An old archetype, the ferryman is a character (and sometimes Deus ex Machina) who acts as a guide or aid to another character, allowing them to travel over near impossible obstacles to reach (or at least help reach) a specific destination. The most classic depiction is Charon of the River Styxnote , who aided souls across said river if he was paid, as there was a worse price to pay if you tried to swim through the waters. And like Charon, the archetype's representative need not be good or even evil; the character need not also be a literal ferryman; practically anything that can transport something/someone from one place to another is considered acceptable, including flight, teleportation, or even "dream walking". In some cases the Ferryman is the neutral counterpart to the Mentor, even adviser, as the ferryman can guide through more than just the obstacles of the physical spectrum… though usually at a price/reason of fair enough degree (be it a coin of burial gold, or a promise to aid the nation's resistance against the Empire.)
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Anime and Manga
- Botan of YuYu Hakusho note is the Japanese equivalent of the Ferryman, which is why she wields a paddle as a weapon.
- Oddly enough, Truth in Fullmetal Alchemist (only in the manga and second anime). He is neutral, requires a toll, is oddly personal, knows more than he's saying, and is connected to death.
- In Saint Seiya, the heroes come across the Acheron river after arriving on Hades's Underworld. In order to get across it, they need to be escorted by Acheron Charon, one of the Specters under Hades. Like its classic counterpart, he allows the Saints of Athena to embark on his boat even though they're enemies, as long as they can pay the equivalent toll, which is paid by Shun with a pendant he had as a memento of his mother.
- Enma Ai's job in Hell Girl is to ferry people across the Sanzu River to Hell after they are sent there by means of Hell Correspondence.
- Sylvan Ferrylotus in the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG. In his artwork, he's guiding Marshalleaf to his next destination. In Sylvan Waterfall Ride, Ferrylotus looks scared and steadies himself by holding onto the lotus leaf. Despite this, the Peaskeeper trio is still heading for their next destination.
- One of the gods of Theros (each inspired by Greek deities) in Magic: The Gathering is Athreos who's an Expy of Charon. His duties are incorporated into his card's effect, which forces your opponent to pay a toll of life in order to ensure that your creatures stay dead.
- 2000 AD:
- In The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azrael (and the Dead Left in His Wake), the ferryman appears as a grizzled old prospector type who carries each soul down the river towards judgement. He's also the instigator of the whole series as he wanted to escape an eternity of service by going to the land of the living. He manipulated Ichabod to create a portal there by giving him fake memories of a woman he loved as well as the means to fight demons and angels. However, if Charon just abandons his job, all reality will start to unravel.
- One of the various contract killers who inhabit Downlode in Sinister Dexter is named Charon, and he has a day job as a taxi driver. His eyes are purple with white skulls for pupils. Kal Cutter is the first person ever to notice the symbolism.
- In the series All-Star Superman, Lex Luthor has his niece Nasthalthia, who acts as a ferryman by rowing Clark Kent to safety.
- In the graphic novel Heck, which takes place in Dante's version of Hell, both Charon and Phlegyas make appearances.
- In the original The Books of Magic miniseries, the Trenchcoat Brigade (the Phantom Stranger, John Constantine, Doctor Occult and Mister E) serve as ferrymen for Tim Hunter, showing him DC's Post-Crisis magical universe, its many worlds, its history, and its future.
- In Operation: Dumbo Drop, Goddard is a cheerful French boatman, who loves the Americans, complete with having a framed photo of Lyndon Johnson. Captain Cahill, who has worked with Goddard in the past, turns the picture over, to reveal a photo of Ho Chi Minh.
Goddard: What can I say? I love everybody.
- Han Solo in Star Wars A New Hope explicitly only signs on to give Luke and Obi-Wan a ride to the planet Alderaan to take the Death Star plans to Bail Organa, and for a considerable fee at that. He gets caught up in the rest of the adventure when they are captured by the Imperials and he ends up helping rescue Princess Leia.
- In the original 1981 Clash of the Titans, Charon appears as a living skeleton ferrying Perseus and party across the River Styx to Medusa's lair. Charon also appears in the remake as a living skeletical ship.
- There's a character in The Amber Spyglass who is basically Charon, though he's not named. He (unwillingly, as they're not actually dead yet) ferries Lyra and Will to the land of the dead.
