I’m just going to start this by saying I had to look up all of the quotes for the books included in this post and now I’m crying at them all again. They affect me that much.
A well-crafted book with a complete plot and wonderfully written characters has the ability to break a person’s heart. These books don’t have to be masterpieces but they do have to be able to draw the reader in and make them fall in love with the world and the people within that world. Books, like every other form of media, have the ability to transport us to other worlds, experience things we will never get to experience in our short lives. We can go on adventures, fall in love and become best friends with the characters who we are sharing our lives with for days and weeks at an end. A good book will pull you in completely and the characters and events will stay with you for a long time afterwards. George RR Martin said it best when he wrote: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”
Despite having read a lot of books, and loving a great many of them, there are only five which have ever made my cry, and by cry I don’t just mean one single tear; I mean full on sobbing. There have been many books which have affected me emotionally but only five that have affected me to the point where I cry so this was a very easy list to compile but not to write.
There will be spoilers in this post, lots of them due to the nature of what I am writing about. Look at the photo and if you have any desire to read any of the books in it, don’t read the rest of the post.
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien
Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.
I must have read The Return of the King close to ten times since I was sixteen and it has made me cry every single time I have finished it. The film is even worse, I cried for two full days after I saw that for the first time.
I know that LOTR is not for everyone, quite a lot of people find it boring but I find it wonderful. I always feel emotional when I read it because I find it hard not to spend so much time reading something and to not become emotionally attached to the characters and the story. At the end of the day, the books end is about saying goodbye and that it always a topic which will upset me.
No-one wants to say goodbye to their friends, especially when they have literally been to hell and back together. Bonds are forged and breaking those bonds hurts more than anything. Frodo may not have died but saying goodbye forever feels about the same as if he had. I’m sure there is not a person out there who would want to think about having to say goodbye to their best friend forever and that is where the great emotionality lies in this book.
It’s such a basic feeling. It’s not something we often think about but it is an inevitability. That is why the book makes me cry so much. I can’t read the last chapter without crying because it is not just Sam, Merry and Pippin who are saying goodbye to a friend, I am too.
- The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
Shotvarfet. Again and again, each time louder, ringing across the ward. He opened his eye and gazed directly at Rivers, who had come from behind the screens and was standing at the foot of his bed.‘What’s he saying?’ Major Hallett asked.
Rivers opened his mouth to say he didn’t know and then he realised he did. ‘He’s saying “it’s not worth it.”’
World War I will always be an emotive subject. Whatever your views on warfare, whether it is justified or not, no-one can disagree that the loss of life in the First World War was horrific and seeing it written on the page, with characters we have grown to care about over the course of several books, makes it feel a lot more personal.
There is something about World War I that always makes me cry. I cannot get through watching the Remembrance Sunday service without shedding a tear. As soon as the Last Post starts playing after the two minute silence I always start crying. I haven’t read The Ghost Road for a long time (it might be time for a re-read of the entire trilogy, I think) but the scene described above between Rivers and a dying soldier’s family, alongside the death of Billy Prior got to me in a way I never expected it to.
- Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb
Wait for you? Not likely! I’ve always had to run ahead of you and show you the way.
Nighteyes. Dear Nighteyes. Animal deaths always seem to really affect me, which is why I’ve never seen Marley and Me because, although it is not a film I have watched, I can guess how it ends and it will end with me in tears.
I knew Nighteyes’ death was coming. Fool’s Errand is set fifteen years after the end of Assassin’s Quest so he was an old wolf at the opening of the book but I didn’t expect it when it happened and I didn’t expect it to upset me so much. I loved Nighteyes and I loved his relationship with Fitz and I think Hobb wrote his death perfectly. The idea of him running ahead of Fitz using the hunting metaphor is so heartbreakingly simple but extremely effective. I mourned Nighteyes as if I had lost a friend and I hadn’t even been bonded to him. What was even sadder was that Fitz was not able to show his grief in the way he wanted.
