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Despair Event Horizon / Literature

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  • 1984 is a world that has fallen below the horizon, even if the protagonist doesn't realize it until he is pushed over his own personal rat-related line.
    • Room 101 in general is designed to make someone cross the Despair Event Horizon, by using whatever the person fears most to make them betray whatever is most important to them after first wearing them down with a long period of torture.
  • In All Quiet on the Western Front Paul crosses it near the end, after he lost all of his friends were in the war. He describes his feelings like this: "Let the months and years come, they can take nothing from me, they can take nothing more. I am so alone, and so without hope that I can confront them without fear." When he's killed not much later, his facial expression is described as "calm, as though almost glad the end had come."
  • Animorphs:
    • Early on in the series, Tom gave up any hope of ever being freed from the Yeerks.
    • In the final arc, Jake falls into despair when his parents are infested. And then it gets even worse when Rachel and Tom die.
  • In the second Apprentice Adept trilogy, Fleta reaches this point after being told by everyone she knows that there's no way she'd be allowed to be with her love, Mach.note  Not willing to settle for being Mach's kept woman, she decides suicide is the only answer, going so far as to demand a talisman from Adept Red that would keep her from reflexively changing shape and saving herself. It takes a super-powered Anguished Declaration of Love from Mach to overcome the talisman and save her.
  • Sabrina Bunahr of Birthright (2017) reaches it when she believes she's completely alone. With everyone she knew and loved either ignorant of her thanks to the curse, our to the country, or driven away by the villains manipulations, Sabrina finally stops fighting and turns to the villain out of desperation to have someone who cares about her. Fortunately Ko-Kalah encourages her that she's not completely lost, and she manages to step back before crossing it completely.
  • High Lord Kevin falls into despair in the Back Story of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and renders most of the continent unlivable for centuries with the Ritual of Desecration. Think of it as the fantasy equivalent of a huge nuclear bomb. This solved the problem of the Dark Lord that was winning the war but at the cost of everything Kevin was supposed to preserve. And the Dark Lord turned out to be only temporarily inconvenienced, being immortal and all...
    • Later on the Giants of Seareach meekly let themselves be murdered out of horror over what had happened to some of them.
    • Still later Trell despairs also and commits his own Desecration luckily on a much smaller scale than the original, so the damage is limited. His sanity doesn't survive it.
    • This is a central theme in the Chronicles; it's the chief weapon of the villain, Lord Foul, whose whole objective seems to be pushing every single person in the world over their personal Despair Event Horizon. Indeed, every inhabitant of the Land swears an Oath of Peace which amounts to saying, "No matter what, I will not cross the Despair Event Horizon."
    • Covenant himself comes very close to the Despair Event Horizon at the end of The Illearth War, when High Lord Elena, his daughter, dies in the struggle with High Lord Kevin's specter under Melenkurion Skyweir. Fortunately, Foamfollower is there to pull him back from the edge.
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  • Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!) ends up fighting a witch who weaponizes this — simply meeting the boy's eyes leaves a priest writhing and screaming. Cain himself ends up fighting to stay sane from an onset of Religious Horror until Jurgen's aura gets in range.
  • Haik has long passed this in The Crocodile God. As a sea-god of the Tagalog tribe in the Philippines, the effects of Spain's colonization on him are a major theme of the story. Once respected and deeply loved by his people, Haik didn't take it well when the bulk of said followers were massacred, and the rest were forced to convert to Catholicism for survival. However, it was when his heavily-pregnant mortal wife Mirasol was shot by her Spanish employer and their whale-goddess daughter was stillborn that he finally plunged past the Despair Event Horizon. By the year 2017, the now Filipino-American Mirasol is The Only Believer left and their Reincarnation Romance has been saddled with a "Groundhog Day" Loop of reuniting, but getting separated or traumatized. When Mirasol tries to get him to break the cycle, he doesn't want to because he's afraid he'll lose her for good. This is not unfounded, since he points out that their first daughter has REFUSED to reincarnate since her death was so traumatic. In Chapter 7, he gets floored when Mirasol says that the other gods are mobilizing to look for him, since his only response is:
  • In The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantès is imprisoned in solitary confinement for years, on unclear charges, first hoping that the mistake will be quickly cleared up, then appealing in vain to the authorities, then raging, then praying to an unlistening God... after four years he realizes that he'll never be released. Crossing the event horizon (the author uses another metaphor: thoughts of suicide are like a blue inviting lake which, when you step into it, turns out to be quicksand), he decides to starve himself to death. He carries out this intention until he's lying on his bed weak and nearly dead... when he hears a scratching noise, which turns out to be a fellow prisoner digging a tunnel. This neighbor pulls him back over the event horizon, and turns his thoughts in a new direction: escape and revenge.
