Literary Slap Fight: Gaiman's Death vs. Pratchett's Death

Categories: Books

Hate to be the stereotypical goth, but we do spend a fair amount of time thinking about death. It's how we relax, just sitting in a dark bathroom surrounded by black candles while Joy Division plays on a constant, unending loop and we cheerfully meditate on the beauty of a razor blade and which kind of Satan we hope to meet on the other side of the mortal veil. If being a morbid little drama queen is wrong then we don't want to be right.

But death isn't something you do alone. In the end the pyschopomps get involved. Those are the various personifications of death that are responsible for making like Patrick Starfish, taking your soul from here and pushing it over there. They're the reapers, the guides, the cowled Fed-Exers with a special "Warning: Contains Ectoplasm. Do Not Crush" sticker just for you.

Sure, we could comb through the world's rich mythology and pick our favorite Grim Reaper, but why do that when our favorites can only be found in the works of the two greatest living British authors. Both Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett have famous Deaths, and today we pit them against each other for the honor of hauling our pasty spirit out of the tub into whatever after life there is.

In This Corner: In Neil Gaiman's Sandman cosmology, the functions of living existence are overseen by seven beings called the Endless. The second eldest of these is Death. Don't let the perky goth girl outfit and bright smile fool you. Yes, she is friendly face upon the end of your life, but she takes her job very seriously, and as one of the most powerful forces in the universe it is generally bad idea to piss her off.

And In This Corner: To keep things on a more even keel, Pratchett's Discworld will actually be represented by Death's granddaughter Susan Sto-Helit, who occasionally fills in for her grandfather in times of need. Though she spends most of her time out in the non-paranormal world, she has access to a wide variety of abilities whenever she assumes her heritage. Her day job is as a teacher.

Instruments of Death: At first glance, Death appears to outclass Susan here. She has total control over the beginning and ending of life, and even ridiculously powerful beings are afraid of her. The Furies, entities that proved powerful enough to kill her sister Despair and threaten her brother Dream are quelled by a mere raised word from Death. In the words of one character, she is bound by no rules.

But then again, Susan comes into play usually to combat beings against which Death has no power. Her primary nemeses are the Auditors of Reality, who use complex plots to try and eradicate free will from the world. As Susan is both part Death, and part-human, she is bound by fewer restrictions than her grandfather, and is able to operate on multiple planes of reality at once. She is also physically powerful, keeping in shaping by beating monsters under the bed with fireplace pokers, and is fairly adept with her grandfather's scythe and sword. That being said, Susan is not nearly as good at collecting the souls of the dead as Death.

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Kristan Overstreet
Kristan Overstreet

The granddaughter instead of the anthropomorphic personification his own self?


Jef With One F
Jef With One F

I reserve the right to stage hot girl-death on girl-death catfights in this blog. Pffffffft

Isaac Eiland-Hall
Isaac Eiland-Hall

I loved the article. Two of my favorite authors in one place? Yeah, okay, you got me hooked. :)

That aside, though... you didn't compare Gaiman's Death with Pratchett's Death. You compared with Prachett's granddaughter of Death.

You didn't even mention Binky! That's when you lost all credibility with me. ;-) 

But seriously, Susan took over Death's duties for part of a single book. She's a wonderful character, but she's not Death. She's merely in the family.

So again, loved the article. My criticism is strongly felt too, but even though I'd pick the article to pieces, I still loved it. <3


If only they got together and wrote a book.... :D

Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson

Gaiman and Pratchett did write a book together. Good Omens.

Jef With One F
Jef With One F

Thanks. I would argue that while she's not fulfilling the role of Death in Hogfather, she's at least assuming some aspect of it (Evidenced by the fact that her powers don't work in the Tooth Fairy's castle). Plus... I really wanted to play it as a catfight ;)

Jef With One F
Jef With One F

Not mentioning Binky, though... yeah. I dropped the ball on that one.

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