Death is not a nice thing. Most people are afraid of it to some extent, and we often avoid talking about it, even though it’s the only experience (aside from birth) that all humans share. But for some reason, when Death becomes a character in a story, he (or she) is almost always a really chill dude. Maybe it’s the edgy Goth fashion sense or the sarcastic wit or the fact that so many writers like to take the terror out of the inevitable. Whatever it is, I’ve never met a fictional Grim Reaper I didn’t like.
Here are three of my favourite Deaths in fiction:
3. Death the Horseman from Supernatural
This guy simply oozes class. From the moment he first stepped onto the show (in slow motion, out of a stylish white car, to the sound of “O Death” by Jen Titus), he was firmly established as the most awesome entity in Supernatural‘s mythology. He’s at least as old as God, his mere presence is enough to wipe out whole cities, and he’s so far above humans that he thinks of them as bacteria. Dean Winchester, who once taunted a whole room full of pagan gods and called the Devil a “cockroach,” shuts up if Death so much as raises an eyebrow. And yet, underneath the frightening powers, he’s just a laid-back sort of person with a fondness for junk food and nice suits. He sometimes finds humans annoying, but he’s also willing to help them out if they manage to get his attention. He even helped save the world a few times. He also has a really cool-looking scythe, although so far we’ve never seen him use it.
2. DEATH from Discworld
Of the many wonderful characters in Terry Pratchett’s wonderful fantasy series, I think Death is my favourite. He appears at least once in almost all 40 books, and he’s easily one of the most sympathetic and likeable residents of the Disc. Which is impressive, because he’s literally a skeleton in a black cloak who can only be seen by people who are about to die and always speaks in ALL CAPS. But he’s also an excellent adoptive father and grandfather, he takes good care of his pets (Death of Rats and Binky the horse), and he, too, has saved the world on more than one occasion. He shows genuine compassion to the souls he collects, mixed with a healthy dose of dry humour. And talking of cool scythes, his is so sharp it can split atoms. His granddaughter Susan is pretty fantastic, too. Doesn’t hurt that she inherited a few superpowers from granddad.
1. The Narrator from The Book Thief
There are many great versions of Death in the world of fiction, but none of them can hold a candle to this one when it comes to eloquence and compassion. This Death doesn’t like his job. At all. He hates World War II and all the suffering it caused as much as the next person. But he loves colours. He loves words. And he loves the Book Thief and all that she teaches him about humanity. Few first-person narrators have ever drawn me so completely into a story, or given me so many insights to take with me to the real world. This Death isn’t just cool – he’s beautifully wise. And yes, he does have a sense of humour, which is really important, considering the book’s dark subject matter. But mostly I love him for his last line in the book: “I am haunted by humans.”
(P.S. The Book Thief is a ridiculously sad book. I highly recommend it for rainy days.)
Have I missed any good Deaths? Which are your favourites?