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Infant Immortality: Literature
Played Straight

  • Elizabeth Vaughan tells of turning in a manuscript in which an infant died midway through. Her publisher sternly counseled her that "In romance, you can't kill a baby." She had to rework the entire plot to accommodate the infant's survival.
  • While the Pern colonists' first encounter with Thread gruesomely killed several adults and at least one young girl, Dragonsdawn does honor this trope with babies. Two infants were the only survivors of the colony's Tuareg nomad camp, having been sealed inside a Thread-proof metal cabinet by their doomed parents, and a house in which a woman is giving birth was instinctively protected by hundreds of the settlement's fire-lizards.
  • The very premise of Harry Potter, who is The Boy Who Lived because the evil overlord wanted to kill a baby but wasn't able to. "Trying to kill a baby but not being able to" is probably the most pathetic thing a villain can do. It's hard to think of things that couldn't kill a baby, but apparently Voldy just had to get cute with the Killing Curse, instead of using the much more reliable kick to the head.
    • In fairness to Voldemort, Harry is the only survivor in the spell's history and only because of a peculiar set of circumstances both times. Nobody, under the circumstances, could have expected failure - but the consequences for Voldemort the first time were such that he had no opportunity to rectify the situation.
    • Voldemort manages to kill two children (and their mom) while searching for a wand-maker in Deathly Hallows. Many teenagers die through the series, but only a few (Moaning Myrtle and Colin Creevey, plus Ariana Dumbledore in the backstory) were under 17, and thus minors.
  • Lampshaded up the wazoo by the Samurai Cat books, in which Shiro the homicidal kitten revels in his Baby+ Cat Immortality, gleefully rushing into meat-grinder battles in the smug confidence that the author wouldn't dare kill him. Eventually this trope was averted in Samurai Cat Goes To Hell, but only as a plot device to send his uncle to retrieve the bloodthirsty little creep.
  • Played straight in Breaking Dawn. While all of the Volturi converge to kill Bella and Edward's daughter Renesmee, they all instantly become captivated by her charm when they see her, quickly realize that they were wrong, and go home without a fight. Yes, that was the climax.
    • Did you actually read it? Even after it was proven that Renesmee wasn't a danger, the Volturi still tried to find an excuse to kill her and thus provoke the Cullens AND they still started a fight...well, attempted to, anyway.
    • Averted by the Volturi. Their only reason for killing a little kid was because they don't give second chances.
  • In Stephen King's The Stand, many of the main characters die, but Kojak the dog survives.
    • Averted in the case of one woman whose twin children were born dead. She went nuts and blamed the superflu, though other characters believed that it being a twin birth and her being a heavy smoker were the real causes.
    • And averted again by the description of one toddler falling into a well and dying there. Also Baby Petey (one of the "no great loss" examples in the extended edition).

Exceptions

  • In Michael Grant's Gone series, it is averted, and how. Sam and some others find a dead baby inside an abandoned house. Also, the final battle scene in the end of Gone kills a lot of children.
    • Averted again near the end of Fear to a horrifying degree.
  • In Raymond E. Feist's Serpentwar series, a squad of reformed criminals located a creche containing the eggs of a race of evil humanoid snakemen, and destroyed every last one, dooming the race to extinction. Justified by the fact that all snakemen are inherently evil from the moment they hatched, demonstrated when one hatched while the squad was busy.
    • Also during the Serpentwar, a magic-wielding protagonist on a scouting mission, discovers a village attacked by deserters from the Big Bad's army, including a hut containing only small, charred corpses. In a Crowning Moment Of Badass, she took down several trained soldiers, WITHOUT using magic.
  • Young Tad Trenton dies in Stephen King's novel Cujo... but survives in the Film. King also kills off toddler Gage Creed in Pet Sematary (this death, crucial to plot, also happens in the movie version).
    • All of the above is topped by his novel It, where there is a monster that specifically targets children.
    • In Under the Dome, supporting characters are killed off left and right; adults, children, dogs equally.
    • Also, there's the little girl in The Langoliers.
      • It's safe to say that Stephen King casually crushes this trope under his boot he starts writing.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan has a particularly nasty example during an unsanctioned Jaddite raid near the beginning of the book.
  • And in another Older Than Feudalism entry, The Bible features, among other acts of evil, the killings of firstborn children ordered by Pharaoh and King Herod in order to try to prevent both Moses and Jesus from growing up to cause trouble, and God himself killing all of the Egyptians' firstborn children, and the firstborn calves as well.
