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Author
Comment
arnaud
Registered User
(1/24/07 2:18 pm)


how to escape, trick Death
Hello,
I am looking for the different ways, in folktales, a hero succeed in escaping the Death personified or succeed in persuading to postpone his death.
Typical situation: the hero is in a haunted house, and Death or the devil appears and wants the hero's soul ... so, the hero has to escape death that same night. (he cannot say "let me some time and we meet again later")
Among the different ways i found are:
-the magic bag (once traped inside no one can escape until the hero decide)
-the candle trick of saying "i will follow you when the candle is totaly consumed" ... and turning it off before it is consumed.
-the magic fiddle (death cannot stop dancing until morning) and its different variants (of cannot stop doing something until the hero decide)
-the little empty bottle trick (and betting with the devil that he cannot enter inside)
-figthing using a religious object.
Do you know any others ways ?
Thanks.

janeyolen
Registered User
(1/24/07 5:13 pm)


Re: how to escape, trick Death
Death captured by sitting on a magicked rocking chair, or putting his hand on a magicked gate or tree. All variants of "Wicked John and the Devil".

Jane

Writerpatrick
Registered User
(1/25/07 7:25 am)


Re: How to escape Death
There's a classic movie where Death is challenged to a chess game.

storywyse
Registered User
(1/25/07 9:42 am)


Re: how to escape, trick Death
E. Jane Hildebrant wrote a story which I have in the Canadian Children's Annual, 1978, called "The Day Death Called on Ellie Mitchell." She cheats death in the end (warning! this is the end!) by putting her clothes on backwards which makes her invisible.
Richard Kennedy wrote a story called, "Come Again in the Spring." I cannot for the life of me remember how his main character fooled death, but it's a great story as well.

kristiw
Registered User
(1/26/07 8:53 pm)


Re: how to escape, trick Death
Are you only interested in stories in which heroes cheat their own deaths, or would you accept a story in which a heroine persuades Death to spare another? (I'm thinking of Mister Death and the Red-Headed Woman) Also, must Death be cheated or can he be bargained with?

aka Greensleeves
Registered User
(1/28/07 4:35 pm)


Re: how to escape, trick Death
Are you considering Death and the Devil as functionally the same entity in this case? I know a lot more stories about tricking the Devil, than tricking Death.

There's apparently a Basque folktale where the hero is victorious because the Devil is incapable of learning more than three words of the notoriously difficult Basque language.

As for Death, you might check out modern depictions, like the "Final Destination" films, and Martine Leavitt's recent novel, Keturah and Lord Death. Leavitt takes an interesting approach--the heroine manages to repeatedly cheat Death by taking advantage of his romantic feelings for her.

Zan
Registered User
(2/2/07 9:36 pm)


Re: how to escape, trick Death
I've read a French fairy tale where the girl promised the Devil her soul, gave him her shoe sole (apparently they are the same word in French), and thus avoided dying.

minervasrazor
Registered User
(2/4/07 3:10 am)


Re: how to escape, trick Death
There is a tremendous variety of stories wherein the devil is tricked or otherwise cheated of his due. In some of these, the one cheating the devil is quite successful: for instance, there is a story where a man is hired to watch for three nights over a new grave. Each night the devil comes to claim the soul of the deceased, and the man watching the grave tells him he will leave if the he can fill up his boot with gold. The devil fails to notice, however, that the boot has a hole in it, so for three nights he keeps running off to fetch ever-larger sacks of gold and the boot is never full, so at the end of the story the devil loses the dead man's soul and has made the sentry rich in the process.

In other stories the devil is cheated with less success. "The Girl Without Hands" is a good example of this: the heroine remains clean and stays inside the magic circle for three days so the devil is unable to take her, but she loses her hands and has to undergo a long series of tribulations before she gets them back.

Tricking Death is a slightly different matter. There is a very problemmatic story in one of Lang's fairy books about a prince who sets out to defy death and become immortal, and to this end he journeys to a castle beyond the end of the world where Death cannot go. He spends a thousand years here and then, in Urashima fashion, he misses his parents and all of his friends. He goes out to find them, but they're all dead; he somehow brings them back to life and they just manage to escape to the castle beyond the end of the world before Death can catch them again. I dont know anything about the source of this tale, but its very atypical and bears the earmarks of creative editing.

