We came out of the movie darkness and into the light. My kids were both bawling and the tears didn’t stop, not even after we wandered into the mall for an Aunt Annie’s pretzel and a couple of strawberry slushies. My daughter summed up the situation quite succinctly in a letter she wrote a day later to Robert Igor, CEO of Walt Disney:
I do not like The Princess and the Frog. I will never see another Disney movie in my ENTIRE LIFE. I do not like it because the firefly dies.
She signed her letter “Not love.” Because if you can’t sign a letter with love, what’s left?
Look, I know that Raymond the Firefly turned into a star and all, and yeah, there’s something beautiful about that. But my kids wanted him in his corporal (firefloral?) form. The star was bright, and he was next to another star, the one he loved, but for my kids that wasn’t enough. Plus, the dad was already dead, so when Ray got stepped on, we thought we had our final body count. We thought we were safe.
“Why,” my son asked “did they have to KILL him?”
“I don’t know,” I said. I hadn’t done any better by Fred Weasley.
Would the ending of The Princess and the Frog have been just as effective if Raymond’s light dimmed, but then blinked on again, just when we thought he was a goner? My kids thought it would have been and personally, I agreed with them. I suppose the writer didn’t. And then I thought: Wait a minute. I have a manuscript where someone dies, too. He’s not as lovable as Ray, but still. I made my confession right there in the food court.
“You killed him?” my son asked. And then the inevitable: “Why?”
I second guessed myself. Why did I kill him again? And then I asked myself the follow up: Would the manuscript be as strong if the character lived? Fortunately, I was able to answer that question (no) and I was able to answer the why part, too. I could explain this to a kid if I had to — mine or somebody else’s. I’m not going to explain it here because I’m too superstitious and proprietary to give away an unpublished plot. But the important thing isn’t the specific answer, anyway; it’s that I was able to answer at all. Because if my characters are going to be real to a kid, than the deaths are going to be real, too. To which some of you will say, “duh.” To which I should probably be saying “duh,” too. But my story wasn’t on a movie screen; it was still on my computer screen. I hadn’t been thinking of how it would play out in front of an audience. I’d just been thinking about how to finish the darn thing. So this was the perfect way to get me to remember that some day I might have to look at a letter that was signed “not love.” And if I ever do get a letter like that, I’ll know that I did what I did for a reason, a real reason that goes beyond pushing the buttons of a little girl’s pink sweater. If I kill someone, even with words, I still need to be able to live with myself.