Fire Keeps It Dead
Burning the corpse to make sure it stays dead.
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(permanent link) added: 2012-08-29 21:14:36 sponsor: Nocturna edited by: StarSword (last reply: 2013-06-09 10:06:49)

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This is one of the many fire-related tropes that were identified as part of the Kill It with Fire TRS thread. Name suggestions and description/definition refinement suggestions are welcome and encouraged.

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In some worlds, or for some creatures, death is not permanent. For instance, vampires can respawn or sorcerors can resurrect the dead.

So what if you've killed someone or something and you want to make sure it stays dead?

Burn the body.

This is the reason why bodies of believed witches, vampires, and the like are burned after being killed (if they weren't killed by burning in the first place): the fire purifies the taint of evil, preventing resurrection or respawning. This variety will often show up in stories, where bodies will be burnt to prevent them from (potentially) being resurrected or from coming back to life.

This practice is generally connected to the idea behind Fire Purifies and Kill It with Fire.

See also Burn The Undead. Compare to Viking Funeral, where the body is burned for religious or ceremonial reasons.


Examples:

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[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
  • In the first chapter of InuYasha the shrine maiden Kikyo is burned with the Shikon Jewel so that she can take it with her to the afterlife where demons can't get to it, but the plan backfires when she is reincarnated as the Japanese school girl Kagome.
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[[folder:Film]]
  • Night of the Living Dead (1990). At the end, after the locals have gained control of the situation they burn the bodies of killed humans so they can't rise as zombies and "killed" zombies so they can't rise again.
  • The Thing (1982). A person killed by a Thing will become one unless their body is destroyed by fire. After Windows was killed by the Palmer!Thing, MacReady had to burn him with a flamethrower.
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[[folder:Literature]]
  • A subversion: In H.P. Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, a repeated theme and instruction is to refrain from killing the necromancer villain with fire, as he can be resurrected from the ashes. Instead, the protagonist is instructed to dissolve the body in acid.
  • H.P. Lovecraft's short story "The Festival" has an appropriate quote.
    Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes.
  • In Garth Nix's Sabriel, undead are so serious a problem for the Old Kingdom that the spell to burn dead bodies is one of the first ones every Charter Mage learns.
  • Wildings in A Song of Ice and Fire burn their dead so they don't come back as Wights.
  • The Zombie Survival Guide recommends burning corpses during a zombie attack to make sure they don't resurrect, as well as diminishing the health hazard posed by decomposing flesh. Fire is the only way to safely dispose of a Solanium-infected corpse. All traces of the infection will be wiped out once the fire brings them down.
  • In Twilight the only way to get rid of a vampire permanently is, to quote Edward in the first book, to "tear him apart and burn the pieces." By Word of God they can even survive a nuclear detonation. (Somebody should probably explain to Stephanie Meyer how much heat a nuke releases...)
  • In Discworld, zombies are very strong, immortal and able to sew themselves back together if need be. However, the older they get, the drier they get, and so they're understandably nervous around fire.
  • In Three Hearts and Three Lions (the book which inspired Dungeons & Dragons' trolls), Holger and friends are fighting a troll, which keeps regenerating until they finally figure out to burn the bits they chop off.
  • Ciaphas Cain, being set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe) references the practice of burning orks several times. In ''Death or Glory", Cain is rather confused at how insistent Jurgen is that they burn the corpses of the orks they kill. The Valhallans have a particular hatred for and extensive knowledge of orks and discovered by accident during a lengthy ork invasion of their homeworld that doing so limits the reinfestation rate.
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[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
  • Doctor Who:
    • This occurs to the Doctor and does it work? Course not. It's probably to convince the audience that he might be dead.
  • In the second season of Legend of the Seeker, the heroes have to burn the bodies of their foes so they don't return as Banelings, who serve the Keeper by killing more innocents. Banelings themselves can come back to unlife unless you burn the body. Zedd's Wizard's Fire gets a lot of use out of this.