    • Several others experience despair horizons of their own during the story: Dantès saves at least two of them at the last minute, but experiences a new despair when his vengeance results in the death of his enemy's innocent child. (He gets better.)
  • In John C. Wright's Count to the Eschaton, Ctesibius does not even need guards; he will not attempt to escape. He has despaired since the day his order attempted to take over the world with Golden Goo and failed.
  • Darkness Visible has two notable examples. Most importantly, this is the reason why the leader of the Dark Tide is trying to end the world. He crossed the event horizon when his wife died. Badly. Lewis crosses his own despair event horizon in Hyde Park, when he realises that he will never survive the mental strain of closing all the rogue Thresholds. Being British, he gets on with it regardless, but quite without hope for his own survival. It is only thanks to Marsh getting him to a doctor immediately after his collapse that he lives.
    "The disordered ranks of dark portals went on and on before me, stretching into the grey distance like an unending army. I kept my eyes on the sky, and knew with a crushing certainty that I faced my own destruction."
  • The titular hero in Devdas loses all hope after Childhood Sweetheart Paro marries someone else. Made worse by the fact that it wouldn't have happened if he'd been able to stand up to his father. And it gets worse.
  • In the The Divine Comedy, Cavalcante faints and loses speech from despair upon thinking that his son died.note  It's worth noting that that Cavalcante manages to find this new depth of despair while burning in Hell for heresy.
  • In the Doctor Who novel "Engines of War", Cinder's death is what finally makes the Doctor willing to use the Moment to commit genocide, after risking everything to prevent the Time Lords from doing the same thing.
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine has the titular protagonist obsess over meeting a singer she met and fell in love with at a concert, and meticulously plan to meet him again. Though Eleanor battles loneliness, depression, and resurfacing trauma throughout the book, the final straw is her realization that she's obsessing over a crush on a stranger, making a fool of herself because she's desperate for companionship. This leads her to attempting suicide, though thankfully her friend Raymond saves her.
  • In Vikram Seth's novel An Equal Music, Michael spends a long time teetering on the edge of this after Julia tells him to stop bothering her.
  • In The Great Gatsby, George Wilson goes over this line after Myrtle dies. It leads him to kill the man he thinks is responsible, Jay Gatsby, in a Murder-Suicide.
  • During the climax of the Griffin's Daughter trilogy, elf noble Sadaiyo discovers his brother, Ashinji had survived Sadaiyo's beytral (setting him up to be captured by humans who would kill him on the spot or drag him off to be interrogated, then killed). Sadaiyo snaps and tries to kill him then and there, heeless of the fact that A) everyone would know he did it and B) they were in the middle of a battle with the humans.
  • Harry Potter:
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Marvin is in Mode Lock for this, and it's Played for Laughs.
  • The Hunger Games: Katniss Everdeen crosses the line in Catching Fire when she realizes Haymitch only kept his promise to Peeta. Pushed over the edge after District Twelve is nuked. She gets a bit better over the course of Mockingjay, but gets hit hard again after Prim's death, to the point that the next chapter after it happens consists of a series of incoherent rambling.
  • Kindling Ashes: After Corran is denounced as a traitor by his family and pushed off a cliff, he gives up all hope and is content to lie where he fell until he dies. Frang isn't having any of that and inspires him to live longer.
  • Lennie the sharecropper in Kneel to the Rising Sun by Erskine Caldwell led a miserable existence even before the climax of the story. His family was starving, the brutal landlord had tortured his dog, and his father was eaten alive by swine. However, he well and truly crosses the Despair Event Horizon when the sadistic landlord forces him to betray the only man who had ever really befriended him, and he watches helplessly as the local farmers hunt him down and eventually lynch him. By the end he is reduced to little more than a hopeless shell of a man, sinking powerlessly to his knees as the sun rises before him.
  • Knowledge Of Angels: Beneditx reaches this after he becomes convinced by Palinor that God does not exist.
  • The Last Days of Krypton: No-Ton slumps to the ground, crying, after the arks he's trying to build for a Homeworld Evacuation collapse due to the effects of an earthquake.
