The Grim Reaper appears on this card from a Swiss Tarot deck, first printed in the 1830s. The German word for "Death" appears at the bottom of the card.

The character of the Grim Reaper originated in medieval Europe. Images of him date back to at least the 15th century. He is one of the many different personifications of Death that at various times have featured in the folklores and mythologies of various different cultures.

The Grim Reaper is usually depicted as a skeleton, sometimes as a tall, pale, thin skeletal-looking person. Medieval depictions of the Grim Reaper often show a naked skeleton. Modern images usually show him wearing a cloak with a hood, usually either brown or black, which covers his body entirely or leaves only his face and hands visible. The Grim Reaper gets his name from the scythe which he carries, symbolic of cutting short people's lives and harvesting their souls.

Some stories depict the Grim Reaper as causing people's deaths, leaving open the possibility that he can be bargained with and that people might be able to prolong their lives either by offering him a bribe or by outwitting him. In other stories, the Grim Reaper has no control other who dies when, he merely acts as a guide who leads souls to the afterlife.

In English-speaking countries the Grim Reaper is usually thought of as a male character but this is not the case everywhere. For example, French, Spanish and Italian speakers often consider the Grim Reaper to be female because the word for "death" is feminine in their languages.

In fiction

Lewes Bonfire, Devil and Grim Reaper

People in a Grim Reaper costume and a Devil costume take part in Guy Fawkes Night celebrations in Lewes, East Sussex, England.

The Grim Reaper has appeared numerous times in novels, plays, movies, comic books and television programs.

One of the most famous depictions of Death is in the 1957 Swedish movie The Seventh Seal, directed by Ingmar Bergman. In the movie, Death (played by Bengt Ekerot) accepts the challenge of a medieval knight (played by Max von Sydow) to play him at chess. Death agrees that if the knight wins the game he will be allowed to carry on living.

The premise that if one defeats Death in a game or wager that one can continue to live is in other stories as well. It is key to the last of the books about Harry Potter. The "Deathly Hallows" in the title of the book were won from Death. In Greek myths, mortals laid wagers against the gods for their own lives or those of the people they loved. There tends to be a twist in these stories. For instance, Arachne, got to live, but as a spider, Orpheus tragically could not complete the challenge of not looking back for his wife as she followed him out from the underworld.

Death appears in nearly all of the thirty-nine novels in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, making his first appearance in The Colour of Magic, the first book in the series which was first published in 1983. In Terry Pratchett's novels, Death is a character who has taken on more and more human traits over time, to the point that he now has emotions and sometimes meddles in human affairs. However, Death remains a somewhat philosophical and logical character who often tries and fails to understand humans.

The Jamaican-accented Grim Reaper (voiced by Greg Eagles) is a major character in the animated cartoon series The Grim Adventures of Bill and Mandy, which first aired on the Cartoon Network between 2001 and 2008. In the series, the Grim Reaper is forced to be the two children's best friend forever after he loses a limbo contest.

The TV series, Dead Like Me, which first aired on Showtime in 2003, is about people who died and became "undead, grim reapers" . Their mission is to help other people release their souls and move on.

See also


Clip art depicting the Grim Reaper.

External links

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