  • Supernatural:
    • This is the main reasoning behind a "hunter's funeral." Hunters burn the bodies of other hunters killed on the job so that they can't be turned into zombies, resurrected as vengeful spirits, animated by demons, or tampered with by some other supernatural means.
    • "Salt and burn the body" is the standard solution to malevolent spirits and such. If the body's already been cremated, the boys need to find an alternate solution. Sometimes this means finding the little bit of the body that wasn't burned and setting fire to it.
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[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • 3.5 has a spell that burns a corpse in a special way so that there is a 50% chance even the most powerful (at least non-epic) resurrection spell won't bring it back.
    • If a person is killed by a corporeal undead creature, they may become an undead of the same type a certain amount of time later. One way to prevent this from happening is to burn their body to ashes before the deadline.
    • And of course, trolls, which will eventually regenerate from any damage, even apparent death, unless burned with fire or acid.
  • In Exalted, the Zenith Caste of the Solar Exalted have an innate ability to burn dead bodies with Holy Solar Flames, specifically to prevent them from rising as the undead.[[note]]Since the Zenith were created before the Underworld or undeath existed, one might wonder why they got this ability in the first place...[[/note]]
  • Warhammer 40,000: Orks have more in common with fungi than animals physiologically, so when they die they release spores that eventually mature into more orks, guaranteeing that any world visited by orks will continue to be infested by them. However, burning the bodies tends to greatly reduce this, and in some cases completely prevent reinfestation. This process was discovered more or less by accident, as Imperial forces are quite flamer-happy.
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[[folder:Video Games]]
  • After defeating the demon Melzas in battle, Alundra finally kills him by destroying his body with fire.
  • In Assassin's Creed: Revelations, this was the only way Altair could prove that he actually killed Al Mualim instead of just a dupe created by the Piece of Eden. Needless to say, Abbas was displeased with this action.
  • The trolls in Baldur's Gate II will get up again after being taken down with non-fiery means, unless hit with one (or an acid arrow) while they are down.
  • Diablo III has them starting to burn the dead, since New Tristam is starting to be attacked by undead. Again.
  • Halo: In Halo 2, an Elite will lament that they did not bring weapons to burn the bodies when the Flood breaks out. In Halo 3, you finally do get a flamethrower. Of course...
  • If a zombie in Nox is killed by a non-fiery weapon/spell, the only way to prevent it from resurrecting a few seconds later is to immediately hit its corpse with a fire spell (even the weakest one will do).
  • In the Resident Evil "REmake", normal zombies have a chance of turning into Crimson Head zombies after dying and leaving their corpses behind. The best way to make sure they don't is carrying around a flask of kerosene and a lighter to burn bodies. However, your kerosene is limited.
  • Several factions in the Warcraft franchise do this when fighting the Scourge, both to their own dead and to the undead they just killed again. It's enough to prevent lesser necromancers from raising the bodies, but not the Lich King. This is first seen in a cutscene in III after Arthas has an entire city purged to stop the Scourge, then made common practice in World of Warcraft.
  • In Heroes of Might and Magic V, the necromancer Markal is cremated after his death because the heroes are worried he might try to restore himself to life as a lich.
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[[folder:Webcomics]]
  • Kria from Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures points out that fire is useful for making sure something you've killed in another way stays dead.
    Kria: "The (resurrection) ritual requires a full body. And someone seems to keep putting one in the ground. Cremation, Daniel. It works wonders."
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[[folder:Real Life]]
  • Many cultures historically responded to pestilence by cremating everyone killed by the disease, even if they would normally dispose of the bodies some other way. However as far as we know, religious texts notwithstanding it's impossible for bodies to come back to life.
  • By some reports witch-burning arose because cremation was believed to destroy the soul, thereby preventing Satan from returning the witches to life.
[[/folder]]

Indices: Resurrection Tropes, This Index Is On Fire, Undead Index

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