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Only A Flesh Wound / Literature

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Flesh wounds in literature.


  • In one of the Biggles books, Ginger Hepplethwaite is shot through the thigh but still manages to outrun his pursuers for over a mile, before collapsing into the arms of his chum and mentor Biggles with blood loss. note 
  • Subverted in David Benioff's City of Thieves, in which a potentially humorous injury ends up causing the death of a major character. The handsome Russian soldier, Kolya, is shot in the buttocks by friendly fire. At first the situation seems mildly funny ("You know how much shit I'm going to get from my battalion? Shot in the ass by fucking amateurs straight off the assembly line!"), and Kolya tries to downplay the injury, but this seriousness sets in when it's clear just how much blood he's losing. As Kolya says, just before he dies: "not quite the way I pictured it."
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  • Dave Barry's Guide To Guys has this anecdote about the co-founder of the World Famous Lawn Rangers Precision Lawnmower Drill Team of Arcola, Illinois and his manly attitude toward serious personal injury:
    But my immediate anecdote concerns Ranger co-founder co-founder Ted Shields, who was with some other Ranger on a fishing trip off the coast of Louisiana when he came down wrong on his ankle and broke it. Naturally he told everybody it was just a sprain. Guys always say it's "just a sprain," because this way they can avoid falling into the clutches of medical care. A guy could have one major limb lying on the ground a full ten feet from the rest of his body, and he'd claim it was "just a sprain." So, although Ted's ankle was painful and swelling rapidly and turning some nonstandard colors, Ted chose to remain on the boat and treat the injury himself.
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  • Zigzagged in Deathstalker. The Masked Gladiator (Finlay Campbell) kills a genetically-engineered flying humanoid creature, which was carrying him high above the Arena to drop him on a flagpole, by stabbing the creature through his own belly. In his Gladiator persona, he shrugs the wound off, claims the head of his kill, and strides confidently back to his quarters beneath the Arena. Then he nearly collapses before his assistant and illicit girlfriend get him into his regeneration machine.
  • In the Discworld novel "Men at Arms", Lord Vetinari attempts to invoke this trope when he is shot in the leg. He fails.
    'There's no need,' said Vetinari, trying to smile and stand up. 'It's just a flesh-'
    The leg collapsed under him.
    • Subverted further in that future books have Vetinari walking with a cane. Although it's heavily implied he's faking it.
    • Played straight with Carrot in the same scene, who jumped in front of a bullet for him, got shot in the shoulder, and is barely slowed down at all. Maybe different rules apply to Carrot.
  • This trope shows up in, of all places, Georgette Heyer's classic regency romance The Grand Sophy. Sophy's friend is worried that her cousin might challenge him to a duel, so Sophy shoots him in the arm, then bandages him up. It's only a flesh wound, and blood poisoning isn't even mentioned.
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  • His Dark Materials: Subverted in The Subtle Knife, in which a character tries to inflict a non-fatal leg injury on his enemy only to nick an artery and end up killing him anyway.
  • In the Chris Ryan novel The Increment, assassinations are disguised by "clipping" one of the assassins' calf to make it appear that the suspect fired back and resisted.
  • In Julie Kagawa's The Iron Daughter, the nurse orders Puck to let her stitch his wound, and he tries this. She gives no quarter.
  • Y in Jam gets shot multiple times (including the head) with a sniper rifle but stays alive until he’s made sure that idiot who filled him with bullets is dead too.
  • In Zane Grey's novel The Last Trail, Jonathan Zane gets shot in the shoulder and passes out, but is soon up and about. Blood loss doesn't seem to be a problem.
  • The second book of The Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire, had Lisbeth Salander shot three times: in the leg, in the shoulder and in the head, then Buried Alive. She manages to crawl her way out of the grave and hit Zalachenko, who shot her with the axe twice before finally collapsing unconscious. She lives because the bullets were low-caliber, she was found soon afterwards by Blomkvist, who taped over her wounds and she was operated on by one of the best surgeons in Sweden. However, it still takes her several months to recover, and the wound in the shoulder gets severely infected a week after the act.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Monster Men, after von Horn shoots Bulan, and he collapses, Sing nevertheless assures Virginia that it's just a flesh wound — and he's right.
  • Jim, Meryl and Thaddeus in Mogworld aren’t bothered in the slightest by stab wounds, missing limbs or broken bones. Which is perfectly understandable since they’re undead.
    • Axe-Crazy Mr Wonderful can slice off his arm mid conversation and can keep cracking wise until he dies of blood loss. But then he just respawns.
  • Discussed in the Tom Clancy novel Patriot Games. Jack Ryan is shot in the shoulder and spends many weeks recovering. During his stay in the hospital, Ryan ponders how the heroes in fiction always seem to recover from a shoulder injury by the end of the show or novel or whatever.
