November 17, 2012 by Heidi
Fall is a season of harvest, but it is also the herald of endings. For me, the darkening of days, colder weather, and quite visible death of the flora around me isn’t something to dread–it’s something to revel in. It is a time when I put away my cheery books meant for the bright days of summer or the warm hearths of the holidays, and wrap myself in what humor, insight, and darkness this season has to give.
One of my favorite story-types to sink myself into at this time of year are those involving Death–yes, Death with a capital D–the personification of that mortal inevitability. People have been giving Death names and faces for as long as they have been telling stories. In some cultures, Death is a hag, in others, a skeleton. Death has been a god, a trickster, and even at times known to ride a buffalo (an inspiration to this guy, I am sure). I think that most commonly, we picture Death to be quite like this guy on the left as illustrated in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld–a hooded skeletal figure bearing a sythe.
I’ve found myself in love with a few of Death’s literary incarnations, namely:
Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett utilizes Death as a character throughout his Discworld novels, but he also gets his own nice little series within including what I am sorry to admit is the only Discworld novel I have read to date, Reaper Man. Handed to me by a friend after I expressed my love of Death, I loved this novel which explores just what would happen should Death decide to quit. Clearly I need to get out there and read the rest of Pratchett’s Death stories.
On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony
Okay, I know Piers Anthony books are extremely formulaic and misogynistic enough to make any one of us women consider some poignant hate mail, but I gotta admit–the man can totally suck me in on occasion. As was such with his Incarnations of Immortality series, in which each book focuses on a different personification–death, time, fate, nature, war, good and evil. I may be a big time travel nerd, and a fiber arts fangirl who loves the weavings of fate, but there’s no denying that the star of this series is Thanatos, or, Death. Remember the Tim Allen movie The Santa Clause? Whelp, turns out Death works on pretty much the same system–you kill the guy, you get the job. And good luck with it!
Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman
Death is my favorite character in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and I’m also a fan of the two stand alone trades that she received. As stated, it seems that Death is as often personified as a woman as it is a man, but because this isn’t something we see much of in western culture, Dream’s sweet and fun big sis opened a new world for me. In Sandman, Death is one of seven siblings–Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium. In these graphic novels you’ll find that she’s the only one of these seven whose speech is the same as us lowly mortals. She’s the only one who bothers understand what it is to be one of us, to really relate to mortals. If that isn’t endearing, I don’t know what is.
Of course, loving the personification of Death, means I’m also a big fan of reaper stories, so honorable mentions are going to Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (in which Death does make an appearance) and Graveminder by Melissa Marr. I’m also decided that aside from more Discworld, I need to pick up Croak by Gina Damico, First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones, and (don’t glare) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t leave you with my three favorite TV takes on death:
So…seasons 5 and 6 of Supernatural largely sucked, but one of the best parts for me was meeting Death. This dude’s one creepy mofo–I can totally see him driving Thanatos’s car from On a Pale Horse. Supernatural is also the only case I can think of that uses both Reapers and Death as individual beings. Essentially, Reapers work for Death–makes sense to me.
One of my all time favorite TV shows that ended too soon (woe to the dark days of the writer’s strike and dangling plot lines at a show’s conclusion), Ned is kind of a reaper…or anti-reaper, depending on how you look at it. If he touches something dead, it comes back to life, BUT if it’s alive for more than a minute, something else has to die in its place. If Ned touches a dead object after he’s brought it to life, it dies again. Of course, this makes him an excellent side kick for solving murders, but his relationship with his alive-again childhood sweetheart a bit complicated. Pushing Daisies is one of the most charming, quirky, and colorful shows I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t seen it, I couldn’t recommend it more–just go in knowing that there won’t be a neat ending.
Dead Like Me
Proving that Bryan Fuller is as obsessed with Death as I am (he created both Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me), Dead Like Me follows the story of George, a young woman who becomes a reaper upon dying a most embarrassing death. She’s assigned a position reaping accidents, along with a small crew who receive their duties via post-it notes. Like Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me only lasted two seasons, but it was a little less loose in the end. Pro tip though: don’t want the movie. Trust me.
What are your favorite incarnations of Death? Or am I just a creeper for loving these things? I think it’s very natural for people to be fascinated by death, and to want to put a face on what may be everyone’s most inevitable fear. Let me know what great Death or Reaper tales I’m missing out on, and how you feel about those I’ve listed here.