Death Takes a Holiday
So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men,Something happens to the personification of Death such that the very concept of death is suspended. Maybe Death just decides to quit, or maybe someone "captures" Death. People don't die any more. At first this seems wonderful, but eventually the Aesop rears its (sometimes ugly) head. People injured beyond repair and in excruciating pain aren't given release, or the threat of overpopulation is mentioned, or people abuse their newfound immortality, or the writers just flat out say reality itself will collapse. The heroes either ask Death to return, or else free Death from whatever force has contained it. If the heroes themselves got rid of death, they'll discover The Problem with Fighting Death is you just can't win. Death may levy this as punishment for some crime against the natural order, and make it worse by coupling it with Age Without Youth. Alternately, people do still die, but they're all Rerouted From Heaven or Barred from the Afterlife, ending up as The Undead or Ghosts or stuck in the Afterlife Antechamber. If someone else has to take over for The Grim Reaper, it's a case of Subbing for Santa.
And death once dead, there's no more dying then.
And death once dead, there's no more dying then.
— Sonnet 146, William Shakespeare
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- This commercial shows a man surviving fatal incidents because death is busy enjoying a cold one.
Anime and Manga
- This is the premise of Kami-sama no Inai Nichiyoubi. One day, people stopped dying and giving birth. Some characters believe it's because God abandoned the world, while others believe that humanity collectively wished to live forever, but that wish didn't turn out quite how they expected; basically, when a person "dies," they become like a zombie, and while they're still themselves and can still think and act like a normal human, without the right kind of support eventually both their mind and body will rot, driving them mad. However, the walking dead weren't without hope for rest, as soon mystical beings called "gravekeepers" began to appear, and they can grant true rest to the living deceased, and eventually both the living and deceased adjusted to this new world, and not being able to truly die just became a normal part of life. Protagonist Ai is one such gravekeeper, and she sets out on a journey to save the world.
- The Sandman:
- Subverted in the first issue when a cabal of mystics attempt to capture Death and thus become immortal, but screw up and trap her brother Dream instead, leading to worldwide sleeping disorders. When he escapes captivity several decades later, he berates the son of his original captor, saying that he has no idea what kind of chaos would have resulted had they succeeded.
- Also played straight later on, though it isn't really Death that takes a holiday; it's Lucifer Morningstar, who literally closes Hell. Because of this, the universe is thrown out of whack, and everyone who's ever died (or at least died and gone to Hell) returns to walk the Earth and interact with the living. There are numerous examples of various horrors, among which are the ghost of an undeveloped stillborn being cradled by its mother and a boy who's recently died watching his dead body. On the other hand, it also led to The Dead Boy Detectives, so that's all right.
- In the short comic "Death: A Winter's Tale", she reminisces about her history and reveals there was a time millions of years ago when she fulfilled this trope because she was sick of everyone being unhappy to see her. After a while, the usual "people realize how much they really need Death" kicked in and someone was sent to find her and get her to start up again.
- Dream's brother Destruction grew weary of his role one day and just left. Destruction still occurs without him, just without its Anthropomorphic Personification to direct it. It's strongly implied that had he stayed in his station, the world would have ended in nuclear war and that the post-WWII world is a little... off due to his absence. He's currently wandering across the universe and trying his hand at various attempts at creation (artwork, cooking, music, poetry, etc.) which all fail in various ways.
- In another story, a sorcerer of some sort is able to lock Death out of a gate that leads to his island, allowing him and his court to happily live the same day over and over again. Eventually, Death gets in and reveals that the "outside" of everyone is dead... In a bit of a subversion, it's revealed that the sorcerer belives he has forced not Death to take a vacation, but Time.
- Hob Gadling manages immortality by boasting that he intended never to die in earshot of Dream and Death, and Dream decides that it would be an interesting thing to see what would happen and asks his sister to keep away from Hob as a favor. It is implied that the favor could be rescinded (when Hob and Dream meet each century, Dream asks him if he wants to go on). There are more immortals in canon however... it seems that these things simply happen, for various reasons, once in a while.
