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Fire Keeps It Dead
"In light of current understanding of ork biology, [wanting to burn the bodies] seems remarkably prescient of Jurgen, although it's perfectly reasonable to assume that, over generations of war with the greenskins, the Valhallans had noticed that re-infestation rates were significantly lower where ork cadavers were disposed of in this manner and had adopted the practice without fully understanding why this should be the case."
Amberley Vail in a footnote, Ciaphas Cain: Death or Glory

In some worlds, or for some creatures, death is not permanent. For instance, vampires can respawn or sorcerers 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 ideas behind Fire Purifies and Kill It with Fire: if fire burns away wickedness and evil things can come back, it follows that cremation prevents unwanted resurrections.

Compare to Viking Funeral, where the body is burned for religious or ceremonial reasons. See also Kill It with Fire and Disposing of a Body. Frequently overlaps with Burn The Undead, which is where fire is good at killing undead the first time around. In a video game, this might be a way of putting a permanent end to a Reviving Enemy.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    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.

    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.
    • Subverted in Return of the Living Dead, where burning the bodies will simply release the Trioxin into the atmosphere and cause new zombie outbreaks wherever it rains down.
  • 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.
  • In the 2013 remake of Evil Dead fire is one of the few things that can put down a deadite for good.

    Literature 
  • A subversion: In HP 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.
  • HP 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 Old Kingdom series, 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.
  • Wildlings in A Song of Ice and Fire burn their dead so they don't come back as Wights.
  • The Zombie Survival Guide points out that, while Burn The Undead is largely ineffective against zombies (they are not slowed down by the pain, the fire takes quite a while to actually burn them up, and in the meantime one has to deal with ''flaming'' zombies attacking), burning corpses after a zombie attack is an effective way 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 actually consumes the bodies.
  • 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 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.
  • Elemental Masters: Unnatural Issue: When a Hunting Party finds that Richard Whitestone has killed and reanimated all his servants, the Fire mages in the group chase everyone else outside and summon salamanders to cremate the bodies.
  • In the Riftwar novels, burning a Black Slayer's body is the simplest and least messy way to ensure that they won't get back up again (The others are magic and cutting out their hearts).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: Attempted repeatedly and never actually works.
    • This happens to the Doctor and does it work? Course not. It's probably to convince the audience that he might be dead.
    • It previously happened to the Master. On two separate occasions, the second of which was a funeral cremation after he was shot and refused to regenerate. It worked about as well as you'd expect, both times.
  • 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.

    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.
    • Some corporeal undead creatures have the ability to turn those they kill into minions. One way to prevent this is to burn the bodies to ashes before the deadline.
    • And of course, trolls are the iconic creature that will eventually regenerate from any damage, even apparent death, unless burned with fire or acid. Other creatures with regeneration follow the same template: they do not take normal hit point damage from sources other than their described weakness.
    • Even among mundane creatures, "destroying" a given body means that garden-variety Raise Dead and Resurrection spells won't be able to revive it; it requires the ninth-level True Resurrection. There are many ways to bring this about, such as reducing the body to paste or eating it, but fire is by far the easiest. In other words, fire doesn't keep it dead, but it makes it a lot harder to bring back.
  • 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 
  • 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.

    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 Alta´r 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. This was reused in the Neverwinter Nights series, where it's a good practice to have at least a couple flasks of alchemist's fire or acid.
  • Diablo III has the people of New Tristram starting to burn their dead, as they've become the target of another invasion of the undead. You see one guy near the gate ordering dead zombies thrown into the fire so they don't rise again.
  • Halo:
    • In Halo 2, an Elite will lament that they did not bring weapons to burn the bodies when the Flood breaks out. Covenant weapons like the Plasma Rifle and especially the Energy Sword (which deal damage using white-hot energy) are in general the best ways not only to take down a living Flood form, but also sufficiently break apart and burn the corpse so they cannot be reanimated.
    • In Halo 3, you finally do get a flamethrower. Although the range is bad, it is the best weapon for taking on the Flood, and kills them quickly.
    • In Halo 4, Forerunner power-weapons (the Scattershot, Binary Rifle, and Incendiary Cannon) incinerate the target's body upon death. Makes perfect sense, considering their primary targets would have been, once again, the Flood.
  • 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 Heads if they're killed without decapitation. The best way to make sure they don't is to carry around a flask of kerosene and a lighter to burn bodies. However, you can only carry so much kerosene at a time. Jill can also use flame rounds in the grenade launcher she can find.
  • 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.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2:
    • Subverted in the original campaign. After the Knight-Captain takes Crossroad Keep from a Luskan garrison including The Dragon Black Garius and several other Luskan mages serving the King of Shadows, Neverwinter's forces toss their corpses on a bonfire outside to dispose of them. The King of Shadows reanimates the mages as Shadow Reavers, each individually a near-indestructible boss-level creature.
    • Mask of the Betrayer features a rather frightening subversion in the crematorium of Myrkul's temple in Shadow Mulsantir. Probably because burning was used as often as a form of execution and torture as it was for getting rid of corpses (Myrkul was not a nice death god), the furnace room is infested with incorporeal undead. Luckily you can learn a useful anti-undead power in that incident, or turn them into the party member One of Many, so it's not all bad.
  • In Paper Mario, Dry Bones will eventually revive themselves unless hit with fire or an explosion.

    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."
  • Burning a body will keep it from being Decrypted in Webcomic/Erfworld.

    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. (On the other hand, the fire often kills the disease-spreading microorganisms infesting the body, reducing the likelihood for others to become infected, thus keeping the epidemic as a whole dead in a general sense. As with the page quote, they may have noticed the correlation without understanding why it happened.)
  • By some reports witch-burning arose because cremation was believed to destroy the soul, thereby preventing Satan from returning the witches to life. That said, people seem to have been happy to just lynch them. All of Castile-Leon-Aragon-Portugal's witch-killings were done in this manner, since the Spanish Inquisition refused to consider witchcraft a crime.
  • For long periods of time, the Catholic Church banned funeral masses for people who requested cremation because various people used it as a means of expressing disbelief in the resurrection of the body — heresy, in other words — so as to prevent their using the Church's own ceremony to dissent. The ban has been drawn back to cremation only when explicitly intended to express such beliefs. (Communists favored cremation for that very reason.)

Fictional United NationsOlder Than RadioFish Out of Temporal Water
Fire Is RedThis Index Is On FireFire of Comfort
Fearless UndeadUndead IndexGhost Lights
Flatline PlotlineResurrection TropesFossil Revival

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