Image: Rebellion Publishing
My bedmate and I were at MoMA PS1 in 2021 back I saw her: Niki de Saint Phalle’s estimation of Death. It was one of the baby models of her gargantuan Tarot Garden accession that resides aloof alfresco Rome. Actuality was Death: a skull-faced woman, ample and gold-skinned, benumbed a horse fabricated of the midnight sky. The joy of it, the activity of it, the beginning adorableness of its colors and the activating attributes of the posture, abashed me.
It reminded me of affair the Afterlife agenda in a Day of the Asleep Tarot deck. All the abstracts of that accouter were represented by skeletons, except for Death. She was, instead, a abundant woman.
In Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, abandon and birth, afterlife and pregnancy, and aloft all transformation abound, with the atrocity and active blush of a Niki de Saint Phalle sculpture.
Okorafor’s protagonist, Onyesonwu Ubaid is an Ewu girl, a adolescent of violence: particularly, of the weaponized abduction of a Nuru soldier of her Okeke mother. Onyesonwu—from whose name, “Who Fears Death,” the book takes its title—is a shape-changer (one of her shapes is that of a vulture), and a archimage who can dispense amount and disclose the dead. Upon the annihilation of her lover and the apperception of their child, Onye works a abundant magic: killing all the abundant men in its ambit and impregnating all the women. For this (spoilers!), she is bent and benumbed to death.
Or is she? In re-writing the world, Onye additionally re-writes her own death, and instead transforms into a fire-spitting Kponyungo, a dragon-like animal of the desert. (Okorafor declared in a cheep that she adopted the Kponyungo’s appearance from a burial mask.) Onye is not, perhaps, an accessible clothing of Death, but she does seem—in Okorafor’s far-future, post-apocalyptic science fantasy—to actualize abounding of the allegory complexities of the age-old fertility/death goddesses begin at the roots of abounding apple religions.
One of the best recognizable, avant-garde depictions of a changeable Afterlife is Neil Gaiman’s Afterlife of the Endless, a alternating appearance in his Sandman clear novels. Her appropriate look—goth-black clothes, argent ankh, and appearance abreast her appropriate eye—makes her abundantly accessible for Sandman admirers to cosplay (and accordingly embody) Death. In the afresh arise audiobook, Afterlife is accurate with joie de vivre (and a scratchy, sisterly, reassuringly warmth) by amateur Kat Dennings. Elsewhere on Twitter, Neil Gaiman admirers reminded me of his “Lady on the Grey,” the clothing of Afterlife in the Carnegie Medal and Newberry Award-winning The Graveyard Book.
In Rebecca Solnit’s City of Women from her album activity Infinite Cities, all stops of the New York City alms arrangement are renamed for abundant women in history. I feel that should some approaching cartographer anytime accomplish a alms map of all the female-presenting Afterlife abstracts of the fantasy genre, again Terry Pratchett’s appearance Susan Sto Helit from his Discworld alternation would be aloof one stop abroad from Neil Gaiman’s Afterlife of the Endless—not too far from Gilly the Perky Goth from Dork Tower! Miss Susan (“Susan Death”) is the adopted granddaughter of Death, who—at atomic for the artifice of Soul Music—takes up Death’s own mantle. On our Map of Ladies Death, Afterlife of the Endless and Susan Afterlife would be two abutting neighborhoods, two goth-girl psychopomps laid out ancillary by side: skinny, of anemic aspect, with a gravitas above their years.
The abutting stop afterwards Susan Afterlife ability be Calliope Reaper-Jones, Amber Benson’s advocate in the alternation of the above name, Death’s daughter, and CEO of Death, Inc., who wears ability apparel and works adamantine to avoid off the crank apocalypse. (And if she is Mister Death’s daughter, again the archimage advocate of my own novel, Saint Death’s Daughter, ability be the abutting stop on our abstract chthonic alms line… Although Lanie Stones isn’t actually Death’s daughter, aloof Her admired acolyte.)
There are added Ladies Afterlife and Death-adjacent changeable abstracts in fantasy than I can name, so I angry to amusing media. Friends reminded me to acknowledgment Sabriel, Liriel, and Clariel, of Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, Nancy from Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series—particularly Every Heart a Doorway, area she arrives at academy afterwards spending several years in the Halls of the Dead, Queen Achren from Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain (one of my admired adolescence villains!), Lady Taranis from Susan Cooper’s Seaward, and Greer Gilman’s Annis from Moonwise.
Though there are affluence of baleful females in fantasy films and TV who are, anniversary in their way, Death-Bringers, there are not abounding who are Afterlife personified. Santa Muerte on Penny Dreadful: City of Angels; the Mago in Hotel del Luna; the Princess in Jean Cocteau’s Orphée.
But the 80’s gives us affluence of jerk room, if we’re attractive personify Afterlife in a assertive affectionate of changeable form. There’s the Widow of the Web in Krull, who controls the Crystal Spider with her hourglass. There’s the Sorceress-Queen Bavmorda in Willow, with her angular frame, ashen aspect, priestess robes, and acicular adamant crown, who rules over adamant armies and alarming afterlife dogs, and has no attrition sacrificing babies. There’s Mombi in Return to Oz (played by the above actress, Jean Marsh, who played Bavmorda), who takes active for her accumulating and wears them interchangeably depending on her mood. Let us not balloon the the Force-witch Charal in the Battle for Endor, who can shape-change into a atramentous (I mean, iconic!), or Disney’s own Maleficent (from the cartoon, I mean: pre-redemption), who takes her final anatomy as a atramentous dragon.
We would be behindhand if we did not acknowledgment a few of the added eldritch changeable abstracts ambuscade in fable, myth, and burghal legend. While they are not conceivably austere personifications of Death, they nonetheless admonish us of the decrepit blind amid our apple and the Land of the Dead. There are those who allurement passersby to their deaths by cheat or enchantment. There are those who are, themselves, dead—often from abandon or despair. There are those who arise at roadsides, or absent in the woods: bald hauntings, reminding us of our own mortality.
Imagine stops on our alms map named: Rusalka, Pichal Peri, La Llorona, Lamia, Empusai, Succubi, La Dame Belle Sans Merci. And, lest you abhorrence we are active out, we can consistently about-face to the above Afterlife Goddesses of adoration and myth, who accept their own alphabetical advertisement on Wikipedia, from Akka to Tuonetar: a accomplished aerial warren I am consistently acquisitive to explore.
C.S.E. Cooney is the columnist of Apple Fantasy Award-winning Bone Swans: Stories and the Tor.com novella Desdemona and the Deep, amid others. Find out added at csecooney.com or on cheep @csecooney.
Saint Death’s Babe by C.S.E. Coney is out now in the U.S.; you can adjustment a archetype here.
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