- Inverted in Action Comics #900, the finale of the "Black Ring" story arc, when Lex Luthor becomes one with the child of the Phantom Zone, and he stops entropy itself. The concept of death itself is stopped and so the Death has her very first vacation since the beginning of time.
- This becomes a worldwide problem in the Marvel Comics series Paradise X, an unforeseen side effect of the destruction of Death at the end of Universe X. This also happens in the Secret Wars II Crisis Crossover, when the naive Beyonder kills Death because "nobody wants to die".
- In an issue of Fables, Jack of the Tales traps Death in a sack to secure a roll in the sheets with a wealthy but terminally ill southern belle. Lets just say it makes breakfast awkward when it refuses to stay still after slaughter. When released, Death is actually grateful for his first day off, ever, and will forgive Jack on the condition that he gets a day trapped in the sack every year or so.
- The Thanos Imperative introduced a parallel world nicknamed the "Cancerverse," which came about when the assembled heroes of Earth killed Death in an attempt to save Captain Marvel from his terminal cancer. Things went bad. Really bad.
- One occurs in issue #2 of Bill & Ted's Excellent Comic Book.
- In Ibis the Invincible #2, Ibis sends Death on a Holiday, Ibis uses his Ibistick to banish Death from the city. This leads to chaos after a criminal sentenced to execution survives, breaks out, and causes a crime wave. Finally Ibis allows Death to return.
- The trope name comes from the title of a novel, that was later adapted into a film of the same name in 1934, starring Frederic March and Evelyn Venable, remade as a telemovie in 1971, and remade again in 1998 as Meet Joe Black.
- Meet Joe Black actually avoids the trope by having Death explain that for him, killing people is just like "making a decision while shaving in the morning". The film Death Takes A Holiday leaves the trope intact.
- On Borrowed Time (1939) has Lionel Barrymore holding off Death (personified as a "Mr. Brink") by trapping him in an apple tree in his backyard.
- Older Than Feudalism: In Greek Mythology, the Manipulative Bastard Sisyphus captured Thanatos, the Greek personification of death. Sisyphus only wanted to prevent his own death (and not for the first time, either!), and accidentally ended up preventing all humans from dying at all (not that he ever gave a damn about other people's suffering in the first place). He did this to escape the punishment he would certainly receive for: breaking the laws of hospitality (he killed guests and travelers under his care to steal from them), seducing his niece, Tyro, in one of his many, many plots to kill his hated brother, Salmoneus, ratting out Zeus' romance with the nymph Aegina to her father Asopus, and just pissing off the gods in general. In the end he learned the hard way about The Problem with Fighting Death when Death's boss made a bargain with him.
- Another folk tale variant is "Death in a Nut", in which a boy traps death to save his mother, but then can't get bacon, cabbages, etc. His mother explains that death is natural, and he releases the Reaper.
- "Death gets stuck in a magic tree" is the idea behind the folktale Tia Miseria: an old woman traps Death in her pear tree and only agrees to release him when her oldest friend begs to be allowed to die of old age. However, Tia Miseria makes Death promise never to come for her; as long as Death keeps his promise, there will always be misery in the world.
- In one of the Appalachian "Jack Tales" (derived from English folktales), Jack, through magic, is able to see Death perched above the bed of a dying person and traps Death in a sack. Many, many years later, he meets a very old woman who complains of being so old and not able to die because some fool has Death trapped in a sack. Jack thinks about this, goes home and unties the sack and Death resumes his duties, "and Jack was just about the first one Death got, I reckon."
- A variation on this story has Death so afraid of Jack that he runs from Jack once released and refuses to take him, making Jack a permanent sufferer of this trope.
- This is related to a folktale in which Jack traps the Devil, rather than death. Sometimes he traps him up a tree by planting crosses or carving a cross. Sometimes he tricks him into turning into a coin, which is then placed in a wallet next to a cross. Either way, Jack ends up wandering the world, carrying one of the embers of hell with him to light his way: Jack of the Lantern. Similarly, you can end up with Will of the Wisp. Jack o'Lantern was originally, fable notwithstanding, just a term for a night watchman, a guy with a lantern.