- The Ferryman plays a very important symbolic role in Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, where he enables Siddartha to pass between various phases in his life.
- In An Elegy for the Still-living Acheron himself shows up...as the name of an ocean, which then proceeds to play this trope straight.
- In The Friendship Song, the ferryman appears as Harper and Rawnie's school principal, demanding gold or something worth gold.
- In Warrior Cats, this role is shared by all of StarClan. They pick one of their warriors to guide a cat who is dying to them, usually one who was important in the dying cat's life.
- In For Love of Evil, when Satan has just assumed the Office, he tries to order Charon to take the soul of a woman who is struggling in the Styx. Eventually, he succeeds through the power of song (one of his main gifts).
- One is encountered in Wintersmith who happens to have the same accent as a certain recurring character. He tries to extort the heroes for an additional fee to take them out of the Underworld, but is thwarted when the Nac Mac Feegle threaten to stay.
- Phlegyas is promoted to this in Dante's The Divine Comedy; originally he was a soul in Tartarus with a huge boulder suspended over his head by a thread.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek: Voyager ("Barge of the Dead"). Klingons who die without honor aren't allowed into Valhalla (or "Sto-vo-kor"), but are instead sentenced to Gre'thor, their version of Hell. The Barge of the Dead is the mythological ship to Gre'thor, captained by Kortar, the very first Klingon. When Kortar became more powerful than the gods who created him, he destroyed them, and, as punishment, he was condemned to ferry the souls of the dishonored for all eternity.
- Chris de Burgh's early-'80s hit "Don't Pay The Ferryman" is a rather straightforward retelling of the Ferryman trope.
Myths & Religion
- Wraith: The Oblivion has the Ferrymen, a society of wraiths who have sworn an oath to protect those who seek Transcendence, and to police the Underworld for those who would abuse the living. Charon was one of them, back when they first began, but they went separate ways after Charon became ruler of Stygia, the Western Underworld. They are not quite like other wraiths; their initiation ritual transforms them, giving them powers and weaknesses other wraiths do not share (it should be noted that Charon never underwent the ritual, though he's unique in other ways).
- Eponine and Fantine serve as the ferrymen to the afterlife for Jean Valjean. Fantine appears first, echoing Valjean's words to comfort her as she's dying before disappearing when Cosette and Marius enter. However, when Valjean is fully dead, the pair come to him and take him to heaven, where Enjolras, Gavroche, and the other dead students are waiting. In the 2012 film, Eponine is replaced by the Bishop from early in the show (despite the fact that the Bishop's death is only mentioned in the book and not in the show or movie).
- Played with in A Very Potter Musical. After Dumbledore's apparent death, Rumbleroar, the thought-to-be-fake headmaster of the thought-to-be-fake wizarding school on ''Mars'', Pigfarts, appears to take Dumbledore away to Pigfarts. It's a very bizarre scene, to say the least.
- The Great Mizuti is happy to be this and the deus ex machina for Baten Kaitos! Ta-ladi-da-di-da, Ta-ladi-da.
- The Ferryman is a recurring character in the Castlevania series. He has appeared in Castlevania II: Simon's Quest and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
- The Curse of Monkey Island has one, but it's the Lost Welshman who needs a compass so that he can send Guybrush to Skull Island.
- In Tales of Monkey Island, when Guybrush arrives at the Crossroads Gateway as a Ghost Pirate, he encounters a skeletal Ferryman with a gold tooth who keeps his boat clean and bears a slight resemblance to the Lost Welshman; except that this Ferryman needs to be paid with "the golden eyes of everlasting sleep", i.e., two gold coins that are placed on the eyes of the dead, so that he can ferry arriving souls to the Center of the Crossroads (just like in Greek mythology), after which he'll no longer appear once his journey is complete.
- Final Fantasy has the techno genius Cid, who, in most of his incarnations, has eventual access to an airship that can sometimes even go beyond the main world in question!
- In GrimGrimoire, the Ferryman Charon is a unit you can create. In addition to being a troop transport unit, it can also ''throw'' its passengers at the enemy in a pinch.