  • Denethor in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Return of the King has been sinking into despair for a long time, and finally snaps when Faramir is critically injured during the Siege of Gondor. In his madness, he proceeds to try to immolate both himself and his son on a funeral pyre, but Gandalf and Pippin stop him before he can put Faramir to the torch and Denethor is subsequently burned alive. The book is more explicit than the movie in mentioning one important factor in Denethor's despair: he had long used his own Palantír (seeing-stone) for gathering information, but the Palantír also provided a direct channel for Sauron to break Denethor's originally-formidable determination by showing him the military power of Mordor and (something that's rarely noted) making Denethor believe that Sauron had obtained the Ring.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Two Towers, when it appears as though Frodo has been killed by Shelob, Samwise Gamgee comes dangerously close to the despair event horizon, momentarily considering suicide before concluding that the only right thing to do is to take the Ring and complete the quest himself.
  • In Jack London's novel Martin Eden, the title character stops seeking fame and fortune as a struggling writer when he sees how the public treats the publication of a suicide friend's poem (the poem is a humongous success btw). His despair is such that he doesn't care when his career finally picks up steam, so he decides to retire early and commit suicide as well.
  • In The Maze Runner, after getting stung by a Griever and recovering some of his memories, Alby completely loses hope, knowing just what the world outside the Maze is like.
  • In Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, this is embodied in the character of Cadrach, who is introduced as a Dirty Coward and thief, but later turns out to have played a critical role in delivering the Tome of Eldritch Lore to the Evil Sorcerer who kicked off the entire "summon the evil Storm King back into the world" plot. He knows this, knows he did the whole thing out of cowardice, and admits that he'd do it again, thanks to his will having been broken by the knowledge contained in that evil book.
  • Zachary State, the protagonist of The Mental State, is made to watch as his girlfriend is raped before his eyes. In a fit of sociopathic rage, he mutilates the people responsible with his girlfriend watching. However, after seeing how terrified of him she has become, he plunges into despair and willingly allows himself to get arrested for his offences.
  • More Than This:
    • He went though a lot, but what finally drove Seth over the edge was finding out Gudmund was sleeping with Monica and was never exclusively "his".
    • Seth's mother couldn't get over Owen's death, choosing a simulated reality over accepting it.
  • From Oleg Divov's Night Watcher, with a strong helping of Tear Jerker: Igor Dolinsky's lover was turned into a vampire. He didn't know it, and so, vampirism being a STD, he became a vampire himself. This led to a series of strange uncontrollable outbursts on his part, during one of which he raped his wife and tried to start a chainsaw massacre in the town (he was stopped in the nick of time). Realizing that something strange had happened to him, he resolved to combat it by tying himself up in the basement during full moons — and his amazingly dedicated wife helped, causing him to appreciate her more than ever. Only, as his condition got worse, he became alternatively lethargic or dangerous — and thus tied up — for months at a time, and so wasn't there for her when his wife inevitably became a vampire from the rape too. Eventually, he successfully overcame his vampirism, only to discover that his wife had irrevocably embraced the vampire lifestyle and the only way to save her was to make her a Master, which meant that they would never see each other again, not that she could bring herself to care about him in her present state anyway. "Luckily", he had just enough connections to pull it off, but at that moment he hit the Despair Event Horizon hard and spent days contemplating suicide methods before coming to the horrible realization that he is simply too sane to kill himself, which made things even worse. So in the end he dedicated himself to saving his town from the vampires.
  • In Obsidian Mirror Venn heavily implies he went over this after Leah died. The fact that he was the one driving when the car they were both in crashed probably didn't help.
  • In Of Fear and Faith the party encounters a derelict fortress full of soldiers who have crossed this and attempt to help them. Then things get worse.
  • Richard Shannon's wife in Only Superhuman was killed right in front of him causing him to go into Heroic BSoD. Which he was only broken out of when Arkady reminded him that his daughter still needed him. Her blaming him for her mother's death sent him over this.
  • In Otherland, the suffering endured by the Other, the quasi-AI operating system of the titular network, comes to a peak after Psycho for Hire Dread takes over the system, torturing it to the point where it gives up all hope of preserving itself or its secret, and instead hatches a plot to destroy itself along with all of its tormentors.
  • Multiple instances in occur in An Outcast in Another World where Rob is close to suffering one of these. The closest happens when he encounters a wolf during a training excursion that triggers memories of his first day in Ixatan. Keira manages to calm him down through good ole’ fashioned friendship.
  • In John Milton's Paradise Lost, none of the devils propose admitting they are in the wrong; one ventures to raise the possibility, only to dismiss it as horrible.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Regained, Miranda is convinced that Astreus, having lost hope, will now fall prey to Hell.