- The trope name comes from the title of a novel that was adapted into a film of the same name in the 1930s, remade as a telemovie in the 1970s and remade again in 1998 as Meet Joe Black.
- Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels have several:
- In Mort, Death takes on an apprentice (Mort) and then leaves him in charge whilst and goes wandering around the Disc trying human pleasures such as fishing, partying, and getting drunk. Naturally, Hilarity Ensues...
- Reaper Man features Death being "laid off" by the Auditors, with quite a bit of chaos resulting, including a wizard coming back as a zombie, a rash of poltergeist activity, and, strangest of all, the city of Ankh-Morpork being threatened by a living, parasitic shopping mall. Again, Hilarity Ensues.
- In Soul Music, Death has run off to forget his troubles and his granddaughter Susan must fill in, much to her annoyance. Yet again, Hilarity Ensues.
- Death literally takes a holiday in the novel Hogfather. The Hogfather (Discworld's version of Santa Claus) is incapacitated, and Death takes on his role in order to make sure Hogswatch proceeds as normal. However, he does take the time to supervise the death of a small creature at the bottom of the ocean. Hey, guess what ensues?
- Note that in Hogfather he's still also doing his normal job, in addition to the Hogfather's. He has to take care of several of the deceased Tooth Fairy guards and Ernie the cart-driver, though he refuses to do so for the little match girl. (There's no better present than a future.) Angels show up with tinkling music to collect the child's soul, only to have Death's assistant Albert throw snowballs at them until they go away.
- In Piers Anthony's On a Pale Horse, Death goes on strike in an attempt to combat Satan. However, he fully understands the consequences of this, as does everyone else.
- This occurred in a short story this troper read a few times, years ago, but can't remember the name - only that it involved a bet, Death getting stuck in some sort of special tree he needed someone's permission to get out of, and that somehow, it led to the origin of all the world's "no-good gamblers.
- Ray Bradbury's short story The Scythe features a man who becomes the Grim Reaper. When he learns what he's been doing he refuses to work, only to find that if he doesn't take the souls of people who are supposed to die they end up in an unconscious limbo state between life and death.
- Isaac Asimov's short story: The Last Trump, is about these. As no human could ever decide how the afterlife would be, The Chief (a.k.a God) decide that the only thing all of humanity has in common is the fear of death. When the day of the judgement finally arrive, all people stop dying and the dead ones start to resurrect.
- On Borrowed Time, a 1937 novel that was made into a play and film. Gramps wishes that anyone that climbs up his apple tree will have to stay there until he lets them down. Death comes for Gramps. Gramps tricks Death up into the old apple tree where he must remain until Gramps lets him down.
- This is the whole plot of Josť Saramago's Death with Intervals, which explores all the political, social and economical consequences of people not dying in a certain country - a sense of pride, crime syndicates threatening people with fates worse than death and the trafficking of ill people to the border so they can die, with all the international chaos that follows. Death then resumes to its reaping though she begins to warn people beforehand, until she falls in love with the only man she couldn't kill. The following day, no one died.
- One of the protagonists of The Prophecy of the Stones is spared because of this trope, but they have to persuade Death to end her strike anyway.
- The Bible includes a reference to this, making it Older Than Feudalism. In this case, it's during the fifth plague of Revelation, where the people are tortured by locust demons for five months.
During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them. - Revelation 9:6
- Of course, the Bible also speaks of God putting an end to death, and this is clearly established as being a good thing. Then there's the somewhat strange verse where Death gets sent to Hell.
- The Dresden Files: Although The Grim Reaper's existence hasn't been confirmed In-Universe (yet), this is basically the goal of Kumori in Dead Beat. Harry himself is intelligent enough to realize this is a horrible idea.