Stories about people trying to cheat Death and failing are much more common. There's a famous tale where a king is told Death will come for him on a certain day, so in order to escape he rides miles and miles from his palace out into the country. At night he makes a camp where he meets Death, who tells him he is surprised, because the king was always so lazy that he didn't think he would make it to this location in time for their appointment. There are a variety of stories on this theme in Grimm: Death's Messengers, Death and the Doctor, and so on.

The film mentioned is "The Seventh Seal" by Ingmar Bergman. Or, at least, that is one famous film about a chess game with Death. ;)

J

Random
Registered User
(2/4/07 11:13 am)


Re: how to escape, trick Death
Minervasrazor, the Andrew Lang story reminds me of one by Mme d'Aulnoy called the Island of Happiness. The ending is very different, though - after the prince has been living with this princess on the Island of Happiness for three hundred years, he wants to go back home, fearing everyone will have forgotten him. She reluctantly lets him go, but when he arrives back home, the first thing he sees is an old man with an overturned wagon. He offers to help, only to discover that the old man is Father Time in disguise, who has been looking for him these three hundred years. Father Time smothers him and leaves him dead, the wind Zephir brings his body back to the island, and the princess mourns over it forevermore, basically.

I'm afraid this doesn't help the original poster, but I was wondering if this might have been the source for Lang's story.

Rosemary Lake
Registered User
(2/5/07 4:05 am)


running from death
There's an incident in a Discworld novel about someone who, trying to hide from death, effectively seals himself up in a coffin, where Death then happily joins him. I have a vague memory of that being discussed here, and maybe some traditional source for a similar tale?

minervasrazor
Registered User
(2/6/07 9:56 am)


Re: running from death
Random, you may be right about the D'Aulnoy tale being the source for the Lang. I haven't read that story myself, but I particularly remember feeling, when I read the story in Lang, that the "happy ending" had somehow been artificially attached. The whole balance of the story felt off, so if it is indeed the source and ends tragically, I'm not surprised.

There were a number of other features in the Lang story, too. It begins with the prince at home with the king and queen, longing to escape death (a bit like the little mermaid, preoccupied with her inevitable fate.) He travels to the castle beyond the end of the world, meeting several people along the way; one of them is a hawk, as I recall. He invites them to come along, but they don't, and when he goes back after a thousand years he finds them dead right where he left them. Also, his parents' castle has been reduced to a volcanic wasteland. Then Death comes after him and he runs along bringing everybody back to life.

One has the sense, reading the story, that the prince oversteps his bounds every step of the way, but he incurs no penalty for it at all, and no suffering (except I guess for the shock of finding everybody dead, which he quickly remedies.) Death is treated as a villain who is overcome and cheated. Overall there is no sense that the prince learns anything or changes, which is why the story seemed off to me.

J

Random
Registered User
(2/12/07 9:12 pm)


Re: running from death
Hmm, the more details you give me, the less the two stories seem to resemble one another. The prince in d'Aulnoy's story is really just out for glory and a bit of romance - on his travels, he befriends the mother of the winds (Jack-and-the-Beanstalk-style), and hears one of them (Zephir) speaking of this marvelous island and princess, which motivates him to hitch a ride there. There aren't any other companions or animals, and he isn't terribly upset about the prospect of death - his main concern, when he discovers how much time has passed, is that he will have been forgotten. Ultimately, by choosing to go back to the world and distinguish himself, he chooses glory over immortality (well, one kind of immortality, anyway) and love. The fact that he lasted all of about ten seconds after getting back shows what d'Aulnoy thought of that.

However, I wouldn't be surprised if the stories even had a similar root tale, and the happy ending was tacked on.

elana
Registered User
(2/12/07 9:34 pm)


Re: how to escape, trick Death
Do they have to get away with tricking death? If not, check out Godfather Death by the Brothers Grimm. They have other tales that would be of interest to you, though I can't remember them all right now.

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