  • The ghosts of all his murder victims attempt to do this to Shakespeare's Richard III before the Battle of Bosworth, conveniently Lampshading it with the phrase "Despair and die." It doesn't really work because Richard is such a Magnificent Bastard as to be beyond all shame.
  • Early into the Seeker Bears book Great Bear Lake, Kallik begins losing her will to live. She has to resist the temptation to drown herself and be with her mother (who was killed by whales). It isn't until she hears the ice spirits calling her brother's name that she regains her spirit to go on and be reunited with her sibling.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Viserys Targaryen underwent a slow descent into despair and insanity upon being forced to move from place to place in Essos, but, according to Daenerys, the point when he completely went off the rails was when he had to sell their mother's crown, as it was the last memento he carried over from Westeros.
    • Theon Greyjoy's mother, Alannys Harlaw, experienced this in the aftermath of the failed rebellion instigated by her husband, as two of her sons were killed, while Theon was sent to the Starks as a hostage. Her daughter, Asha, describes how she would roam the halls of Pyke in search of her sons, even walking on a rope bridge barefoot. She eventually retreated to her childhood home when she could not bear the pain anymore.
    • Theon himself becomes the victim of this in A Dance with Dragons. After a very long torture session with Ramsay Snow, during which he was inflicted by all kinds of implements, possibly castrated, and learned about his sworn brother, Robb Stark's death, the handsome and proud Theon has transformed into a haggard, absolutely defeated man who only answers by the name "Reek". It takes a whole novel for him to even remember his real name, and he will probably never fully recover his sanity.
    • In A Storm of Swords, Catelyn Stark goes into the Red Wedding, having lost her husband, one daughter hostage, the other missing and suspected to be dead and believing two of her three sons are dead. So, when eldest son Robb is cut down before her, she completely fucking loses it, clawing at her face and laughing hysterically even as her treacherous bannermen round on her. When she's later brought Back from the Dead, well... she hates. Constantly.
    • In A Dance with Dragons, Jorah Mormont undergoes this when he hears that Daenerys has married Hizdahr zo Loraq.
      Tyrion: One whispered word had done what fists and clubs could not; it had broken him.
    • Archmaester Gyldayn's Histories has Aegon II's wife, Helaena Targaryen, who has to watch her older son, Jaehaerys, beheaded... right after approving her younger son, Maelor, to die in his place. She is never the same afterwards, refusing to sleep with her husband or look at Maelor, as it will remind her of the time when she sentenced him to die. She commits suicide a year later.
  • The Spirit Thief: At the end of Spirit War, Eli, crushed with guilt over his inaction during Nara's invasion of Osera, goes into Heroic Safe Mode and gives up, letting Benehime take him with no resistance.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • At the end of the New Jedi Order, the death of Supreme Overlord Shimrra sends the Yuuzhan Vong species (and particularly the warrior caste) over the Despair Event Horizon en masse, with thousands of warriors committing ritual suicide or kamikaze attacks and the others surrendering to the Galactic Alliance. Oddly enough, this is a positive example of the trope, since it convinced the otherwise-implacable Vong that the war was not worth continuing.
    • The hapless Captain Bebo in Galaxy of Fear: Eaten Alive. Losing some of his crew in a ship crash, others vanishing one by one until only one remains in the single safe place on D'vouran, he tries to warn off visitors to the world but is too grief-stricken and gaslit by the natives for them to think he's anything but mad. Still, he keeps trying — and that last crewmember dying breaks him. It's actually this despair that gets one visitor to take him seriously and hear him out, but when he's done, rather than go with her he gives her the trinket that has kept him safe, and is killed shortly thereafter.
    • In addition to portraying Anakin Skywalker's long fall to The Dark Side, the novelization of Revenge of the Sith makes clear that his tumble over the Despair Event Horizon has collateral damage:
      • When Sidious abandons him to be killed, Dooku realizes that all his accomplishments, victories, and plans amount to nothing because he was being cultivated for one sole purpose: Anakin's first murder.
      • Subverted when Mace Windu is told that Palpatine is Darth Sidious, and the whole Republic and the war is under the control of the Sith. He first despairs, having idolized the Republic as the ideal to which he fights for, but then decides to deal with the Sith Lord and so regains his resolve.
