Created By: lakingsif on March 24, 2018 Last Edited By: lakingsif on March 30, 2018
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Hanging Up On The Grim Reaper

In situations when a literal embodiment of death comes to take someone and they refuse.

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Grim: I'm here for the hamster.
Billy: Oh boy, oh boy! You brought presents for Mr. Snuggles?!
Grim: No, I'm taking him away.
Billy: To the North Pole?
Grim: No. I'm... [hamster bites Grim] Ah! Look, I'm just doing my job, but I'm afraid it's curtains for Mr. Snuggles.
Billy: You got him curtains?
The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, "Meet the Reaper"

Situations where an embodiment of death comes to see someone through dying but the person's actions prevent it from happening. Mostly because they refuse to die, but in some situations they accidentally get out of it.

There are two forms of this: Dramatic and Comedic.

Comedic: The embodiment of death appears before someone, and they give it perhaps a casual wave and brush off dying. Maybe it comes to get old Mavis and she converses with Death like they're old friends before telling it to try again later. Maybe it appears behind young Alice, who's not expecting to die and thinks it's little Billy come to ask for food when she's putting groceries away; she says "not now" and Death accepts this and leaves.

Dramatic: Death comes knocking and the unlucky victim puts up a fight, scared to die, or with Death not revealing its true intentions straight away to appear more like some stalker. These instances are more likely to actually concern plot, perhaps with the person begging Death for another chance or having to go through some sort of redemption. They may have to play Chess with Death. It's also more likely that the person will still die despite their efforts, or have to watch someone die in their place.

Either kind may involve Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?

See also Death Takes a Holiday, when for some reason he hasn't clocked in to work instead of arriving and not working, and The Problem with Fighting Death, for what might happen when someone eventually does die after by means putting it off.


Comedic Examples:

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Live-Action TV
  • In one episode of Red Dwarf, Arnold Rimmer knees the Reaper in his groin when he comes to claim him.
    Rimmer: Not today matey! Only the good die young!
    Reaper: That's... never happened before.

Western Animation
  • The premise of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy is that Grim came for the soul of a pet hamster, and was accidentally stopped by precocious kids Billy and Mandy. Billy is so dumb and Mandy is so dark that the three become friends, and they win Grim's service after beating him at limbo over the hamster.
  • In The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XIV (during the segment "Reaper Madness"), the Grim Reaper comes to the Simpson house to take Bart's soul. After a goofy chase scene, Homer saves his son by bludgeoning the Reaper to death.

Dramatic Examples:

Comic Books
  • Deadly Ernest, a minor Marvel Comics villain, gained immortality after refusing to die during World War I and fighting off Death itself. Unfortunately, he suffered certain consequences, becoming an immortal with an uncontrollable Touch of Death, something he discovered when he returned home and embraced his wife.
  • In one The Mighty Thor comic, Hela comes to take Thor for an unspecified reason but Odin steps in and kills her. Talk about family issues.

Film — Live-Action
  • The Seventh Seal: The Reaper comes to get Antonius Block, who asks him to wait. The Reaper quips that he gets told that a lot but never listens. Block still manages to forestall his death by distracting him with a challenge to play chess.

Folklore
  • One folktale has Mother Misery (a spiteful old woman) put glue on her tree to catch birds. When Death comes for her, she asks him to get a few birds down from the tree since she's too old to do it herself. Death agrees, climbs the tree, and gets stuck. Misery refuses to help him down until she extracts the promise that he'll never return for her. And that's why there will always be misery in the world.

Literature
  • Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol employs this for Scrooge, who is first visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley who warns him of his impending doom. He doesn't take it seriously and so is later visited by three ghosts of Christmas; the last one, in particular, makes him beg for a longer life so that he can enact the moral learnt from the three.
  • Discworld:
    • Attempted by many a character, with only temporary success at best. One was a distracted dwarf bread museum curator who said he didn't have time to die, as there was an entire collection of battle-breads left to catalog (he fades away shortly after), while Ipslore the Red puts his soul into his staff and passes the staff onto his son, a sourcerer who eventually has enough of his father's abuse and breaks the staff, and Granny Weatherwax once played cards against Death for the lives of a baby and a cow. Death himself is rather bemused by all these attempts, since he sort of remembers everything happening at once, he knows they all die anyway, since he himself lasts to the end of the universe and beyond. It also turns out he couldn't do it if he wanted, such as when his adopted daughter and son-in-law die in a carriage crash: he cannot create life, only grant an extension by taking them to his realm where they don't age (his daughter was sixteen for more than thirty years).
    • When substituting for the Hogfather, he does manage to bend the rules a bit: when he's called to do his duty as death and take away the soul of The Little Match Girl, he takes offense at someone dying so everyone else can feel luckier by comparison, so he gives her the gift of a future. And Albert throws snowballs at the angels who came to take her away.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Played with. The legend of the Deathly Hallows relates that the third brother didn't trust Death not to be a Jackass Genie, and so asked for a cloak of invisibility, which he used to hide from Death into his old age. Until one day he went and met Death voluntarily.