    • When the words Molech/Baal-Hammon, Astarte/Astarthe/Astaroth/Ashtoreth, the Valley of Ben-Hinnom/Gehenna, the Ammonites/Amorites, the Canaanites, etc. are mentioned, these are specifically referencing the sacrifices of children, born and unborn, to the gods of some of the cultures of the time. Sometimes the Jewish people (such as Kings Solomon, Achaz, and Manasses) messed up and took on this practice as well, despite God calling such a practice an abomination, and demanding the death of those who did such things. Those people ended up in a lot of trouble. It's the whole reason that Gehenna came to be the Jewish word for Tartarus/Hell (which is different from Sheol/Hades/Purgatory).
    • In 2 Maccabees, when the Jewish people rebelled against the corrupt high priest Jason, who had been appointed by King Antiochus IV, and ran him out of town, the king left Egypt for Jerusalem. Once in Jerusalem, he massacred many, young and old, women and children, virgins and infants. In 1 and 2 Maccabees (2 Maccabees is not a "sequel', it's another viewpoint of what happened in the the first book), King Antiochus IV then decreed that everyone take up the customs of everyone else, except the Jewish customs. He outlawed all Jewish customs, including circumcision. The children who were circumcized were killed, as were their mothers and whoever performed the circumcision.
  • As has been mentioned, literature is much less uncomfortable about killing children. Sometimes, but not always, this carries over to adaptions. Take for example the animated movie version of Roald Dahl's The BFG, wherein we see into a boys dream and are allowed to at least on some level "bond" with this kid only for him to be very heavily implied to have been eaten. Oh, and when Sophie and The BFG discuss the other Giants' plans to eat some school children it is acknowledged to have happened.
    • Dahl seemed to be fairly fond of averting this trope. He did it a lot in The Witches too, having the main character's grandmother regale him with stories of kids who turned to stone, were transmogrified into slugs and killed by their parents, trapped in pictures, etc.
  • In the Anne Rice series, it's generally frowned upon to turn a human into a vampire who hasn't lived to adulthood, but Lestat, that Loveable Rogue, turns Claudia who was, maybe, seven at the time. This results in an eventual Break the Cutie, turning her into a bitter creature who has a mature woman's mind but is trapped in a child's body.
  • Lord of the Flies. The children kill each other.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire, notable in that baby-killing isn't seen as exceptionally dramatic or vile, because the world is already saturated with evil. Though it is cited as one of the more notorious of Gregor Clegane's many, many, many horrible acts.
    • There's also the Unsullied, who have to kill babies as part of their training.
  • The title character in the novel version of Dracula had no compunction feeding a baby to his three vampire wives. Then the baby's mother to a pack of wolves. And one of his victims, Lucy Westenra, gains a reputation for preying on children.
  • In Nancy A. Collins' Sunglasses After Dark series, Sonja comes across an ogre who is in the process of lowering a baby into his maw. He would've been successful in eating the baby if she'd been two minutes slower.
    Sonja: Uh-uh. No veal for you.
  • Averted in the Left Behind Kids' Series. Of the original four kids, ranging from ages 18 to 12, the youngest is the first to go. Rather violently.
  • In Samantha Stone and the Mermaid's Quest, a large group of girls, aged 8 to 12, are all kidnapped in an attempt to find the heroine, 10-year-old Samantha Stone. When each one is shown to the main villain, one by one, he orders their execution when he discovers the girl is not Samantha. Which actually gets carried out in one case. Yup, a children's book where a child is executed.
  • In the Russian book Secret of a Black Stone by Kir Bulychev, child protagonist Alice investigates kidnapping of 84 children. Turns out they were kidnapped to be used as child soldiers. While no children are shown dying and Alice, being drafted as a child soldier as well, is rescued seconds before the planned execution, the number count in the end clearly shows that some of the kidnapped children died. Also Alice befriends a child kidnapped from another planet, and he tells that out of 30+ children kidnapped with him, only 8 or so are alive now.
  • In Coraline the heroine discovers ghosts of children previously taken by Other Mother. And the only thing she can do is liberate their spirits so they rest in peace...
  • American Gods: Hinzelmann.