- In The Heroes of Olympus, this shows up in the second book, although it's more like "Death Gets Kidnapped." Gaia bound Thanatos, the Greek god of death, to allow monsters to keep escaping the underworld; a side effect of this is that no one dies.
- In Mikhail Uspensky's Kogo za smertyu posylat (Who's to be Sent after Death), Death is kidnapped by Big Bad Miroyed, and everyone stops dying. Creatures still can be hit, maimed, and burnt to ashes, but will neither bleed nor feel the pain, and even the ashes of a man will still be able to live in some manner. People in fact feel like undead, and want the Death back. When finally Zhikhar, The Hero, rescues the Death, which turns out to be also the Live, things go back to normal, and everyone who got hurt during Death's absence, dies. Therefore, instead of being praised for saving the world, Zhikhar is hated as if he ruined it.
Live Action TV
- Charmed episode "Styx Feet Under".
- George is less than enthusiastic about her duties at the beginning of Dead Like Me and tries to shirk them... with highly negative consequences. Later in the first season however, as the basis for a Clip Show, the group gets a day off from reaping in the aptly-titled episode "Vacation". The beings that cause the "external circumstances" (accidents, mostly) which the group handles take a day off "every few years". Rube takes the opportunity to catch up on paperwork... from the last seventy or eighty years.
- In the Kids in the Hall mini-series Death Comes To Town, Ricky was an aborted baby who miraculously survived because Death slept in.
- Variation on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys in Love Takes a Holiday where it's Aphrodite, the goddess of love, so love is suspended instead of death. It only applies to women and Aphrodite explains that "if men felt the same way, where would the fun be?", which may be a Lampshade Hanging since she doesn't otherwise seem to be in control of the effect.
- Inverted in the episode "Death Takes A Holiday" of Mash. While the rest of the camp celebrates Christmas, BJ, Hawkeye and Margaret are doing everything they can to keep a dying soldier alive till the next day, so his family does not to remember Christmas as the day he died. Ramming home the message that "war sucks", the doctors fail with 10 minutes to go. Hawkeye advances the clock past midnight so they can put December 26 on the death certificate.
- One episode of Night Court had this when a middle-aged man was held for examination when he claimed to be Death. After the usual Aesop, he was released and people resumed dying.
- "The Soldier and Death", an episode of The Storyteller, features a man that keeps Death imprisoned. It was adapted from an the same story as the above mentioned "Jack Tales", though with a different ending.
- This is the premise of a Supernatural episode, also called "Death Takes A Holiday" where the boys stumble upon a village where no one is dying. In this case the village's Reapers were captured by a demon so one can be sacrificed in order to open one of the seals imprisoning Lucifer.
- The entire premise of Torchwood: Miracle Day. Played for Drama, and every Medical Horror implication of the trope is thoroughly explored.
- The Twilight Zone 2003 reboot had the episode "One Night of Mercy". Death (played by Jason Alexander) decided to quit, and the doctor he confided this with was thrilled. This was looking optimistic and hopeful right up until the point where a bunch of people who were immolated was brought into the emergency room, still alive because Death had quit. Naturally, the good doctor found Death and convinced him to return to work, after seeing this, and gets taken as Death's first victim, as a result (he had been suffering "headaches" up until then, in reality the symptoms of an oncoming aneurysm).
- Xena: Warrior Princess episodes "Death in Chains" (loosely based on the above myth) and "Mortal Beloved".
- In Living Color! had this happen in a literal sense, with Jim Carrey playing The Grim Reaper at a beach resort. He meets with a couple who goad him into showcasing his powers, and Hilarity Ensues.
- In the Broadway play On Borrowed Time, the protagonist traps death so he won't die with no one left to take care of his orphaned grandson.
- Discworld II has death take a holiday to get away from his troubles, leaving Rincewind to take his place.
- How the 9th Touhou game Phantasmagoria of Flower View happens, basically. Every 60 years, a surge of death happens for whatever reason, which presumably requires the shinigami to work overtime. Komachi just happened to be slacking off this time around, leading to all the souls she wasn't escorting to the afterlife to start manifesting as flowers.
