In light of the troubled times we live in and the many serious issues which surround us today, I would like to discuss a profoundly important topic, namely, The Decapitated Head In Narrative.
I am eminently qualified to discuss this subject, as I once mailed a head to my collaborator and friend telophase
I was thinking about it because, as you all know, I am reading The Mahabharata
, and that contains a number of decapitations, including two of the best stories about heads that I have ever heard:First, there is the self-removed magic nodding head on the hill
. You have to read the comments and follow the links, especially the last one in the original post, to get the full effect.
And then there is the Exploding Head Of Jayadratha's Father. At the climax of a very intense battle, Arjuna shoots an arrow to cut off the head of his enemy, Jayadratha. As his... um, for the benefit of the newbies, I'll just say "best friend and ally" Krishna had instructed, Arjuna aims the arrow so it carries Jayadratha's head off the battlefield and dumps it in the lap of Jayadratha's father, who was watching from the sidelines. To the astonishment of everyone but Krishna, Jayadratha's father's own head explodes!
Krishna explains that Jayadratha's father had made a pre-emptive attempt to get revenge on anyone who might kill his son by making it so that whoever held his son's decapitated head would have their own head explode. Oops! Those sorts of boons never do work out as intended.
There are, of course, many heads in anime and manga. Sometimes they are in jars. Perhaps my favorite is the head in a jar in Yami no Matsuei
, not because it does anything in particular, but because of the reason for its jarred existence: a man killed his brother, then kept his head in a jar in the hope of some day bringing him back to life... so he could kill him again.
I also like the disease in Planet Ladder
which causes people's limbs or heads to suddenly fall off, while they are going about their daily lives. It brings up the issue of emotional response:
Drawing of someone's head suddenly falling off: comedy gold.
Drawing of character we already know, but now with her handless arms wrapped in bandages: horrifying and tragic.
The decapitated head, clearly, creates some narrative difficulties. One is unintentional comedy. When characters weeping over the decapitated body of their friend go on to pick up and caress the head, particularly in visual media, it is about fifty-fifty whether I will weep or snicker.
Then too, decapitation is instantaneous. (Or unwatchably horrible if it isn't.) This precludes the possibility of long death scenes. (Unless it's the sort of story where heads can keep talking) I recently read a book where the main character canonically dies from getting his head cut off. But it seemed very much the kind of book that would have a long and dramatic death scene. To my delight, the author resolved this problem by having the character die from having his head half
cut off, thereby sticking to canon but getting in the requisite lengthy (and, I must say, memorably disturbing) death scene.
What are your favorite moments in literature (or anime, etc) involving heads?
Please do not spoil significant plot points. For instance, if you want to write about heads in X/1999, you may describe the scene, but please don't say who is cuddling whose head.