What was a bit strange was that Fool’s Fate didn’t affect me in the same way. I always say to my friend that Fool’s Errand broke my heart and Fool’s Fate ripped it out and stamped on it but the latter never made me cry. Maybe it is because I didn’t read it until after Fool’s Assassin was released so I unknowingly spoiled myself. That doesn’t take away from the emotional devastation of the Fool’s death and resurrection. “My dream was dead in my arms” is a sentence that went straight to my heart and the scene where Fitz gave the Fool his own name because he knew he would never be the same person afterwards was heart wrenching. It didn’t make me cry though.
I saved the tears for a later book.
- The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
Il mourra. Je le sais, j’en ai la conviction; je ne veux pas le voir mourir.
Again, this is not a book where I expected to cry. The Musketeer novels were full of adventure and political intrigue but, in my opinion, not a great deal of emotion. I felt excited reading the adventures of d’Artagnan et al but I never felt anything when a character, Constance for example, died.
This book changed that. To lose so may beloved characters in such a short space of time was too much and I did cry pretty much constantly for the last third of the book. From the moment Athos admitted to d’Artagnan that he couldn’t bear to watch Raoul die, I started crying and I never really stopped after that. You can feel the pain of the old man as he says those words. It is hard to lose a child but to know it is going to happen, and to know that it is a fate his son, himself, chose is too much to bear.
Then you have to go through Porthos’ death, Roaul’s death, Athos’ death and, finally, d’Artangnan’s. Porthos’ death was really painful because if Aramis hadn’t involved him in his political games then he wouldn’t have died and to see his strength fail him at the end was painful because you knew he was going to die shortly afterwards.
I think, for me, Athos’ death was the saddest. Seeing him slowly waste away, only staying alive long enough to hear of Raoul’s fate was heart-breaking. Then, d’Artagnan arriving moments too late and his following grief were the worst parts to read. You can really feel for the man who has just lost one (three if you also count Porthos and Raoul) of his oldest friends. Once again, it is an emotion which is very familiar to everyone, a basic human emotion that everyone feels eventually.
Finally, there is d’Artagnan’s death: a quick and seemingly senseless death at the very end of the book from a stray bullet. It is not as expected as Athos’ death but it still hurt to read. Saying goodbye to the friends who’d had so many adventures together over the course of the series is hard, but for most of them to die was even worse.
- Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb
His cracked lips moved.
He could not say the word, but I knew it.
So did his Fool.
Of all these books, Assassin’s Fate was the most painful for me to read. After I finished it I told my friend (who was similarly affected as me) that if I couldn’t talk about the book because, if I did, I would start crying again and he agreed with me. This book emotionally destroyed me and, what was worse, I knew it was going to.
When Assassin’s Fate was released I travelled all the way to Sheffield for a book signing and as soon as I read the dedication I knew my heart was going to break. I even read this book slower than any other because I was trying to delay the inevitable of having to say goodbye.
Assassin’s Fate is the most painful book, for me, because of the characters. I grew to love Fitz and the Fool as if they were my best friends. I love them. I think they may be my favourite characters in all of the books I have read so, to say goodbye to them affected me the most.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to re-read this book. The sadness of The Return of the King is hard but bearable. Assassin’s Fate isn’t bearable. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this book and I love how it tied loose ends together and brought everything to completion but that doesn’t make it any easier. Four days into slowly reading it, I said to my friend that I knew it was going to emotionally destroy me but I wanted Fitz and the Fool to end their stories together. I’m glad they did because I couldn’t bear for one of their story’s to continue if the other wasn’t in it. The end broke my heart but I am happy that Fitz, the Fool and Nighteyes are together forever because they really are three parts of the same whole.
There is another problem, I don’t know if I can continue reading the books if they use the same characters because the pain is always going to be there and they are going to be reminders of how much this book broke my heart.
So, there they are: Five books which made me cry. I swore after I read Assassin’s Fate that I wasn’t going to allow myself to become emotionally attached to any more characters but I know I will and, one day, those characters will break my heart all over again. I don’t want to read a book where I feel nothing for the lives and fates of the characters because they will not be good books. I want to continue to love and care about the people whose lives I am sharing for a short while because to share the emotions of these characters is such a human feeling. So long may it continue and maybe in a couple of years I’ll have another five books which made me cry.