Friday, April 4, 2008

Podcastle review: Come Lady Death

The much heralded Podcastle has finally come into being. This is the third tentacle of Stephen Eley's wonderful literary beast (the other two being Escape Pod and Pseudopod) and it appears to be as good as the others. I will admit that I was not as excited about this newest podcast as others have appeared to be. Hearing the first episode, however, has changed that. 

The story for the first week was Come Lady Death by Peter S. Beagle. Although I cannot explicitly recall reading this story before, the plot seemed familiar. I think it is a story that has been floating around in the collective consciousness of short story readers long enough to be leaked out every so often. I won't review the story itself much, but I do want to talk about the concepts later. I thought the plot was conventional, but in the comforting fairy tale sort of way. 

The story pivots around several social mores, mostly concerning the dangerous and yet enchanting power of death. Death seems to be portrayed in fiction in a wide variety of ways: as bony skeletons, beautiful women, tallish men with wavy hair (a la Touched by an Angel) and each portrayal always has different personality characteristics, like a calm, comforting, or even menacing behavior. Why is the figure of death so self-contradicting? God is generally portrayed in a uniform fashion, as is Mother Nature, the Devil and other supernatural beings.

I think the lack of clarity regarding Death's nature is because of the intense mysteriousness of Death. You can pray to God, or the Devil, and commune with Mother Nature, but how do you connect with Death? By dying. And, unfortunately, dying usually carries the requirement of passing away from this world. Everyone who knows something about Death can't talk. 

That's why ghosts, demons, and Death itself get created in fiction; to act like messengers from the least well-known place. They fill in much desired information. They clarify Death. But, because they are in fictional stories they are written by humans, not ghosts or demons. They therefore tend to reflect more what the writer thinks about Death than what Death thinks about itself. That's where all of the contradicting characteristics of Death arise. 

Come Lady Death provides one scenario for Death entering our world. I like to think of the mantle of Death being handed down from one person to the next over the centuries. I think the REAL interesting thing will be to see if any of our ideas about Death are true when it actually comes.

Note: I just noticed that I posted two entries about death in a row. I'm not obsessed. It's just a coincidence.  

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