Monday, January 23, 2012

Death and Storytellers

The Grim Reaper has this dark stigma surrounding him. He’s this guy who sneaks around just to steal away your soul away whether you like it or not. The whole reaping of souls thing is bound to hit the creep factor. Charon the ferryman, the Angel of Death, the Plague Hag, Yama and many more are all depicted as dark and grim creatures that are waiting to take ones soul to some unknown place.

Humans are great storytellers, which is why we get all these interesting forms of Death in mythology. It has to be one of our most interesting abilities. Our ability to take the unknown and give it a face or attempt to explain the dark and frightening has got to be in our genes somewhere. The ability to explain seems to make things less scary, not just when it comes to death, but with everything. Lightening, for example, is like billions of volts of electricity buzzing through the sky, but hey we know what it is, so it’s not as scary.

When it comes to death the Plague Hag, Pesta carried a rake and a broom, one meant you’d survived the black plague and the other meant you were toast. Charon, the ferryman, expected payment for the task of delivering your soul to the underworld, or you’d be trapped by the river for 100 years. But hey, we know what they are and that they’re just doing their jobs, so it’s not as scary.

I have a huge affection for the unknown. My curiosity is almost as big as my imagination, which is probably true of most writers. I’m not above taking the unknown and twisting it to my advantage. Taking myths like those surrounding death and asking questions is what I do best. What if there really was a Grim Reaper? What if he didn’t like his job? What if he had been reaping soul for so long, he’d become lost and lonely? Hell, the questions could go on and on, and they often do.

This is how I end up with a story. This is how humans have always made up stories, by asking questions. Whether it’s Death, or other fantastic question that created a myth, we writers use the foundation of those wonderfully dark stories and make them our own. And who can resist, really? With all those spooky myths and interesting creatures to choose from, there might just be a grain of truth in those tales. And maybe, just maybe, one of us got it right.

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