Five Reapers: Myth-Dissection

Over the last couple of days I’ve dipped into mythology a bit, with a crew of anthropomorphized Deaths and a new legendary look at quicksilver. Now I’m going to look back and see where they came from—who’s up for a little myth dissection?

I find the best thing to do when toying with mythology is to have a template to start from. In my case, the template came to me out of the blue, when I was thinking of a crew of my early NPCs (actually split in design between me and my then-assistant, but now all my responsibility) and realizing that a couple of them bore a more than passing resemblance to existing/potential cultural anthropomorphizations of Death. Which, in turn, got me thinking about the image of Ruby-as-Death (though you might note, her newer version is aged down a bit), and while I was at it, I decided I’d just use the whole crew: Chukun the assassin, Lirit the diplomat, Dark Splendor the… er… dramatic one and occasional comic relief, Tanjun the scholar/bureaucrat, and, well, genki-girl Ruby.

Chukun and Lirit, of course, were easy, and in fact this was what they used to do—Chukun killed things without warning, Lirit convinced them that it would be better to pass on and made sure they died happy. I originally conceptualized Ruby next, but I wrote her last, to buy me time for further flights of inspiration, basing it all on the idea of that hug that took away the breath and wouldn’t give it back (probably aided by the fact that Ruby had been engaging in an equivalent thereof at session the previous night). Tanjun was tougher, but once I started thinking of him as a bureaucrat first and a bookworm second, it slid right into place. And Dark Splendor—well, what I finally went with was the fact that the original was a constant spouter of the superiority of his world, and a bit of a drama-junkie, so it followed that his reaper-analogue would do something similar.

Midway through this, I began to think about why there would be five reapers—that different personality types would choose different ones—and then penciled in who they might appeal to. Unfortunately, I never did add the bit in the post that most amused me about the child-reaper: the fact that many who would seek her out would be career gamblers.

That got me thinking about recognizability. I had a choice: were the Deaths going to be distinctive? Or might they just look like some person on the street? I figured out quickly that if they were to have markers, I’d want them to be subtle—that way there’d be room left for the kinds of plots that could come from someone somewhat mentally unhinged deciding they wanted to try to kill/capture/what-have-you their Death. I don’t remember what got me onto mercury, but it fit—and once I thought of it, I just couldn’t resist the image of a society that knew not to play with the stuff bare-handed but thought it was a superstition. Then all I had to do was apply the quicksilver signs to the reapers, and there I was, and the rest was just a matter of “How do I justify this” and “Where else might this symbolism lead?”

So there we have it. What do we start with, how do we apply it, what can we extend it to, and why does it work symbolically?


  1. UZ says:

    An odd dichotomy – usually death is considered fair, monolithic and implacable. The image of a mercurial death is maybe not the most common. Usually those qualities – being fleet, unpredictable and mad as a hatter – are given to life’s dark side.

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