- In Sam & Max Beyond Time And Space episode 5, Harry Moleman takes the literal role of Charon as a conductor for the Soul Train.
- The Boatman in MediEvil is surprised to see Sir Dan again, since he usually only takes passengers on one-way trips. He offers you transport to the next level if you find him some Lost Souls (what with the dead rising, he lost track of them).
- Touhou's Komachi Onozuka is technically a Shinigami, but she works as a ferrywoman rather than a reaper. She's simultaneously The Slacker and Brilliant, but Lazy - Komachi goes at a slow pace and accumulates a huge work backlog, but spends a lot of time having friendly chats with each soul she ferries across the Sanzu River to be judged by her superior, or takes breaks to give advice to the living.
- King's Quest II: Romancing The Throne has one to help Graham to the vampire's castle. The Fan Remake version gets creepier as he Was Once a Man, and knows why Graham is there, but will ferry him anyway. A second one is in King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, literally ferrying the souls of the dead across the underworld's river—if they have their fare, that is. If you don't have yours, you die.
- In Secret of Mana, you meet a cute creature named Karon (a mistranslation of "Charon") in the desert, who will ferry you through the Sea of Stars to the Moon Palace... without cost, of course.
- In Secret of Evermore, there is a desert ferryman who will ferry you across the desert to the Nobilia Trading Market... at the cost of one Amulet of Annihilation. He's chatty for a skeleton, constantly remarking on the desert scenery like a tour bus captain.
- In the NES game Day Dreamin' Davey, one of the stages of Ancient Greece has Charon in Hades' underworld lair who will guide Davey through the River Styx at the cost of one coin.
- In The Elder Scrolls Adventures Redguard, the ferryman is a large upper half of a skeleton attached to the ferry itself. Though silent, he will take you to the Isle of N'Gasta only when you pay three gold pieces.
- Charon himself appears in God of War: Chains of Olympus. You kill him.
- Zork: Grand Inquisitor has you paying Charon, who appears as a skeletal ferryman in a jaunty blue and white cap, in order to cross into Hades as part of your quest. Of course, calling Charon in the first place is a puzzle in itself, as is getting back when he refuses to let anyone make return trips.
- Charon is in Dante's Inferno as the boat that leads damned souls to their judgment in Hell. Since so many people went to Hell, he's had to grow to gargantuan sizes.
- Across the Shin Megami Tensei series, he has appeared with some regularity - he appeared as a Persona of the Death Arcana in Persona 2 and in an actual gameplay role in Shin Megami Tensei IV. Should you die, you will be taken before him at the shores of the Styx - except he's massively overworked and quite willing to look the other way to take you back. The problem is doing so is technically against his duties as a ferryman, but no worries there... Macca opens all doors.
- One is encountered in the Ancient Greece levels of Daikatana, forcing you to find some drachma to pay him with before you can proceed to the next stage.
- In Ultima VII, an undead creature called The Ferryman will transport mortals to and from the doomed island city of Skara Brae, for the price of 2 gold.
- In Shadowgate, there is a ferryman who leads the player character to the final boss's room. Passage requires a large gold coin, but only needs to be paid once.
- Captain Briney serves this role in Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire. After rescuing his Wingull Peeko from a Mook, he offers to ferry you aroud, letting you freely go between Petalburg City, Dewford Island, and Slateport City, all several hours before you can teach your pokemon surf to go there by yourself.
- Undertale has a mysterious hooded riverman ("Or am I the riverwoman...? It doesn't really matter.") who will rather cheerfully row you back to previous areas once you reach Hotland.
- Animaniacs has Charon appear to help the Warner Brothers (and Sister) escape from Hell. And then he sings with them. No, really.
- Potentially referenced in Over the Garden Wall via the character of Beatrice (note the name reference to The Divine Comedy). In Chapter 6, she helps Wirt and Greg sneak aboard a ferry whose crew and passengers are all frogs. They don't have the two pennies required to pay for the ride and find themselves pursued by law enforcement. Given the revelation that the boys are fighting for their lives, many viewers have wondered whether they don't have the money because they aren't dead.
- "Hanging By a Thread" episode of The Real Ghostbusters has the Ghostbusters going to hell and meeting Charon in the Styx river. He agrees to transport them in exchange of a sandwich.