In the entire 5,000 year history of the written word, there can be no greater moment of drama than the death of Judge Fernandez in Judge Dredd: the day the Law died . With Mega City One suffering under the tyranny of mad Judge Caligula, Dredd and his fellow rebels are surrounded by Kleggs, the slabbering flesh eating alien mercenary troops of Caligula. Badly wounded Judge Fernandez volunteers to hold off the Kleggs so that other rebels can escape. As they flee, the bloodied but defiant Fernandez rushes towards the monstrous foe. Bullets fly around him, his moustachioed face grimaces in pain, but still he runs on, gun blazing. His last words: ‘Come on, you – you steenking sons of Armadillos! Judge Julio Fernandez, He… he steel gots plenty of steeng! UUUHHH’
Moved as I was by this act of supreme sacrifice, I was unable to carry on reading the story. My five year old son Callum had climbed on my knee and was wanting me to explain what was happening in the pictures. So after a quick synopsis of Caligula’s rise to power, I began reading out the section leading to Fernandez’s death. For me it was a fun story, for my son it was a revelation. ‘The man dies?’ Yes. ‘Why?’ Well somebody had to fight off the Kleggs so the rest could escape. ‘Does he love his friends?’ Yes he does. ‘And he dies so they can escape?’ That’s right. Callum asked me to read out Fernandez’s last heroic words. My son was particularly taken with the ‘you steenking sons of Armadillos!’ insult and began practising it in his best faux Latino accent. After a while, satisfied that he’d learned all he needed to know about Judge Dredd and his adventures, my son climbed down and went off to do some drawing in the kitchen.
Having had my daily dose of machismo, it was time for me to (heroically) sort out the laundry. Up I went to the boys’ room and began sorting out clothes. After a while Callum came into the room holding some sheets of paper. ‘Can I show you my story?’ We sat on the carpet and Callum began to put his pictures in the correct order, and then, all being ready, told me his story. As I looked and listened my heart filled up with all manner of emotions; pride, joy, sorrow and a vast love. The first picture was of a little boy with curly hair and spectacles walking hand in hand with his daddy, both were smiling. In the next picture a bad man was firing guns at daddy. ‘Daddy died so the boy could escape,’ explained Callum. In the next picture the little boy was in bed, his mouth turned down in sadness, as he dreamed about his daddy who was in a bubble above his head. In the next picture the baddy is behind bars. In the last picture the little curly hair boy is smiling and beside him stands a smiling bedsheet ghost. ‘The boy is happy his daddy has come down from heaven to check on him.’
It was all there: happiness, sacrifice, sorrow, justice and a love that survives death. Here is where our greatest myths begin, wondering about what happens after we die and how we should live a good and just life when we are alive. The Neanderthals pondered such huge themes, or so suggests the beads they left in their graves. Doubtless some Neanderthal father had the same discussion with his child. Doubtless he felt as pierced by grief and joy as he tried to make sense of it all for his son.
They are big questions but for the moment my youngest can play with them as he plays with sticks and stones or seashells and pebbles, with curiosity, imagination and occasional frustration when things don’t work out the way he wants them to. My son has a child’s understanding of the process of aging and death. When he asks, as he occasionally does, if I will still be with him when he is an old man I assure him, in all honesty, that of course I will. Love carries on for ever. It can even, as Judge Dredd himself will tell you, help defeat mad tyrants and their gruesome alien allies.
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You might also want to have a look at Questions about death: Whatpreschoolers ask ... what parents answer
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