      • In his duel against Sidious, Yoda finally breaks through the cloud of the dark side of the Force, only to realize that he and all Jedi are utterly powerless against the Sith, because the Sith have evolved to the future and the Jedi haven't. He escapes with his life, but knowing he can never hope to stop Sidious.
        "Only my pride [is wounded]," Yoda said, and meant it, though Bail could not possibly understand how deep that wound went, nor how it bled. "Only my pride."
      • Anakin's final scene outlines his thought process during the Big "NO!" in Second-Person Narration. He's been rebuilt as Darth Vader, and is informed that he killed Padmé. He tries to shirk off the blame, only to realize there is no one to, and that it was him committing evil all along.
        You killed her because, finally, when you could have saved her, when you could have gone away with her, when you could have been thinking about her, you were thinking about yourself...
        It is in this blazing moment that you finally understand the trap of the dark side, the final cruelty of the Sith — because now yourself is all you will ever have.
  • Mme. Raquin in Thérèse Raquin experiences this when not only does she know that her niece/daughter-in-law killed her son, but she loses her one and only chance to expose Thérèse's crime.
  • Unbroken: "All I see, he thought, is a dead body breathing." Olympic runner Louie Zamperini's realization of the fact that his time as a POW will permanently affect the rest of his life.
  • In Use of Weapons, happens in a rather nasty way to the original Cheradenine in one of the flashback chapters when he discovers what Elethiomel did to his sister, complete with Title Drop for emphasis. It's strongly hinted that the same happened to Elethiomel as well which led to him becoming The Atoner and thus the events of the rest of the book.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel Fulgrim, Fulgrim's is when, having murdered Ferrus Manus, his sword lets him realize what he has done. His despair is so great that his sword persuades him that suicide is too noble for him — and tricks him into accepting possession.
  • In Warhammer 40,000 Daemon World by Ben Counter when the daemon prince who he thought was Deus ex Machina betrays him and kills his entire army.
  • In another Warhammer 40,000 novel, Fall of Damnos, the Damnosian PDF is near broken and convinced they're just stalling for time before Ultramarines arrive. The Marines' arrival pulls some out of this mindset, but others, like colonel Sonne, are still convinced that the Necrons will slaughter them all.
  • In Nick Kyme's Warhammer 40,000 novel Salamander, the obviously suffering Fugis confesses to having lost faith at the death of their captain.
  • The Warhammer 40,000 Grey Knights novel Hammer of Daemons has an Imperial Guardsman say that many of his comrades "finally lost the will when they" saw Alaric fighting as if a Chaos warrior.
  • Most of the 12th Book of The Wheel of Time is about Rand Al'Thor reaching this point. When he does reach it, he comes within seconds of just wiping out all existence (or as much of it as he can manage, which is a lot as he was enhancing his power at the time) as it is all pointless, in a lovely Nietzsche Wannabe rant. He gets better, and the wise, calm and near saintly Rand that emerges at last seems like The Chosen One to hope for, rather than the only option.
    • It's implied that Rand's Evil Counterpart Moridin crossed this long ago; faced with the idea of Eternal Recurrence, he decided that destroying the world was a kinder fate. Pretty much confirmed in the last book, which shows that Moridin is a full-on Death Seeker who can't bear the thought of existing any longer as someone as horrible as himself, and he intends to drag the world down with him. He gets what he sought, but the world is spared.
  • The Witchlands: Merik is on the verge of losing all hope throughout most of the second book, as he grieves for Kullen and Safi, thinks his sister is villainous, believes that he's the only hope of the country and yet can't prove it and is scarred beyond belief, making him feel pain almost all the time. Cam leaving him sends him beyond and for a while he completely stops caring what happens to him, but he manages to find resolve to pull himself back out.
  • Kalthused suffers a preliminary one in Within Ruin, Ankaa's death driving him to abandon his morals and instead orchestrate the death of millions. It gets even worse when Almi and Merill die during Virgil's rescue attempt he fully loses his marbles, embraces dark magic and goes on a murdering rampage.
  • World War Z:
    • Discussed in one interview, as people start going to bed at night and just not waking up, with no apparent cause other than complete loss of will to keep going.
    • Another interview relates the story of a Chinese submarine commander who, having turned against his government (due to a belief that his government's actions were suicidal), crossed this after destroying a submarine of the loyalist faction. His men later learn that the commander's son was in charge of the same type of boat that they had just destroyed. His son was not actually on the destroyed boat, and in fact eventually found and greeted his father as a part of the resistance forces; while this clearly gave great relief to the commander, the line was already crossed and he died soon after.


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