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

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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.

Go With A Smile: Death is famously cheerful, helpful, and sympathetic, though she was much colder long ago. One day every hundred years she takes the form of a mortal in order to better understand her role in their existence, and the practice has gifted her with an almost unbelievable amount of understanding. Hell, recently she even charmed Lex Luthor! Only the most grievous of offenses will bring out her angry side, which is terrible to behold.

Susan, by contrast, is a much less approachable figure. She's been alienated most of her life, and as a brilliant scholar she has little patience with silliness. She adores children, but has her own curious way of dealing with them that involves accepting that monsters are real, and then allowing them to fight them with the aforementioned poker. Her wit is dry and sarcastic, and unlike Death she has no problem leaving the thorns on the roses of her conversations. That being said, she's a joy to know if you're not an idiot.

A typical Susan quote is, "Real children don't go hoppity-skip unless they're on drugs."

Pet Cemetery: Busy as she is, Death has little time for anything but her job. In her small apartment she keeps her floppy hat collection, including a top hat that was a gift from her favorite world leader Emperor Norton I of America, a teddy bear named Cavendish, and two goldfish called Slim and Wandsworth.

When Susan is out and about doing death stuff, she's usually accompanied by the Death of Rats, an aspect of Death that is responsible for the souls of all rodents and some rat-like humans. DoR is an active sidekick that is quite clever and able to get around almost as many rules as Susan herself.

Necrophilia?: Well, here's Michelle Dockery, who played Susan in the Sky One TV miniseries of Hogfather, which is well worth watching.

On the other hand, here's Death as drawn by Mariano Navarro.

The winner: Susan's got a lot going for her, but in the end we want to reaped by a professional whose is dedicated to her craft. Collecting souls is just never going to be more than a part-time gig for Susan, so we're counting this as a victory for Gaiman's creation.

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