 5)

Speaking of people who return from the dead slightly weirder than before, Sheridan from Babylon 5 managed to come back to life after his martyrdom thanks to the power of his love for Delenn. Sheridan’s martyrdom in Babylon 5 is significant because of what it sets into motion for all the other alien races. If he hadn’t blown himself up to take down the Shadows, a lot of those folks probably wouldn’t have gotten on board with the whole fighting the darkness thing. Good work, Sheridan!

 

Spock (Star Trek)

In many ways, Spock is a career martyr. He’s always trying to sacrifice and/or punish himself for stuff in the original TV show. In “Operation: Annihilate!” he nearly blinds himself in order to kill the creepy parasite/flying pancake things. In “Amok Time” he promptly decides to turn himself into the space cops after he thinks he’s killed Kirk, and of course there’s that whole radiation poisoning/fixing the warp drive stunt he pulled in The Wrath of Khan. Though Bones “liked him better before he died,” Spock actually doesn’t become an asshole when he gets resurrected, and his martyr-like behavior (whether he actually dies or not) usually is truly selfless. One of the reasons we like Spock so much is precisely because of this quality: if Spock were a celebrity pop star, he’d probably ONLY do charity concerts. And he’d mean it.

 

The Doctor (Doctor Who)

Which incarnation of the Doctor is the biggest martyr? We could make a strong argument for the Ninth Doctor, since he is arguably the most angry, thanks to his previous incarnation (supposedly) ending the Time War and his entire race with it.

In a way the Doctor is sort of an inverse martyr because he performs martyr-like actions, and then has to live through, and with, the consequences. Killing all your own people is certainly not the same as being a martyr, but absorbing the time vortex, or a bunch of radiation, certainly is. (Seriously, how often does the Doctor die and then regenerate because he’s absorbed a bunch of something or other?) Regeneration is such a great sci-fi trick though, because it allows the character to have his death and martyrdom... and then keep on living. Which brings us to....

 

Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Let’s see... how many times has Buffy died and come back? And it’s not just the fact that she has been shuffled off this mortal coil only to be resurrected more than once, it’s that she might have been a whole lot happier staying dead. When Buffy comes back from some heaven-like place following her second major life sacrifice in season five, she tries to keep the truth from her friends—being done with the whole slaying thing had been awesome. But she gets it together once more, becomes a counselor at school, then a Slayer grand dame, and keeps saving the world over and over. It’s not just that Buffy has sacrificed herself, it’s that she will never stop doing it—maybe not always by physically giving up her life, but by repeatedly sacrificing her love life, her friends and associates, and her personal happiness. Heck, it turns out that dying was the easy part.

 

Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock, et al.)

Though the martyrdom of Sherlock Holmes is not technically science fiction or fantasy (though I truly believe you can make a case for it being in the genre!) it has become significant recently, perhaps more than ever before. Yes, readers famously wore black armbands after Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Holmes in “The Final Problem,” but that swell of devotion may have been eclipsed in 2012 by the “I Believe in Sherlock” fan phenomenon which popped up on the internet after the airing of “The Reichenbach Fall.” As many have pointed out before, any adaptation of “The Final Problem” is poised to be better than the original, because Conan Doyle clearly didn’t give a shit about that story making sense. BBC’s Sherlock crafted perhaps the best possible version of this story by having Sherlock’s martyrdom not only be accomplished by his death, but also the complete loss of his precious reputation. His phone call to John might just be the most heartbreaking Sherlock Holmes-related moment of all time.

 

Valentine Michael Smith (Stranger in a Strange Land)

Did you think we’d get through a Valentine’s Day martyr post without mentioning the guy who has “Valentine” in his name? Way to be subtle, Robert A. Heinlein! We know there are an infinite number of opinions about Stranger in a Strange Land, but beyond having an awesome title (and premise) the final scenes of Valentine Michael Smith’s life easily qualify him for best genre martyr ever. Not only did this character introduce the word “grok” into the pop cultural lexicon, he also inverted all the mores of the future world in which he lived. And how did society repay him? Mob violence takes him down! Luckily, he gets to talk to his pal Jubal from the afterlife, and the book about his life is still in print and readily available. Now, we know this might be an inappropriate time to bring this up, but where’s our damn Stranger in a Strange Land movie already? And why is Michael Fassbender not playing Valentine Michael Smith?

