When I was younger, I considered myself a bit goth — I loved spooky stories, tales about death, and anything grim and dark (and every My Chemical Romance album, of course). So naturally, stories about grim reapers and death really drew me in. I had a flashback to those days while reading Kyra Leigh’s debut novel Reaper. In Reaper, sixteen-year-old Rosie Wolf discovers that her long-held belief that after you die you go straight to Paradise isn’t actually true. After dying in accident, Rosie is approached by the Grim Reaper — a busy woman with a nasty attitude instead of the classic cloaked skeleton — and told that in order to go to paradise, Rosie will have to reap three souls. What seems like an easy task turns out to be anything but, as Rosie finds herself entangled with a living boy named Kyle — ignoring the warning that she needs to stay away from the living.
Reaper is a fantastic and fun book that twists the classic perception of grim reapers into something new and fresh. In honor of Reaper’s exciting take on Grim Reapers, I’ve put together a post of some of my other favorite media portrayals of Death. Check out an extended excerpt of Reaper on Riveted until May 22nd, and then immerse yourself in these other deathly fun Grim Reaper takes — and let me know what your favorite portrayals of death and grim reapers are in the comments below!
Grim – The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy
In this Cartoon Network classic, the Grim Reaper is a traditional skeleton in a black robe, with an untraditional Jamaican accent. But what really makes Grim special is that he inadvertently becomes a servant to two kids — cynical and merciless Mandy and cheerful but not-too-bright Billy. The show tracks the trios’ wacky adventures both in the real world and in various mystical dimensions. While Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy may have gone for a more traditional looking Grim Reaper, its portrayal of him as a bumbling and sometimes caring father figure to Billy and Mandy helped make the show a childhood favorite.
Reapers – Dead Like Me
Before he directed any X-Men movies, Bryan Fuller was known for creating quirky, darkly comedic shows that were critically adored but commercial failures — including Dead Like Me, which aired on Showtime (and therefore has some content that’s inappropriate for people under a certain age – viewer and parental discretion advised!). Dead Like Me follows George (Ellen Muth), an 18-year-old girl with no real ambitions in her life who’s suddenly killed in a freak accident involving a space station toilet seat that plummets to Earth. After her death she meets Rube (played by The Princess Bride’s Mandy Patinkin), who enlists her to join his team of grim reapers. In the Dead Like Me world, reapers are still physically present on Earth, and can be seen by other people — but they look different than they did when they were alive, and don’t heal properly from injuries. This allows George to pull double duty — working as a reaper (and as a temp worker in an office) while also checking in on her family, who are not dealing well — or really dealing at all — in the aftermath of her death.
Death – The Sandman comics
Of course Neil Gaiman makes it onto this list. Sandman, Gaiman’s DC comics series, is notable for its portrayal of many mythical beings, and its travels into the dream world. But perhaps no character is more iconic than Death — a bubbly goth girl who greets the recently deceased with joy and kindness. This makes her wildly different from most portrayals of death, and makes her a key sister and mentor figure to Morpheus, the main character. Her kind nature and loving attitude has also landed her on several best comic characters list. Her characterization is perhaps best summed up in a quote from Sandman Volume 3: “For some folks death is a release, and for others death is an abomination, a terrible thing. But in the end, I’m there for all of them.”
Death – Harry Potter
Death is a main part of all the Harry Potter novels, but its only portrayed in a real, physical way during one part of the series — the “Tale of the Three Brothers.” In the tale, three brothers are traveling together when they reach a treacherous river. They make their way across by using magic, only to be confronted by Death himself, who’s frustrated that they’ve escaped him. In order to trick them into falling into his clutches, he pretends to be impressed by their feats and offers each of them a reward. The brothers then create the titular Dealthy Hallows — one wishing for an unbeatable dueling wand, and receiving the Elder Wand; one wishing for the ability to resurrect the dead, and receiving the Resurrection Stone; and the last one asking for a way to prevent Death from following him, and receiving the Invisibility Cloak. The animated sequence that details this story in The Deathly Hallows Part One film is a rich and luscious scene, and remains a highlight of the movie series as a whole.
The Grim Reaper — The Sims
To me, there is no better portrayal of the Grim Reaper than the one in the Sims. He’s a classic hooded skeleton who comes to reap the soul of your Sims when you overexert them, or underfeed them, or remove all the ladders out of the swimming pool and cause your Sims to drown. But he’s not just there to collect your souls — you can bargain for your Sims’ lives, and even if that doesn’t work sometimes he stays anyway to watch a little TV, or to help take out your trash. It’s even possible to romance the Grim Reaper. The Sims was always fun for it’s odd and increasingly horrifying ways to accidentally (or on purpose!) kill your virtual avatars, and the Grim Reaper showing up to collect his souls after you’ve done that quickly became an iconic part of the series.