- Played with in Jade Empire. The Water Dragon does not die, but she is incapacitated. As a result, people still die, but their souls don't go to the underworld to be reincarnated. This causes ghosts to crop up everywhere and eventually go crazy from their lost state. As the last Spirit Monk, it is your job to set things right by helping the ghosts resolve matters from back when they were alive and/or beating them up with kung fu magic.
- Played with in the online game AdventureQuest, Death has taken on a policy of sending adventurers back in exchange for being owed a favor. The characters are all very aware of this effect, comment when Death fails to send back a soul he desires, and have, if I recall correctly, noted the immense number of favors Death has been accumulating but never called in. It has also been blamed for the lack of dragons as powerful as existed only 5 years earlier in the prequel game Dragonfable: once adventurers stopped dying, many more of them were able to get powerful enough to slay the rather rare most powerful dragons, leaving only the more common weaker ones.
- Fallen London features this as a major aspect of the setting. Permanent death is extraordinarily rare in Fallen London. It only happens as the result of old age, disease, or an exceptionally messy death such as being cut into bits — although this is a mixed blessing. Much like in Death Becomes Her, a person's body can become worn out through injury, and those in a sufficient state of disrepair are sent off to the Tomb-Colonies, which are just as pleasant as they sound.
What are the tomb-colonies like? More Mictlan than Milan. Travellers do go to see the sights, but the sights are mostly dark half-deserted plazas and unfriendly people wrapped in bandages. They do have some good churches though.
- Irregular Webcomic! nearly had this: the Deaths did not go on holiday, but rather on strike for better wages. Their strike failed when they attempted to form a picket line across the infinite featureless plane they reside in, mainly because several Deaths just couldn't help collecting souls and broke the line. Also, they realized that the picket line was useless for blockade purposes, as the infinite featureless plane of death is (allegedly) infinite, while the picket line was finite in size.
- Played with in Jack. The eponymous personification of Wrath and Death goes on vacation for two strips. Played for laughs, ironically, considering that this is one of the few comics that would blatantly show the horrors of no Death.
- Gargoyles episode "Grief" when a man traps the god of death (Anubis) by summoning him and nothing is able to die until he leaves. Anubis points out the dangers of his actions: there is still birth, but now no death to balance it out. Interestingly he got his happy ending, he trapped Anubis to try and force him to return his dead son, in the end he was happily reunited with his son, in the afterlife. A pretty sensible solution for a verse with an explicitly true afterlife.
- Greg Weisman regretted not actually doing anything with this concept. The episode in question had the heroes captured, perfect opportunity for the villains to try killing them only to fail when death isn't working.
- An early episode of Family Guy had Death twist his ankle while trying to claim Peter, forcing the Griffins to take care of him until he gets better. Peter lets the cat out of the bag, revealing to the world that nobody can die, and Death forces him to kill the cast of Dawson's Creek in order to prove that he still has power. In the end, Peter accidentally finds a solution that spares the actors and shows that Death is still around.
- The status of death in the universe of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy may or may not be suspended while Grim is in bondage to the kids. He's shown reading an obituary page in one episode, lamenting that nobody has died for a while. In another episode, Mandy sternly orders him "No Grim Reaping!" If nobody can really die anymore, that would certainly explain the show's Negative Continuity. On the other hand, he's shown on several occasions to, in fact, be reaping. (In one episode where he and Billy switch roles, Billy ends up having to reap; the "Big Boogey Adventure" movie also showed Grim trying to reap General Skarr.)
- In a Simpsons' Halloween special, Homer kills Death after trying to save Bart from him. Lisa mentions that there is now a world without death, and then cue scenes around Springfield of people not dying when they should. Homer then puts on Death's cloak for fun and accidentally becomes the new Grim Reaper (Possibly an Affectionate Parody slash Hallow'een version of The Santa Clause). Hilarity Ensues