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Personifying a concept is one thing, when a writer endows an abstract quality with human traits in order to make it easier to understand and relate to. These books go a step further and turn an idea – in this case, death – into a character in a story, giving them human characteristics, a personality and agency.
· The narrator of The Book Thief by Marcus Zusack is Death; we meet him when he has tired of his task gathering souls in Nazi Germany during WWII and is struggling to understand the human capacity for ugliness.
· Technology has successfully eliminated death in the world of Scythe by Neal Schusterman, though some privileged few are chosen as the human agents of ongoing and necessary population control.
· In a bout of existential angst, Death takes a holiday in Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago, and wonders if she could just give up her day job and be normal like everybody else, and maybe even fall in love.
· Introduced as the consequence of Satan’s sin, John Milton’s vision of Death in the epic poem Paradise Lost is as a figure maliciously delighted in inflicting human pain.
· The relationship between doctors and death – represented as a “deathless man” – is the subject of The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht, set in a fictionalised province of the Balkan region during a time of war.
· Chaos ensues when Death goes missing in Terry Pratchett’s Reaper Man, which is just as you’d expect when an important public service is withdrawn.
· In the comic book mini-series, Death: The High Cost of Living, written by Neil Gaiman with art by Chris Bachalo and Mark Buckingham, Death takes human form once a century in order to keep in touch with humanity.
· A YA book by a YA author, When Adam Lacroft Met Death by Carlos Paolini tells the story of a young man who meets a tragic end but is offered a deal to win his life back by a gorgeous and flirty Death who would rather be called Eve and is absolutely not to be trusted.
· In the book of children’s stories The Tales of Beedle the Bard, referenced in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and both by J K Rowling, features a tale in which Death grants wishes which have unforeseen consequences.
· A man about to commit suicide instead kills Death and must then assume his role, in Piers Anthony’s fantasy novel On a Pale Horse.