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The Ferryman

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Bring some spirits as a bribe (and I ain't talkin' the religious kind).

Don't pay the ferryman!
Don't even fix a price!
Don't pay the ferryman
Until he gets you to the other side!
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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 Styx,note  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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Not to be confused with the play of the same time written by Jez Butterworth.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • 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.
  • 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. As of the end of the fourth season, Michiru has the same job.
  • 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.
  • Botan of Yu Yu Hakusho note  is the Japanese equivalent of the Ferryman, which is why she wields a paddle as a weapon.

    Arts 
  • Sistine Chapel: Charon, who brought the dead to the Underworld in Greek myth, is featured in The Last Judgement with a boat full of the damned. Not that he's trying to be helpful, as he has raised his oar and held it back to scare them off his boat right into a pile of grabby demons.

    Comic Books 
  • 2000 AD:
  • 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 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 the graphic novel Heck, which takes place in Dante's version of Hell, both Charon and Phlegyas make appearances.
  • In Promethea, Sophia Bangs ascends onto the higher levels of the Immateria in order to find her predecessor, Barbara, to finish the business she had with her. On the way to the first Sephirot, she enlists the help of Charon the Ferrymen from Classical Mythology (confusing him for an allegorical character from a 16th century engraving she ran into earlier since they both come from the same "old man" archetype), who agrees to take her to the Nancy Nox, a houseboat from an old story her ancestor wrote. As she steps off of his boat, he asks for payment, Promethea finding a pentacle-coin in her pocket, Charon claiming that it represents her earthly awareness, something she will not need on her journey.
  • In one issue of Superboy (1994), during the period when Brainiac-13 had turned Metropolis into a literal City of Tomorrow, Superboy discovers the Absurdly Spacious Sewers are traversed by a guy who found a rubber raft and a stick with an outboard motor on the end, and decided to become an archetype.
  • Wonder Woman features Charon himself across several versions.
    • In Wonder Woman (1987) getting passage on Charon's boat is the safest and surest way to reach the part of the underworld that is actually Hades and Elysium and Tartarus can only be reached by passing through Hades and past Elysium.
    • In Wonder Woman Odyssey Charon remains at the banks of the river, even while the realm of Hades is overflowing and crumbling in the wake of Hades' disappearance.
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    Fan Works 
  • The Merchant from Perseth recovers a drowning Applejack in Ask Crapplejack and becomes her guide during her time in the Interstice dimension.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • 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.
  • The Divine Comedy:
    • The first one is Charon, the classic archetype. He ferries the souls of the recently deceased sinners across the river Acheron to Hell.
    • The second one is Phlegyasnote , who ferries Dante and Virgil across the Styx in the fifth circle of Hell.
    • The third one is an angel who guides ferries the souls of the repentant dead to the foot of Mount Purgatorio. This angelic figure, with its great speed and holy guise, contrasts with the gruesome beings that travel throughout the Inferno Dante had just climbed out of.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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 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.

    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.
  • Played for Laughs in an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati: The owner of a chain of funeral homes is named Ferryman.

    Music 
  • Chris de Burgh's early-'80s hit "Don't Pay The Ferryman" is a rather straightforward retelling of the Ferryman trope.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Classical Mythology: Charon is the Trope Codifier.
  • Mesopotamian Mythology: Urshanabi is the literal Ur-Example.
  • Nart Sagas: The little old boatman and his wife are the guardians of the souls of the Narts. Closely linked with the land of the dead, he dispenses wisdom to the heroes and ensures their safe passage.
  • In the fairy tale "The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs", on his way to the Underworld to fetch the Devil's hairs, the protagonist meets a mysterious ferryman who is growing tired of his job of ferrying souls to Hell. The protagonist learns, by eavesdropping on the Devil, that the ferryman can get someone to take his place by getting them to take his oar. Sure enough, the next person to come by (who happens to be the king who'd spent the whole story trying to get rid of the protagonist) falls for it, and is forced to take up the ferryman's job.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, one subset of the fiendish Yugoloths are the Marraenoloths, near-skeletal figures in tattered robes who make a living plying the River Styx. They remain strictly neutral in the Blood War, allowing them access to all the Lower Planes, and their supernatural nautical skills make them among the safest options for getting around the worst part of the Great Wheel. But since they are at heart mercenaries, there's a small chance that they'll deliver passengers into an ambush arranged by a third party, a chance that can be reduced by paying them more than their asking fee, of course.
  • 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.
  • Pathfinder features Charon as not just a ferryman, but also as one of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and consequently a Neutral Evil Omnicidal Maniac. If someone (rather reasonably) doesn't want to try and enlist an archfiend, they can pay a thanadaemon to transport them anywhere the River Styx goes instead. Though Charon does have a habit of impersonating them, so that's not entirely safe either.
  • Wraith: The Oblivion:
    • The Ferrymen are 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).
    • The Harbingers' Guild specializes in Argos, the art of Underworld travel, its members making use of it to serve various roles in the Underworld, such as guides, traders, explorers and messengers.
  • 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.

    Theater 
  • In Les Misérables, a pair of dead characters reappear to usher another into the afterlife. When Jean Valjean is dying, Fantine appears first, echoing Valjean's words to comfort her as she was dying, before disappearing when Cosette and Marius enter. Then when Valjean is fully dead, she and Eponine come 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.

    Video Games 
  • The Great Mizuti is happy to be this and the deus ex machina for Baten Kaitos! Ta-ladi-da-di-da, Ta-ladi-da.
  • In BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm, the Fine Bros. (yes, those Fine Bros.) begrudgingly agree to become this when the party needs an airship to reach the high-flying Wayback Machine. They make it clear that it’s a one-way trip, though: they’ll get you up there alright, but then you’re on your own.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Dragon Age: Origins has an example Played for Laughs, a goofy templar you need to convince to take you to the Circle of Magi. Depending on your active Player Party, you have various options, including him being Distracted by the Sexy... or offering him a bribe of cookies. (The game files instruct the voice actor to play him as a Monty Python-like character.)
  • In The Elder Scrolls Action-Adventure spin-off game, 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.
  • 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!
  • Charon himself appears in God of War: Chains of Olympus. You kill him.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Charon is waiting for the player character if you die in Oedipus in my Inventory.
  • 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.
  • In Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space episode 5, Harry Moleman takes the literal role of Charon as a conductor for the SoulTrain.
  • 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 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 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.
  • 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.
  • The Underwhere in Super Paper Mario is clearly based on Hades, including a creature named Charold who ferries Mario across the River Twygz.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. And occasionally makes cryptic references implying that they know more than they're letting on.
  • 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.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs has Charon appear to help the Warner Brothers (and Sister) escape from Hell. And then he sings with them. No, really.
  • In Legend of the Three Caballeros, Charon has turned his ferryboat into a party cruise ship and taken on a more light-hearted persona to better attract customers and actually have some fun with his job.
  • 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.

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