  • Nelson DeMille's "Plum Island", wherein the antagonist is slashed through the abdomen, allowing his guts to spill out. This gives the protagonist enough time to pull some of the guts, place them on the antagonist's face and quip "Your guts." Later on we find out that the antagonist survived and is on trial. Nelson DeMille fails to understand things such as blood loss, infection (as this happens in a dark, underground, abandoned barrack near a disease research facility), the excruciating pain that would have caused the antagonist to pass out immediately.
  • Star Wars Legends: In the X-Wing novel Isard's Revenge, Corran Horn is grazed by a blastershot from behind him. Though only a graze, it has enough force to ragdoll him to the floor and make his body seriously unhappy with the current state of affairs. Even as he berates himself for carelessness, he mentally insults the guy that had plenty of time to aim a proper shot at his back and very nearly missed him entirely.
  • Subverted in the novel Tandia by Bryce Courtenay. One of the protagonists, Pee Kay is shot in the shoulder and is able to put the arm in a sling and stop the bleeding and seems to be okay. However when he tries to climb up a mountain side to escape the shooter, the wounds begin to bleed again profusely and the pain becomes so unbearable that he collapses and soon after dies from blood loss.
  • Tarzan's injuries tend to be treated this way. Notably in The Return of Tarzan he takes two shots to the shoulder and side during a duel and just stands there.
  • In The Tenets of Futilism, Sasha recovers rather quickly from having her arms and stomach cut open, though she does feel pain in those areas for the remainder of the novel.
  • The Three Musketeers:
    • Some injuries are handwaved away by claiming that they closed very quickly due to the weapon used. Since all the protagonists like to put on a Made of Iron persona, they still occur to shrug off stab wounds to in-universe spectators.
    • A particularly ridiculous case is when D'Artagnan firstly lightly wounds an opponent in the duel three times in unspecified spots, then rams the sword into his belly. All the opponent does is close his eyes, and D’Artagnan proceeds to tie his unconscious body up and leaves him expecting him to survive, and he does!
  • Lampshaded in Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis: Orual sticks a dagger clean through her own arm to blackmail her sister and does not suffer permanent harm—but gives us an aside in her narration saying that if she had known then what she knows now about the inside of an arm, she might not have dared to do it, implying that she was extremely lucky.
  • Tortall Universe: In Mastiff, the third Beka Cooper book. After many, many books where the protagonists are forced to spend a realistic time recovering, Beka cheerfully throws off concussions, broken bones, and torture. (At least partially justified by the fact that their party now contains a highly skilled mage who knows healing magic, admittedly.)
  • Played bizarrely in Tyrannosaur Canyon, when a character is shot in the head and comes away just fine. The bullet skimmed his skull and may have caused a concussion, but that's it.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Inverted in False Gods where Horus isn't dying from being impaled through his chest on a piece of crashed starship, but rather from a comparatively minor stab wound to his shoulder that his superhuman healing factor should have handled independently. The shoulder wound came from an anathame, so it's supernaturally resisting said healing factor.
    • Dan Abnett supplies a nice quote on the topic in the Gaunt's Ghosts novel His Last Command:
      Ayatani Zweil: Flesh wound? Flesh wound? They're all flesh wounds! No one ever says "Ooh look! I've just been shot in the bones, but it missed my flesh completely!"
      • Necrons do, with the exception of the Flayed Ones: rounds might not hit THEIR flesh, but they’ll still go through someone's dead flesh that they wear over the metal to intimidate their enemies.
    • Partially justified in some Ciaphas Cain books: most people don't bleed to death from a shot in a "non-lethal" area because the heat of the laser almost immediately cauterises the wound.
  • A lot in Warrior Cats, mainly because their way of life essentially revolves around fighting, and everytime a fight breaks out, everyone ends up bleeding from at least one gash. Justified because a cat's claws and teeth aren't nearly long enough to slice deeper than the flesh and muscle or cause major damage unless the injury becomes infected (and since these cats apparently have medical care, infection rates are low). Most injuries referred to in the series are relatively minor, and are true flesh wounds in every sense of the term.
  • Subverted in A World Gone Mad. After Griffin's partner is able to continue fighting normally for more than half an hour after being shot a couple times in the arm and once in the leg (with an assault rifle), Griffin walks up behind him and empties his pistol into the back of the guy's head as his failure to respond negatively to bullets suggests that he's not human. Then again, the author hedges his bets with regards to this trope since it's never clearly indicated whether Griffin was right, and one of the major plot points is that his Jack Bauer methods occasionally results in false positives.
  • In Keith Laumer's Worlds Of The Imperium, the alternate-world "Toth Convention" for duelists has the object of not killing the opponent, but inflicting painful (and humiliating) wounds. The hero subverts this by dropping his gun and punching the opponent out.


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