  • In the Keeper of the Swords series by Nick Perumov, Dark Magical Girl Sylvia, being in a city overrun with monsters, hears a plea for help, coming from a 6-year old girl. She rushes in, but cannot save the girl anymore. This sets Sylvia in a deep rage. Cue one big Crowning Moment Of Awesome where Sylvia invites all monsters in a city to feast on her, and when they really come proceeds to hack them all in pieces with her sword. She single-handedly defeats a monster army capable of overrunning dozens of local wizards.
  • Though Jason never kills any kids in the movies, he does it quite a bit in the Friday the 13th books.
    • Jason kicks and stomps a baby and two toddlers to death in Friday the 13th: Jason's Curse.
    • Friday the 13th: The Carnival has kids being mangled and fried when the carnival rides go haywire and fires break out.
    • Friday The 13th: Hate Kill Repeat]] had Jason attacking a family of campers, killing them all, including the little boy and baby girl.
    • A zombie baby shows up in Friday The 13th: The Jason Strain.
    • Finally, Friday The 13th: Carnival Of Maniacs, after Jason's rampage in the titular carnival, a dead father is found holding his son's body in his arms.
  • In Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece The Road, the two main characters come upon a campfire abandoned by cannibals. A baby has been left roasting on a spit.
    • The man had seen a pregnant woman and a few other men passing by a few days before, too.
  • In Erich Maria Remarque's novel A Time to Live and a Time to Die (set during World War II) the protagonist is on the streets of a German city during an air raid, and sees a five-year-old girl with an infant. Then a bomb hits the place; when the explosion is over, the girl is dead, and the baby has disappeared.
  • Anyone Can Die in Warrior Cats, so this trope is completely averted. Throughout the course of the series, we have seen kits carried off by hawks, starved to death, and fallen into crevasses. And that's just onscreen! Offscreen we have kits and apprentices mauled by dogs, frozen to death in winter, killed by diseases, hit by cars, and at one point the Big Bad brutally murders an apprentice from another Clan whom the protagonist had saved earlier, just to spite him.
  • Averted in Hannibal Rising, where the plot revolves around Hannibal seeking revenge on the Nazis who killed and ate his sister.
  • Averted in The Silmarillion: Dior's young sons are abandoned in a forest and it's strongly implied that they die there.
  • Averted in The Book of the Dun Cow, in which Chauntecleer's three sons are killed by basilisks, along with their nurse.
  • The ogre-like titular monster from Clive Barker's Rawhead Rex devours a young boy alive, as well as dismembering and eating a little girl's riding pony. Much of the story is told from Rex's point of view, so although no infants are killed, the creature reminisces at length about eating them.
  • In American Psycho, serial killer Patrick Bateman stabs a little boy to death in a zoo, just to see if he'd enjoy it. He doesn't (not because of guilt). He also kills a dog once (along with its owner).
  • Subverted and averted in the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton.
    • It starts strong in the second novel The Laughing Corpse where part of the plot deals with a flesh eating zombie that consumed a family, but having failed to find the body of one of the children ,an infant, it is assumed he is still alive. The assumption proves to be false in a very gruesome way..
    • In the fifth novel Bloody Bones the criminal investigations concern gruesomely murdered teenagers, as well as a teenager turned vampire that burns to death at the end and her brother whom the main characters fail to rescue and have to watch die.
    • The ninth novel Obsidian Butterfly takes the cake it has whole families, including children of all ages, gruesomely murdered, having their skins completely removed and reanimated as zombies, a pair of children, a 6 year old girl and 10 year old boy, kidnapped, tortured and raped by the bad guys, and the Crowning Moment of Gruesome — one of the previously mentioned skinless zombies getting loose in the maternity ward and eating several (like 20) newborns before the main character puts him or her down..
    • The twelfth novel Incubus Dreams gives the readers several back stories, including a high school couple raped and murdered in such a gruesome way that the parents still haven't found closure after 3 years, and one of the lovers of the main character that witnessed at ten the death of his prepubescent brother at the hands of their father.
  • Shakespeare's Macbeth: Macduff's wife and children are murdered — including a son, who is murdered on-stage.
  • Redwall has gone into this territory several times, all of them being killed by vermin. There are at least four instances: 1) In The Long Patrol, where one of the characters is shown a vermin blade that's been notched for every kill. The shallower notches are for creatures who couldn't fight back, such as women and children. 2) Taggerung, where a vermin character causes a landslide that kills a family of dormice so that he could get their food. 3) Doomwyte, though this one was done by a snake, the infant in question was a tree rat, and it was a Karmic Death. After the tree rat ran away from a fight it ran into a snake and got eaten. 4) The Sable Quean, where a young otter is stabbed in the neck with a poisoned knife and dies shortly afterwards.
