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Death (fictional character)

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Death is a fictional character who has existed in mythology and popular culture since the earliest days of storytelling. Because the reality of death has had a substantial influence on the human psyche and the development of civilization as a whole, the personification of Death as a living, sentient entity is a concept that has existed in all known societies since the beginnings of recorded history.


In modern-day, European-based folklore, Death is also known as the Grim Reaper. He is portrayed in the Bible as Azrael, the Angel of death.

Mythological portrayals of Death

Several mythologies had gods who embodied Death or aspects of Death:

Death as a fictional character

The character of Death is typically depicted in the West as wearing a dark hooded cloak and wielding a scythe. Death is one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. In many icons of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, death is portrayed as an almost naked man who is bound hand and foot lying amid the bones under the earth. In Eastern Orthodox theology, death is one of humanity's three enemies; the other two are sin and the devil. This figure of Death is also known as the Grim Reaper. Death, in this guise, appears also on one of the Tarot cards. In Mexico, death is sometimes referred upon as La Calaca, a skull like character that comes and takes away people when they die.

The allegorical figure of Death appears many times in the works of Albrecht Dürer.

Death in popular fiction

The character of Death has reoccured many times in popular fiction. He has made appearances in many stories, from serious dramatic fiction to comedy, including playing roles in science fiction and fantasy stories.

Death Takes a Holiday was a 1934 film directed by Mitchell Leisen, and written by Maxwell Anderson. Death (Fredric March as Prince Sirki) decides to take a holiday from hs usual business to see how the mortals live. Complications ensue as those who should have died don't.

In 1957, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman made The Seventh Seal, an influential (and heavily symbolic) movie depicting one of the most famous moments in the fictional portrayal of Death. In the movie, a medieval knight plays a game of chess with Death, with the knight's life depending upon the outcome of the game. The concept of playing games with Death has been used (and spoofed) many times since Bergman's movie. Woody Allen made a short film that deliberately spoofed this famous movie scene, in which a young couple challenge Death to a game of badminton. In Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, the brainless protagonists challenge Death to a series of inane games including Cluedo and Twister.

In a number of comedy roles, the character of Death has had a Swedish foreign accent, paying homage (sometimes unintentionally) to his role in The Seventh Seal. As the Grim Reaper, Death even stars in an animated series on the Cartoon Network cable channel called Grim and Evil.

The character of Death is also a major player in the humorous Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett.

A different personification of Death appears in The Sandman, a series of comic books written Neil Gaiman, in which Death, one of the Endless, appears in the guise of a goth girl. See Death (Sandman).



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