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Modern Interpretations of Godfather Death

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Godfather Death:
Death in Fairy Tales
by Terri Windling

Aging and Death in Folklore by D. L. Ashliman

Godmother Death, a story
by Jane Yolen


The story of Godfather Death and its themes have appeared in literature and other forms of art. This page provides a small discussion of some of the better known treatments by authors and other artists.

Literature   Poetry   Music   Film   Theatre

Literature: Novels

Godmother Night by Rachel Pollack

Pollack, Rachel. Godmother Night. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
Amazon.com: Buy the book in paperback.

NOVEL: For mature audiences. From publisher: "Almost a set of short stories, this novel breaks into discrete episodes, centered on identity, love, and death. Jaqe has no identity until she meets Laurie, introduced and named by Mother Night; in that moment, she knows herself, and that she loves Laurie. But once Mother Night has become part of their lives, Laurie and Jaqe and their daughter Kate cannot live as other people do. Knowing Death, inevitably each of them seeks to use the knowledge, to bargain with Death, and to change the terms in the balance of life and death in the world. Pollack's characters, major and supporting, living, dead, and divine, are memorably human. As she transplants myths and folklore into a modern setting, she gives new life to old tales and a deeper meaning to a seemingly simple world."

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Pratchett, Terry. Hogfather. New York: HarperPrism, 1998.
Amazon.com: Buy the book in paperback.

NOVEL: From publisher: "What could more genuinely embody the spirit of Christmas (or Hogswatch, on the Discworld) than a Terry Pratchett book about the holiday season? Every secular Christmas tradition is included. But as this is the 21st Discworld novel, there are some unusual twists. This year the Auditors, who want people to stop believing in things that aren't real, have hired an assassin to eliminate the Hogfather. (You know him: red robe, white beard, says, "Ho, ho, ho!") Their evil plot will destroy the Discworld unless someone covers for him. So someone does. Well, at least Death tries. He wears the costume and rides the sleigh drawn by four jolly pigs: Gouger, Tusker, Rooter, and Snouter. He even comes down chimneys. But as fans of other Pratchett stories about Death (Mort, Reaper Man, and Soul Music) know, he takes things literally. He gives children whatever they wish for and appears in person at Crumley's in The Maul. Fans will welcome back Susan, Death of Rats (the Grim Squeaker), Albert, and the wizardly faculty of Unseen University, and revel in new personalities like Bilious, the "oh god of Hangovers." But you needn't have read Pratchett before to laugh uproariously and think seriously about the meanings of Christmas. "

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Literature: Short Stories

Beagle, Peter S. "Come Lady Death." The Fantasy World of Peter S. Beagle. New York: Viking, 1978.
Amazon.com: Buy the book in hardcover or paperback.

SHORT STORY:"England in the 18th century. The wealthy Lady Neville finds that she has become sad and bored with life. So she arranges an elaborate ball and decides to invite Death as the guest of honor. To be invited, Death must first be found. After discussion about whether Death lives among the rich or the poor, Lady Neville remembers that her hairdresser's child is dying, so she gives him the invitation to pass on when death arrives.

"Two days later the heartbroken hairdresser arrives with a note of acceptance. All agree that Death's handwriting looks feminine, but when the hairdresser will not describe the source of the note, Lady Neville has him whipped and thrown out.

"At the ball, the guests become increasingly fearful until Death arrives, late, in the form of a beautiful young woman. Everyone falls in love with her. When she says she has to leave, they beg her to stay, and she says she will, if they're sure. They are, so she says that she must now choose someone to take her place as immortal Death.

"After a careful (and revealing) process of selection, Death chooses Lady Neville herself, concluding that one who could treat her hairdresser so heartlessly would take on the role well, since it is clear that only she knows "how meaningless it is to be alive." The story ends as Death kisses Lady Neville--and they, presumably, change roles." (Summary from the Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database of the New York University School of Medicine.)

Bowes, Richard. "Godfather Death." From the Files of the Time Rangers. Urbana, IL: Golden Gryphon Press, 2005.
Amazon.com: Buy the book in hardcover.

Cashorali, Peter. "Godfather Death." Fairy Tales: Traditional Stories Retold for Gay Men. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997.
Amazon.com: Buy the book in hardcover or paperback.

Black Swan, White Raven

Yolen, Jane. "Godmother Death." Black Swan, White Raven. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds. New York: Avon, 1997.
Amazon.com: Buy the book in hardcover or paperback.

SHORT STORY: You can also read the story online at "Godmother Death."

Black Thorn, White Rose

Zelazny, Roger. "Godson."Black Thorn, White Rose. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds. New York: Avon, 1995.
Amazon.com: Buy the book in hardback or paperback.


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Transformations by Anne Sexton

Sexton, Anne. "Godfather Death." Transformations. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1979.
Amazon.com: Buy the book in hardcover or paperback.

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I have listed primarily classical compositions of music using the themes of this fairy tale in either ballet, opera or some other musical style. I have also provided links to popular recordings of the music when available at Amazon.com. The advantage to these links is that you can listen to samples of the music at no charge.

None so far!

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To learn more about these films, please visit the
Internet Movie Database.

Death Takes a Holiday (1934)

Death Takes a Holiday (1934).
Amazon.com: Buy the movie on VHS.

Not a film about Godfather Death, but one of the more interesting films using a personified death character.

From Amazon.com: " This story of a vacationing Grim Reaper was adapted for the screen from a popular play. Frederick March, playing Death, disguises himself as a European prince and spends three days with an amenable duke at his palatial estate. Women are instantly attracted to the Lord of the Underworld, but back off when they sense his true nature--that is, all women except for the beautiful young innocent (Evelyn Venable), who is destined to marry the duke's son."

Meet Joe Black (1998)

Meet Joe Black (1998).
Amazon.com: Buy the movie on DVD.

Not a film about Godfather Death, but one of the more interesting films using a personified death character.

From Amazon.com: "Bill Parrish, media tycoon, loving father and still a human being, is about to celebrate his 65th birthday. One morning, he is contacted by the Inevitable - by hallucination, as he thinks. Later, Death itself enters his home and his life, personified in a man's body: Joe Black has arrived. His intention was to take Bill with him, but accidentally, Joe's former host and Bills beautiful daughter Susan have already met. Joe begins to develop certain interest in life on earth as well as in Susan, who has no clue who she's flirting with."

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Burton, Michael H. Godfather Death: A Play in Twelve Scenes. 1997-10.

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©Heidi Anne Heiner, SurLaLune Fairy Tales
Page created 1/2006; Last updated 7/9/07