  • The first book of His Dark Materials presents a full segment from the POV of a child character who is introduced and given a name and backstory exactly for the audience to be shocked when he suffers a Fate Worse than Death, which leads to actual death soon enough. The end of the book proper features the death of the protagonist's best friend (a boy about 10-12) as being plot relevant. No other deaths are featured later, but the Magisterium are nonetheless unhesitant in sending an assassin to kill children later on.
  • Being only lightly fictionalized, averted in the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Although the death of Laura's baby brother occurs off-screen and is never mentioned, we do see the death by SIDS of her first son. And her subsequent depression was so crippling that she failed to react in time to an over-burning pot and their house burned down. Wasn't the Old West romantic?
  • In Gone with the Wind, not only does Scarlett miscarry, her daughter Bonnie is killed in a riding accident. These two incidents put the nail in the coffin of Scarlett and Rhett's marriage.
  • In the Mortal Instruments books, all the teenage protagonists survive the final battle.... but the cute, manga-reading little brother who wasn't allowed to fight is brutally murdered.
  • In The Inverted World, during an attack on the City, the creche where the children are raised gets set on fire. Many children die, including the protagonist's infant son.
  • Averted in one of the Discworld novels. Granny Weatherwax is acting as a midwife in a...difficult birth, and realizes she can only save either the baby or the mother. She chooses to save the mother, because she is otherwise able-bodied, and doing otherwise would leave the husband to take care of the child alone. Another character tells Granny she should have let the husband make the choice, and she asks in return what the man has ever done to her that she should hurt him so.
  • In the Warcraft novel, Arthas, Jaina Proudmoore, the title character's on-again, off-again Love Interest, suggests that Undead Plague might not effect kids the same as adults. It was then defied by Arthas, who made it clear that he was going to kill every last person in Stratholme - adults and children alike. Luckily, we never see THAT ugly tidbit in the games.
  • In Eon, the infant future emperor is publicly executed by sword to ensure all other lines of power are wiped out.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians averts this trope by having Bianca di Angelo die at the age of twelve. The rest of the deaths were teenagers and adults, not counting the off screen deaths.
  • In Anne's House of Dreams, Anne's firstborn child dies the day it is born.
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas subverts this. You expect one of the children to die because he's in a Concentration Camp but the ending has both the protagonist and his friend killed.
  • The Once and Future King has multiple infanticide committed by King Arthur, albeit off-stage (and revealed to us decades afterward.
  • In the book Lost by Jacqueline Davies, two of the protagonist's siblings were stillborn. Her younger sister also dies from being trampled by a carriage horse.
  • Stealaway: Crackspear avenges the theft of his horse by Walt of Wideopen by killing the latter's young son.
  • Raptor Red has several aversions and at least one near-aversion. The Trinity Turtle's earliest memories include her siblings being devoured by pterosaurs, Raptor Red and her sister seriously consider abandoning the chicks during a famine, and one of the chicks dies of an infection.
  • The Fox and the Hound has a lot of cute fox pups fathered by Tod romping around in a few chapters. All but possibly one die. There's also a human child who's accidentally poisoned by bait meant to cull rabid foxes.
  • In The Adventures of Pinocchio Pinocchio's friend Candlewick dies as a donkey as a result of exhaustion and the injuries inflicted by his master, and who knows how many children suffered similar fates in The Land Of Toys.
  • The Hunger Games, obviously. But even apart from the Games, there's the District 12 bombing, Prim, the Capitol girl with the yellow coat...
  • Tamora Pierce really likes to hold nothing back in her portrayals of medieval life in the Tortall Universe:
    • Particularly noteworthy are the last two books of Protector of the Small, where the hideous "killing devices" are apparently powered by the souls of dead children and infants who cry out for their mothers when released. It turns out that the necromancer who makes the devices doesn't need to use children. He does it because he likes to.
    • In Daughter of the Lioness, the children of rebels are thrown into a piranha moat. (Mercifully, this does not ever happen onscreen.) Also, Kyprioth persuades Rubinyan and Imajane to kill the four-year-old King Dunevon and his closest cousin, Elsren Balitang, who is the same age.
