|Others||The Grim Reaper|
|Gender||Male (most versions)|
|Behind the Scenes|
The Grim Reaper, a.k.a. the Reaper (or Reapers, when there's more than one), or simply Death, is a figure closely associated with and who typically personifies death, being responsible for collecting the souls of the deceased and guiding them to the afterlife. Therefore, the Reaper usually acts as a psychopomp.
In most stories, the Reaper appears at the moment people are destined to die - sometimes shortly before death, sometimes shortly after it. Often, the presence of the Reaper is essential for allowing the transition from the living state to the dead state, severing the ties between the soul and the body. As such, avoiding the Reaper equals avoiding death itself (a form of cheating one's destiny), leading to numerous tales about people attempting to hide from, make a deal with, or otherwise outsmart the Reaper. In fiction, challenging the Reaper to some form of game is a common trope.
Despite being responsible for death, the Reaper is rarely portrayed as evil. It is instead an indifferent and sometimes sympathetic entity, fulfilling its task that's ultimately essential for maintaining the natural order of things. A notable exception to this would be the Final Destination movies, in which Death (who is unseen physically) appears to be highly sadistic.
The physical appearance of the Reaper varies from a perfectly normal human being to a pale, gaunt humanoid to simply an animated skeleton. When human, the Reaper may be portrayed in ordinary clothes. Otherwise it's most commonly seen wearing a hooded black robe and carrying a large scythe.
In some works, Death is portrayed as male, for instance: The Seventh Seal, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. In others, Death will be female, as in The Lady of the Dawn, The Lost World TV series, The Sandman and Marvel Comics.
In some cases, multiple Reapers will exist. For instance, in William Shakespeare's The Tempest, a number of Reapers are present among the spirits inhabiting the island to which the wizard Prospero was banished. One of Ariel's familiars - a spirit taking the form of the goddess Iris - calls them, along with the Nymphs to participate in the ceremony to celebrate the engagement of Prospero's daughter Miranda and Prince Ferdinand of Naples.
|“|| You sunburnt sicklemen, of August weary,|
Come hither from the furrow and be merry:
Make holiday; your rye-straw hats put on
And these fresh nymphs encounter every one
In country footing.
— Iris summoning the (in this case friendly) Reapers, The Tempest
In the series Dead Like Me, the spirits of people who died may in turn become one of several Grim Reapers, tasked with collecting the souls of the deceased and escorting them to the afterlife. In Supernatural, there is one immortal being known as Death and several Reapers who serve him.
Several mythologies have species or classes of spiritual beings which exert a role similar to that of the Reapers, these including the Irish Dullahans, the Greek Keres, the Japanese Shinigami and the Indian Yamadutas, among others. In Abrahamic religions, this role may be exerted by Angels, although the personification of Death is also present in Christianity, as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (along with Pestilence, War and Famine). In some versions, Death is the Horseman's position rather than their name.
Appearances in popular culture
- The Tempest, by William Shakespeare (1610)
- Paradise Lost, by John Milton (1667)
- "Lenore", by Gottfried August Bürger (1773)
- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)
- "Godfather Death" in Grimms' Fairy Tales, by the Brothers Grimm (1812)
- "Ole Lukøje", by Hans Christian Andersen (1841)
- "The Nightingale", by Hans Christian Andersen (1843)
- "The City in the Sea", by Edgar Allan Poe (1845)
- "The Story of a Mother", by Hans Christian Andersen (1847)
- The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, by L. Frank Baum (1902)
- Sheppey, by William Somerset Maugham (1933)
- "The Scythe", by Ray Bradbury (1943)
- The Lady of the Dawn, by Alejandro Casona (1944)
- The State of Siege, by Albert Camus (1948)
- One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez (1967)
- Some works portray Death as a cosmic, universal entity, said portrayals being out of the scope of this wiki. This is the case of Doctor Who's Death, for instance. It may also be the case with Bill and Ted given that we see aliens in the afterlife and Death seems to be the only of his kind around, but that's not conclusive. In contrast, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy specifically portrays Grim as Earth's resident Death, with his Martian counterpart appearing in one episode.