Live-Action TV
  • When Denny returns in Izzie's hallucinations after dying in Grey's Anatomy, it first seems completely crazy, but maybe that she's still traumatized from his death and seeing him, especially when he says that he's "here for her"... but Izzie slowly realizes that maybe something is medically wrong, brought to a head when Denny changes his intonation slightly when repeating his new catchphrase that he's "here for her", like Death coming to collect her. Turns out she has stage IV brain cancer, but she ultimately pulls through by getting really mad at Denny and demanding he leave (metaphorically telling Death to do one, used realistically so that her brain activity is down enough to get treated) — he was banking on her missing him enough to not fight.
  • In Supernatural, when Bobby Singer is dying from a bullet in the head a reaper comes to escort him to the afterlife. However, Bobby repeatedly resists, going further and further into his mind to escape the reaper, despite the reaper's attempts to persuade him that he's done enough and it's his time to move on. In the end, when Bobby is at his last resort, the bullet having destroyed every last part of his brain, the reaper tells him to make a final decision. "Well, Bobby? Stay or go — what's it gonna be?" It's revealed in later episodes that he chose to stay and resided on Earth as a ghost.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959)
    • "One for the Angels". Death comes for pitchman (street salesman) Lou Bookman, but Lou doesn't want to go and argues with him. Death finally agrees to postpone Lou's departure until he makes "a pitch for the angels". Lou then says that he's going to give up being a pitchman and never make the pitch again, allowing him to literally cheat Death.
    • "Nothing in the Dark". Many years ago, Wanda Dunn saw Death kill a woman just by touching her. Ever since she has hidden inside her apartment, refusing to come out in fear of the same thing happening to her. One day she reluctantly allows a wounded police officer inside. She eventually learns that he is Death, finally come for her. She initially refuses to go, but he eventually convinces her to take his hand and pass on.

Music
  • In the Lemon Demon song "I've Got Some Falling To Do", a man who is falling to his death gets a call from Death, and blows him off in favor of continuing to fall.

Tabletop Games

Video Games
  • In Dante's Inferno, Death comes to claim Dante's life. Not only does Dante refuse, he kills Death with his own scythe and claims the scythe. It turns out Death never came in the first place, Dante himself was Dead All Along.
  • One way to become immortal in Crusader Kings II's DLC The Reaper's Due is to bet your life in a chess game against Death. Win, and you become The Ageless.


Community Feedback Replies: 20
  • March 24, 2018
    FlyingDuckManGenesis
    Advertising
  • March 24, 2018
    Snowy66
    • In Supernatural, Bobby Singer is dying from a bullet in the head, a reaper comes to escort him to the afterlife. However Bobby repeatedly resists, going further and further into his mind to escape the reaper. The reaper tries to persuade him that he's done enough and it's his time to move on, but Bobby continues to refuse. In the end, when Bobby is at his last resort, the bullet having destroyed every last bit of his brain, the reaper tells him to make a final decision. "Well, Bobby? Stay or go – what's it gonna be?" It's revealed in later episodes that chose to stay and resided on Earth as a ghost.
  • March 24, 2018
    wootzits
    • The Seventh Seal: The Reaper comes to get Antonius Block, who asks him to wait. The Reaper quips that he gets told that a lot but never listens. Block still manages to forestall his death by distracting him with a challenge to play chess.
  • March 24, 2018
    Mhazard
    In Dantes Inferno, Death comes to claim Dante's life. Not only does Dante refuse, he kills Death with his own scythe and claims the scythe. It turns out Death never came in the first place, Dante himself was Dead All Along.
  • March 24, 2018
    AHI-3000
  • March 24, 2018
    Chabal2
    • Discworld:
      • Attempted by many a character, with only temporary success at best. One was a distracted dwarf bread museum curator who said he didn't have time to die, as there was an entire collection of battle-breads left to catalog (he fades away shortly after), while Ipslore the Red puts his soul into his staff and passes the staff onto his son, a sourcerer who eventually has enough of his father's abuse and breaks the staff, and Granny Weatherwax once played cards against Death for the lives of a baby and a cow. Death himself is rather bemused by all these attempts, since he sort of remembers everything happening at once, he knows they all die anyway, since he himself lasts to the end of the universe and beyond. It also turns out he couldn't do it if he wanted, such as when his adopted daughter and son-in-law die in a carriage crash: he cannot create life, only grant an extension by taking them to his realm where they don't age (his daughter was sixteen for more than thirty years).
      • When substituting for the Hogfather, he does manage to bend the rules a bit: when he's called to do his duty as death and take away the soul of The Little Match Girl, he takes offense at someone dying so everyone else can feel luckier by comparison, so he gives her the gift of a future. And Albert throws snowballs at the angels who came to take her away.
  • March 25, 2018
    Astaroth
    Comedic example