    • The first Provost's Dog book has the Shadow Snake, a kidnapper who kills the children they abduct if the parents don't give up the valuables that the Snake wants. One of Beka's best friends lost her boy this way. There's also a woman who commits infanticide on her own. In the third, one of the child princes is murdered.
  • Running Out of Time is about a girl from a 19th century-themed historical preserve who leaves and stumbles about the "modern day" in order to find a cure for the diphtheria that has afflicted the children of her village. Two of them later die from it.

Partial Aversions

  • Harry Potter is the exception that proves the rule. Big Bad Voldemort tries to kill him when he's a baby, but fails (leaving the iconic lightning-shaped scar). In the end, the cause turns out to be The Power of Love by way of magical Applied Phlebotinum. Let's recap: The Big Bad can't even kill a baby.
  • In Enderís Game, Ender kills two other children with his bare hands. The adults don't tell him, trying to keep him marginally sane.
  • Several children die in 'Salem's Lot - and most of them end up as vampires.
  • One of The Dresden Files books opens with Harry and Michael fighting the ghost of a woman who accidentally killed her own child (they were hiding from her drunk and abusive husband and the little girl started crying, so she covered her mouth to keep her quiet and when she looked down...) and is now insane and gunning for a whole hospital nursery full of newborns. She comes very close to killing them all before being stopped.
  • In Morgan Howell's Queen Of The Orcs: King's Property novel, they rather subvert this. After the main character, Dar, presides over the birth of her friend's child, and swears to the dying mother that she'll take care of the baby (typical fantasy novel thoroughfare), she allows the baby to be taken by her father, High Murdant Kol. He then casually tosses the baby in the river and walks away. This is never spoken of again. Similarly, Twea, the seven-year-old girl Dar more or less adopts, is murdered by soldiers near the end of the book.
  • In Juliet Marillier's Heir to Sevenwaters, the changeling Clodagh was caring for is murdered by Mac Dara in an effort to lure Cathal (Clodagh's love interest) into his hall. However, the good fairies help her repair the baby's body and bring him to life again.
  • As always with Robert Cormier and the tropes that have no place in a Crapsack World, this is often quietly averted, with the only subversion coming if you expected the book to run on the Theory of Narrative Causality and not on the rules of Cormier's bleak worldview. For instance, in After The First Death twenty kindergarteners are kidnapped by terrorists and used as hostages. One dies of an allergic reaction to the substance used to put them to sleep, one is killed for refusing to eat the candies that contain a second dose of the substance, and one is shot during their attempted liberation. The rest live, because there was no reason to Shoot the Shaggy Dog.
  • Max Brooks somewhat adhered to this trope in The Zombie Survival Guide, mostly by barely ever mentioning that children exist (e.g. he recommends hiding from the Zombie Apocalypse in schools, even though any school that's in session when news breaks of a zombie attack would be a madhouse of Papa Wolf & Mama Bear panic). He threw it out the window for World War Z, in which children starve, get eaten alive by zombies, or are mercy-killed by their own parents.
  • Averted in a rather Narmy way in Inheritance Cycle: in the very first book, Eragon and Brom enter a town that was slaughtered by the Big Bad's minions, leaving behind a pile of corpses... at the top of which is a baby impaled on a spike. A gruesome image normally, but the way it plays out in the books is very hard to take seriously, making it a failed attempt and a Moral Event Horizon.
  • In Metro 2033, every time Artyom travels with a child in the group, they die. First it's a man's retarded grandson, who is shot by fascists, then it's Oleg who jumps into some weird sentient murk beneath the Kremlin.
  • Averted in The Hunger Games (see Film) and especially Mockingjay - in the aftermath of the climactic attack President Snow tells Katniss he's not above killing children but he had no reason for firebombing a whole load of children being held in front of the presidential residence. Or the medical teams coming to help them. Including Katniss' sister Prim, who she sees incinerated right before her eyes.
  • Initially played straight, but later averted, in Chelsea Quinn-Yarbro's novel Tempting Fate. Saint-Germain finds a young girl as the only one alive in her house during the Russian Revolution and takes her in as his ward. Later, though, she is killed by Nazi brownshirts, triggering a Heroic BSOD.
  • This is averted very early on in The Reynard Cycle, when Persephone makes it clear that a famine in Engadlin has become so bad that people are resorting to eating their own babies. Later, we discover that Isengrim's first born son was killed at birth. Still later, King Lionel, an eight-year old, is stabbed in the heart.
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