In any case, Happy Martyr Day, everyone!

 

This article originally appeared February 14, 2013 on Tor.com


Ryan Britt is a long-time contributor to Tor.com. 

Emily Asher-Perrin is a staff writer at Tor.com.

13 comments
Misa Buckley
1. MisaBuckley
You missed off Bialar Crais and Talyn in Farscape.
Ashcom
2. Ashcom
Okay, so Sherlock, a detective who you "could make a case for" (which I don't think you could satisfactorily) being science fiction/fantasy and who the following episode makes clear planned the whole thing as a stunt and was never in any danger, gets to be a great martyr, but you miss out Obi-Wan Kenobi? Really?
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
3. Lisamarie
Yeah, gotta echo the lack of Obi-Wan here (or even Vader if you want to look at it from that point of view! - ha, see what I did there!).

Not to mention a few of the Harry Potter members certainly qualify (Lily, and Harry himself...and dare I say (especially given the Valentine's Day theme)...Snape - yes, let's open THAT can of worms again ;) It never really closed, judging by the action on the Severus Snape Does Not Deserve Your Pity thread...
Ashcom
4. Marshall H.
When was Gandalf the White amoral? The experience affects him and his outlook on life, but not by making him amoral.
Alan Brown
5. AlanBrown
A better Saint for a day celebrating love might be the Irish Saint Brigit, whose story and attributes bear no small resemblence to Brigit, the pagan fertility goddess, who shares a holiday with the Saint (Imbolc).
In addition to performing miracles relating to fertility, Brigit also is reputed to have performed the handy feat of changing water to beer, which is often used as an aid during romantic pursuits...
Ashcom
6. Dianthus
Speaking of BtVS, Spike makes a rather unlikely martyr his own self.
Speaking of Farscape, I'd say D'argo in the PK Wars.
Ashcom
7. RohanV
Here's a vote for Elizabeth Moon's Paksenarrion. The most hardcore paladin in fantasy.
Heather Dunham
8. tankgirl73
All of the martyrs in the article (except maybe that Valentine guy?) not only died, but also *came back to life*. So by that definition, many of the other examples being given in the comments don't qualify. Yes, they're martyrs, but this is a list of folks who were more than mere mortal martyrs. (Say that 10 times fast...)

That being said, Harry Potter certainly qualifies. Not only should he have died at the very start (though of course that wasn't a 'martyr' at that point) but lived, at the climactic battle with Voldemort he is indeed killed, and not because he lost the fight -- because he willingly gave himself up to be killed in order to save everybody else.

But then he had a chat with Deadbledore, met freaky Babymort, and just *decided* he wasn't going to be dead anymore. Badass.
Ashcom
9. THE_JrRobinson
I'm slightly disappointed Moiraine Damodred wasn't mentioned here... And by slightly disappointed, I mean WHAT IN THE HELL??!?!?!?!??
Ashcom
10. Lord of the Mists
Tors own Brandon Sanderson wrote an amazing Martyr in his fantastic trilogy, Mistborn. Noble, caring, and isn't cheapened by resurrection. Give some love to the home team!
Ashcom
11. Cybersnark
Daniel Jackson did not hesitate to run into a nuclear/naquadria reactor to save lives (and was then Ascended and eventually returned).

The angel Castiel defied Heaven and firebombed Lucifer before being destroyed (and restored by divine intervention). Granted, he committed far worse atrocities after coming back (and died again, was resurrected again, and finally seems to be getting his act together).

For that matter, Cas' human friends Sam & Dean Winchester have both laid down their lives for each other several times.

Of course, Optimus Prime is the ur-example. He dies every few years. It's like a cry for attention.

There's also Superman, of course, who fell fighting Doomsday, and appeared in his father's near-death experience (they saved each other), then returned to reclaim his identity.
Ashcom
12. Queen MyrdemInggala
And how could you possibly forget Kai, the last of the Brunnen-G? Or Lyekka?
Ashcom
13. KM Randall
It warmed my BtVS loving heart that you mentioned Buffy. "If the apocolypse comes, beep me." --Buffy Summers


-K.M. Randall
www.KMRandallAuthor.com

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