    • In one episode of Red Dwarf, Arnold Rimmer knees the Reaper in his groin when he comes to claim him.
      Rimmer: No today matey! Only the good die young!
      Reaper: That's... never happened before.
  • March 25, 2018
    Arivne
    • Capitalized the title.
  • March 25, 2018
    Arivne
    Dramatic Examples

    Live Action TV
    • The Twilight Zone 1959
      • "One for the Angels". Death comes for pitchman (street salesman) Lou Bookman, but Lou doesn't want to go and argues with him. Death finally agrees to postpone Lou's departure until he makes "a pitch for the angels". Lou then says that he's going to give up being a pitchman and never make the pitch again, allowing him to literally cheat Death.
      • "Nothing in the Dark". Many years ago, Wanda Dunn saw Death kill a woman just by touching her. Ever since she has hidden inside her apartment, refusing to come out in fear of the same thing happening to her. One day she reluctantly allows a wounded police officer inside. She eventually learns that he is Death, finally come for her. She initially refuses to go, but he eventually convinces her to take his hand and pass on.
  • March 25, 2018
    StarSword
    Literature:
    • Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: The legend of the Deathly Hallows relates that the third brother didn't trust Death not to be a Jackass Genie, and so asked for a cloak of invisibility, which he used to hide from Death into his old age. Until one day he went and met Death voluntarily.

    Video Games:
    • One way to become immortal in Crusader Kings II's DLC The Reaper's Due is to bet your life in a chess game against Death. Win, and you become The Ageless.
  • March 25, 2018
    Pseudoname
    Dramatic Example Tabletop Games
  • March 25, 2018
    lakingsif
    @Snowy 66 — the edit you made had incorrect grammar, so I fixed that.
  • March 25, 2018
    StarSword
    Title suggestion: Defeat The Reaper.
  • March 25, 2018
    lakingsif
    ^ I fear that makes it sound too much like actually fighting, or like beating death overall.
  • March 25, 2018
    StarSword
    ^Well, that's kinda what the trope is, isn't it? By whatever method, you are preventing The Grim Reaper from reaping you, at least temporarily. I'd say that qualifies as "defeating Death". Plus it's less of a mouthful than the current title.
  • March 25, 2018
    lakingsif
    ^ I guess I meant that Defeat The Reaper makes it seems either like a literal physical fight (which is narrower) or maybe like "person escapes death" without having the meeting an embodiment of Death part (which is broader). It also, I feel, doesn't encapsulate how the trope can be comedic.

    Though, a good name might be a form of "Not Today, Death" that isn't a stock phrase, if you could come up with one. (But of course, I do still like Hanging Up On The Grim Reaper — it's clear, it's not overly long, and it's funny. And it, I realized in retrospect, fits with all the Getting The Call tropes, like they hung up when getting the call to die.)
  • March 28, 2018
    wootzits
    TLP bump. I like the name as it is by the way.
  • March 29, 2018
    FalconPain
    In the Lemon Demon song "I've Got Some Falling To Do", a man who is falling to his death gets a call from Death, and blows him off in favor of continuing to fall.
  • March 29, 2018
    Chabal2
    • One folktale has Mother Misery (a spiteful old woman) put glue on her tree to catch birds. When Death comes for her, she asks him to get a few birds down from the tree since she's too old to do it herself. Death agrees, climbs the tree, and gets stuck. Misery refuses to help him down until she extracts the promise that he'll never return for her. And that's why there will always be misery in the world.

    For the Discworld example: sourcerer is spelled with a u (sorcerer + source of magic).
  • March 29, 2018
    Morgenthaler
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