Alan as King Gunther, a character I created for him to portray when he was still alive (sorry for the bad photoshop job!)
The one word I see used more than any other to describe Alan Rickman in the various tributes from his fans and co-stars is generous, and even without truly knowing him, that is something I can attest to. To the entertainment world he gave a wide range of insightful and sympathetic performances. To the Harry Potter fandom he gave life to one of the series’ most iconic characters, but to me he gave something else too – the most important life lesson I’ve ever known.
Alan is the reason I learned to put myself in another’s shoes. He had a tremendous capacity for empathy and the rare talent of seeing the good qualities in others that shined through absolutely in his craft. In the fifteen years I followed his work, I never heard or read him disparage or judge any of the characters he portrayed, regardless of their moral alignment, and he brought the same level of dignity and respect to a role such as Hans Gruber or Judge Turpin as he did to Professor Snape or Colonel Brandon. He not only made me understand his characters but he made me want to understand them and inspired me to apply that desire for understanding to people in real life.
I was never able to work up the courage to tell Alan what he meant to me while he was alive because I thought he would’ve heard the same things said so many times before that my words wouldn’t matter much to him, and that’s something I will always regret. Although I know nothing I do could ever be enough to repay his contribution to my life and so many others, this tribute is my small and long overdue thank you. While most fans have taken to editing videos and writing fanfiction involving one or more of Alan’s past roles, these ideas seem so insignificant compared to all he has taught me. While I sincerely apologize to those who feel this is the wrong time, place, or manner for such a tribute, the grandest gesture I could think of was to give back to him with a character of my own creation who was inspired by and written to one day be portrayed by Alan Rickman.
Two years ago, I wrote a story called Broken Shards of a Frozen Heart for a contest. When developing the character of King Gunther, the story’s main antagonist, I applied the lessons in empathy I learned from Alan and studied several of his past performances to strike the right balance between sinister and sympathetic. What I wound up with was a man who was by turns Machiavellian and insecure, domineering and lonely, cruel and deeply tortured. The piece that follows is King Gunther’s backstory and is dedicated to the late Alan Rickman, without whom this character would never have existed.
Prince Gunther had always felt out of place in his family. As the second of four sons, his existence seemed superfluous. His elder brother Georg had his path laid out for him, spending most of his days locked behind closed doors with their father and his entourage of advisors in training for the day he’d become king – something that Gunther did not envy at all! Even his two younger brothers, the twins Gerhard and Gregor, were starting to chart their own courses. Gerhard was the top of his class at a prestigious military academy, and Gregor was avidly studying politics. But Gunther had no idea what he might do with his life.
A shy and sensitive child, Gunther didn’t think he was cut out for combat or politics, and he wanted no part of ruling a kingdom. He was sure he’d go mad under the weight of so much responsibility! On the off chance he inherited the throne, his plan was to abdicate it to one of the twins. His real passion was for literature and the arts. While his brothers were sword fighting and his parents entertaining foreign dignitaries, Gunther was most likely to be found in the library. His brothers scoffed and mocked him, and his father tried to encourage him to find a more masculine way to occupy his time. He didn’t see what he was doing wrong! He wasn’t bothering anyone… so why did his family want him to change?
Only his mother understood him. She would often bring him a plate of sweets or a cup of tea while he was sequestered in the library. She’d ask him about the book he was reading and listen as he talked, sometimes for hours on end. Before she left, she would kiss his cheek and assure him he’d find his place one day. He wasn’t sure he believed her, but it was nice to know she had faith in him.
Just before the young prince turned seventeen, a deadly typhus outbreak ravaged the kingdom. Not even the royal family was immune. For weeks, Prince Gunther was confined to his bedchamber in a delirious fever. When he finally opened his eyes, he saw the chancellor and a number of his father’s advisors huddled at his bedside, wearing grim expressions. For one wild moment, Gunther thought their presence was just another fever dream. What could they possibly want with him? “So glad to see you’re awake, Your Majesty,” one of them said.
Why are they calling me Your Majesty? Gunther thought. That title was normally reserved for kings and queens. Then his frazzled mind finally started to piece together what was going on. “My father… is he dead?” he demanded. The advisors exchanged worried looks, but their silence was the only confirmation he needed. “And Georg?”
The chancellor was finally the one to tell Gunther what had happened. The typhus outbreak had already claimed the lives of his father and all three of his brothers. Before he had the time to process the fact that he was now king, the chancellor broke another piece of news, one that turned his world upside down. His mother had held on the longest, but she wasn’t expected to survive the night. His heart dropped. He had to say goodbye to her! He sat straight up in bed, but the chancellor pushed him back toward the pillows, insisting he rest.
Hours passed, but Gunther lay awake in his bed, waiting for the inevitable news of his mother’s passing. He glanced at the clock on the nightstand; bright moonlight shone in from the window, illuminating the hands stopped at 2:30. Somehow he knew she was dead, even before the chancellor informed him the next morning. He showed no emotion at the news; his only reaction was to ask when her funeral would be held. The chancellor tried to dodge the question, but Gunther saw it in his eyes; there was something he wasn’t telling him. When he persisted, the chancellor said he was still too sick to be allowed to attend his mother’s funeral and slunk out the door before he had a chance to argue.
A sob tore form Gunther’s throat the moment the chancellor was out of earshot. He buried his face in his pillow, but it did little to drown out the sound. Now he was truly alone in the world. It just wasn’t fair! Why had he been spared? He had no future planned out for him; no one (with the possible exception of his mother) would miss him if he died. It should have been him; he wished it had
been him. Maybe then the rest of his family would still be alive…
He had no idea how long it had been before he heard whispers rising from the hall. He could only make out bits and pieces of what was being said: “…can’t be expected to hand power over to him…” “…too young…” “…ill-equipped to rule…” “…will need constant supervision…”
Gunther continued to listen to his advisors talk about him, and he was suddenly angry… angry at his advisors for underestimating him, angry at his father and Georg for saddling him with the responsibility for ruling a country, angry at Gerhard and Gregor for leaving him with no way out of it, but more than anything else, angry at his mother for leaving him all alone. He defiantly dragged a hand across his eyes. His mind was made up; he would not be that fragile little boy his advisors saw! At that moment, Gunther vowed no one would ever again see a hint of vulnerability in him.