Honestly, I have no idea why two fictional assassinations of real people are causing controversy at the same time. First it was author Hilary Mantel’s short story “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher” (see below). Next, as you probably know, The Interview — about the fictional assassination of Kim Jong-un — drew the ire of some hackers somewhere, and the result has been a maelstrom of insanity and AutoCorrect the likes of which Hollywood has never seen.
But fictional assassinations are not new. And this is not the first time they’ve caused controversy. Here is a list of ten fictional assassinations (of people who really existed) from classical and recent literature. A note: obviously some of these people were actually assassinated, but the depiction of each assassination, in the below cases, contains some fictional or dramatic elements.
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel
This recent collection of Mantel’s stories features only one assassination fantasy about killing Margaret Thatcher. Nevertheless, it has caused several Tories to publicly whine and cry “too soon,” even though Thatcher died more than a year ago. And they earned their rebuke: Mantel hilariously referred to their moaning as “froth and bile” and reminded them that the story concerns a fictional assassination of someone who is dead.
Libra, Don DeLillo
DeLillo wrote of his fictional account of Lee Harvey Oswald’s (alleged) assassination of JFK: “I made no attempt to furnish factual answers to any questions raised by the assassination.” Still, Libra stands out as one of the strongest assassination novels in recent history.
The Black Tulip, Alexandre Dumas
This novel opens with the mob lynching of Dutch Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt and his brother Cornelis. From there, the story involves a contest to see who can grow a black tulip. Only gradually are these events aligned. And it has one of the saddest lines I’ve ever read: “Sometimes one’s sufferings have been so great that one need never say, ‘I am too happy.”
The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, Peter Weiss
Peter Weiss, a polymath and one of the greatest postwar writers, is ripe for rediscovery. This play, commonly known as Marat/Sade, is one of his best-known dramas. It takes place in the Charenton asylum, where Sade was kept and allowed to cast inmates in his dramas. In this case, a cast of inmates — with crazy physical and mental illnesses — rehearses the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat by Charlotte Corday. Known more for Peter Brook’s filmed production, it should really be read as well as watched. It is, without question, one of the great post-war dramas.
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare
Is Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar the most famous assassination drama ever written? It’s so famous that people actually believe that Caesar said “Et tu, Brute?”
Salomé, Oscar Wilde
After dancing the dance of the seven veils, Salomé requests the head of Jokanaan (John the Baptist). She gets what she wants.
Checkpoint, Nicholson Baker
Washington DC, 2004. Jay and Ben talk in a hotel room. Jay is depressed, and wants to kill President George W. Bush. Ben attempts to dissuade him. I won’t tell you what happens.
The King Amuses Himself, Victor Hugo
This little-known play by Victor Hugo was banned, for 50 years, after a single performance, in an act of censorship that made Hugo famous. Although the story concerns the attempt to assassinate King Francis I of France, it contained thinly veiled insults against King Louis Philippe. It later formed the basis for Verdi’s Rigoletto.
The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
There are several fictional depictions of the assassination of Leon Trotsky — presumably on Stalin’s orders, by Ramón Mercader — but this one was a surprise from Kingsolver. And it’s probably her best book.
The Successor, Ismail Kadare
A great, underrated assassination novel, Kadare’s The Successor wades through the atmosphere of distrust and rumor surrounding the death of Mehmet Shehu, who was poised to be the leader of Albania before he mysteriously died, supposedly of suicide. Even today, no one knows what really happened…