I’m a big fan of death. Not in the psychopathic or, uh, necrophiliac kind of way thanks. It says more about you than me that you even went there. No, I’m a fan of Death as a person, a character.
The sad loss of Terry Pratchett brought something into focus to me recently. I’m a big discworld fan, it’s quite apparent in my own writing and nowhere more so than in the personification of death itself. Pratchett’s Death is a phenomenal character full of depth and the dark humor that appeals to my particular sensibilities so well. While his particular version of the one person everyone is due to meet is familiar and loved, if that can be said, by so many of us his is far from the only version.
Rather than explore the many faces of Death, or the Grim Reaper as I name him in my own work, I wanted to state my opinion about why I am such a fan of death in all his or her incarnations. Death as a personification is both fictional and real. He both exists and doesn’t exist on a level that is possible for only very few actual literary characters. As writers we tend to write fictional characters, we examine motivations, personality, reason, journey, thought processes, history, psychology of characters who do not exist. On occasion we might gamble on including a historical individual or even a living character. Authors might decide to go all Vonnegut and even include themselves the author in their work. We may smash a fourth wall and speak to the author themselves but with Death we do something very different.
We’re personifying a real thing, something we will all have to face at some point or another. Death as a person, or a representation of a consciousness is such a common device that tracing its history is probably an interesting exercise, unfortunately not one I will get round to ever doing. Death can be terrifying, a dark creature that takes our souls – Terry Gilliam’s Death in Baron Munchausen still gives me shivers. He can be morose and apologetic, tired and philosophical. Pratchett’s Death is matter of fact and has little time for sentiment or histrionics- death’s in the discworld are often so matter of fact that the twinge of sentimentality is there and Death seems almost fatherly, and yet, it’s Death!
So why do I think Death is a wonderful character? For me the character of Death, the Grim Reaper, is brilliant because he actually exists. Not to upset anyone but in a way Death is a fictional being whose very existence is proven by the inevitable fact that we all die. Does death exist, yes, but does Death exist? The exploration of the process of death, life after death, and the mechanics of dying and our soul existing, of it remaining or vanishing is an irresistible concept.
With that in mind, and knowing fully that my own version of Death is a strange offbeat character I’d welcome anyone to give a little story about Death, the person.