“And died stinkingly martyred.”

Don’t ask me why, but the squirrelly part of my writer-brain, the part that finds odd things to ponder (and then usually buries them somewhere and forgets about them thereafter) started thinking about death lines this evening. That is, the things people in books/movies/plays/etc. say when they’re about to die or in the process of dying. Shakespeare, for all I love him, was a melodramatic little wretch where those are concerned. I think one of my favorites comes from Dorothy Dunnett — it’s a bit of a cheat, since the hit doesn’t actually kill Lymond, but he believes it’s going to (and it really would, were it not for some bloody-minded medical intervention) — anyway, having done something good at what amounts to the sacrifice of his life, this is how he exits:

“And died stinkingly martyred,” said Lymond, with painful derision; and losing hold bit by bit, slipped into Erskine’s gentle grasp.

Which is why I love Lymond: he mocks himself even as he’s bleeding out of rather too many holes for anyone’s peace of mind.

What’s your favorite death line?

0 Responses to ““And died stinkingly martyred.””

  1. sartorias

    That is one of my faves.

    • Marie Brennan

      Lymond’s quotable pretty much every time he opens his mouth.

      It saddens me that I got halfway through the first Niccolo book and stalled. Is it just me, or is Claes not a tenth so engaging?

      • sartorias

        I never made it past the first book. Though I have collected several of them, for just in case that changes. (So far, no. When I get the Dunnet urge, I reread Lymond.)

        • Marie Brennan

          Fifty pages into The Game of Kings, Lymond has sneaked into a country where they want to lop his head off, gotten a pig drunk, broken into his mother’s castle, stolen everything in sight, and lit the place on fire in departing.

          Fifty pages into Niccolo Rising, I was still trying to figure out who the main character was, nobody by any of his names having appeared on the page yet. And Claes has mostly acted like a good-natured dunce.

          I’m thinking about taking a crack at King Hereafter, though.

  2. mindstalk

    “I am an atheist, myself. A simple faith, but a great comfort to me, in these last days.” — Ezar Vorbarra, _Shards of Honor_

    Don’t know if that counts; he was on his deathbed and dying, but doesn’t die at the end of the scene. The whole conversation is pretty good, though.

    I’m blanking on actual death lines I’ve read, actually.

  3. houseboatonstyx

    I’ve forgotten who it was in real life who, when asked what he felt, said “A certain difficulty in continuing to exist.”

  4. lillornyn

    This is more than a line, but how can I not include it all?

    James Hook, thou not wholly unheroic figure, farewell.

    For we have come to his last moment.

    Seeing Peter slowly advancing upon him through the air with dagger poised, he sprang upon the bulwarks to cast himself into the sea. He did not know that the crocodile was waiting for him; for we purposely stopped the clock that this knowledge might be spared him: a little mark of respect from us at the end.

    He had one last triumph, which I think we need not grudge him. As he stood on the bulwark looking over his shoulder at Peter gliding through the air, he invited him with a gesture to use his foot. It made Peter kick instead of stab.

    At last Hook had got the boon for which he craved.

    “Bad form,” he cried jeeringly, and went content to the crocodile.

    Thus perished James Hook.

    • Marie Brennan

      Re: This is more than a line, but how can I not include it all?

      It’s a line; “Bad form” is the death line. The rest of it is the context that lets you know why it’s a good death line.

      And it is indeed a good one.

      • lillornyn

        Re: This is more than a line, but how can I not include it all?

        I think my favorite is that opening: James Hook, thou not wholly unheroic figure, farewell.

        The respect befitting a Captain. 😉

  5. clodfobble

    Surely you’ve heard the tale (and who knows if it’s actually true) that just before dying Oscar Wilde looked around at the room he was being cared for in, and declared, “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”

    Wow–in searching for the exact wording of the above, I stumbled upon this great page of famous last words:


    • Marie Brennan

      That’s a cool page. It’s interesting to see the patterns, and also to pick out which ones sound more real than others — which ones seem like something a dying person might actually say.

      Mind you, some of those dying people were eloquent enough to make the living envy.

    • mindstalk

      The classic Wilde is good; I like Califgula’s and especially Vespasian’s.

      Tangentially, I got junk mail today for a new magazine: “Obit”.

  6. anima_mecanique

    My favorite death line has always been from real life. When the Emperor Vespasian was dying, he is said to have exclaimed “Oh, no! I think I’m becoming a god,” and slipped into unconsciousness, never to wake up.

    I cannot remember any particularly good death lines in literature right now. When I was young I always liked Eponine’s last words in Les Mis — “I think, sir, that I may have been in love with you, just a little bit.” But I am a sentimental fool.

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