Death and the Maiden

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Uh, Lady... are you alright?

Even Death can feel a little lonely.

A rather infamous artistic motif that has lasted since the Renaissance and maybe before that, Death and the Maiden has been a popular motif in mediums ranging from visual art to plays, music and even film.

The details are simple: feature the personification of Death with a beautiful, nubile human woman. Easy peasy. How this formula differs depending on the medium. Death is often presented as a skeleton with wings or a cloak and scythe or maybe just a wilting corpse. The woman is often nude or at least partially so. How their interactions vary as well, the maiden reacting with fear or arousal at Death's touch, while Death caresses, kills and/or whatever else the woman in question. It is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.

This motif is commonly seen as an erotic one, two lovers making a connection in a way that even the viewer can only have limited comprehension of. Others can see it as a symbolic one, Death representing mortality and... well... you know, while the woman representing life and how the two dance in a delicate balance, being equal and opposites to one another.

A common variant of the Beast and Beauty trope.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime/Manga 
  • In the Black Butler OVA "The Tales of Will the Grim Reaper", aspiring writer Thomas Wallis is inspired by William T. Spears to write a novel with this very premise.
  • The Irregular at Magic High School combines this trope with Apocalypse Maiden. Tatsuya, a grim-faced soldier with apocalyptic power, always follows Miyuki. Both of them prefer it that way- in part because it's Miyuki's duty to subdue Tatsuya if he becomes too much of a threat to the world.

    Art 

    Films - Live Action 
  • Death Takes a Holiday features Death who takes human form and falls in love with a young woman named Grazia. This very same plot would later be remade in the 1998 fantasy romance Meet Joe Black.
  • Inspired the title of Tod und Mädchen, a biopic of Egon Schiele which concentrates on his unhappy relationships with women and the near-simultaneous deaths of himself and his wife in the 1918 influenza pandemic.

    Literature 
  • The frequently-anthologized Joyce Carol Oates story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" was originally titled "Death and the Maiden." In the story, a fifteen-year-old girl named Connie is visited by a smooth-talking, vaguely sinister stranger named Arnold Friend who offers her a ride in his car. Initially attracted to him, she slowly begins to realize that he is much older than he pretends to be.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy's relationship with Angel has overtones of this, especially given that being with 'death' isolates Buffy from her (human) friends and even her moral code. Both she and Angel note that their relationship is dangerous and hurtful to both of them.
    Angel: This isn't some fairy tale. When I kiss you, you don't wake up from a deep sleep and live happily ever after.
    Buffy: No. When you kiss me I want to die.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Hades and Persephone from Greco-Roman Mythology have shades of this, Hades being the God of the Underworld and the Lord of the Dead, Persephone being the daughter of the Goddess of the Harvest and the bringer of spring.
  • In Hindu Mythology, this trope is the reason Daksha didn't understand why his daughter wanted to marry Shiva, the god of the dead. Turns out Shiva's actually a pretty nice guy, in the sense that death is just natural and a necessary part of the karmic system.

    Video Games 
  • In Final Fantasy XII, the Esper Zalera the Death Seraph is depicted as a horned Lich-like monster carrying a semi-naked woman in his right arm. According to the lore surrounding him, he was tasked with judging the souls of the damned but rebelled against the gods, and the woman is a shamaness who he abducted in a bid to increase his powers.

    Webcomics 
  • Death and the Maiden. The girl had a Near-Death Experience and is thus aware of how Death works (he needs to be called by a name). So when she picks him accidentaly up as he hitchhikes across the country, she decides to run, causing him to be alarmed and dedicated to reap what he couldn't in the past. What sounds terrifying is actually a hilarious comedy, not only because Death tries to cheat wherever he can and regularily runs amok, the girl is also a brilliant Deadpan Snarker. They actually begin to fall in love towards the end, causing Death to commit a mass murder to drive her away.
  • In Grim Tales from Down Below, Grim haunts Mandy's life, having fallen in love with her and the evil she has accomplished into adulthood. He finally faces her and gives her a choice; marry him or finally face death. She agrees and becomes his wife, even having children with him even though they aren't actually ''his'' kids.
  • The webcomic Death and the Maiden is about the Grim Reaper hunting down a woman who nearly died with an attempt to reap her soul. Belligerent Sexual Tension ensues.
  • Deconstructed in Homestuck: Lord English, the monsterous skeletal being who is known as the apocalypse-bringer and lord of the angels of death, always has a beautiful woman as his dragon. It's made clear however, that both of the ones we see loath him and what he uses them for, and it's implied that the reason he chooses beautiful women to serve him in destroying reality is because an incestious complex stemming from his murder of his sister.

    Western Animation 
  • In the The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy episode "Grim In Love", Grim falls in love with a Goth woman named Malaria. She shares his sadistic sense of humor and they both enjoy their company. By the end, he reveals to her that he is the real Grim Reaper and that all of his friends are actual monsters, leading her to run away in sheer terror.
  • Odd example in Adventure Time: Death is dating Life, a snake-woman with two heads. He tries to make a mixtape for her.
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