Tag Archives: Grim Reaper

Death’s Scythe

Death in a cholera outbreak, mowing down people.

This is how it’s done. Death mowing down people like wheat in a cholera outbreak.

Here we go. RANT TIME. I draw things, often. I don’t know if you draw, but if you do, I hope this helps you out, or at least gives you something to think about. Even if you don’t draw, hopefully you’ll find plenty to think about. Maybe this sort of thing will become a series, too, about things that bug me about art. Being an artist is about training the eye and observational mind as much as the hand. The topic today is Death’s scythe. This is seriously one of my personal artistic pet peeves – understandable, but it really does impact how Death comes across. I’m talking here about personified Death itself. The Grim Reaper. If you take just one thing away, it should be this:

A SCYTHE IS A FARM TOOL, NOT A WEAPON. YES, THIS MATTERS.

Let’s get what a scythe is out of the way, because although it’s interesting, it’s not as interesting as why this matters, and how so many artists get this wrong, especially recently. A scythe is a farm tool for cutting down wheat or grass and such, really efficiently.

Like so:

Obvious Note: less physical work is not the same thing as faster.

A scythe is not an awkward weapon that has a blade that sticks out at right angles to the pole for some reason, with the edge on the wrong side. A scythe is an elegant mowing machine. In most models, the blade is angled, so that it’s horizontal to the ground when the scythe is in use. Why this matters: a scythe is not a tool for combat between roughly-equal beings. A scythe is a harvesting tool. Death carrying a proper scythe means that human lives are as single stalks of wheat before the blade. Look at that newspaper illustration at top again: that’s what a pandemic is like – death mowing people down like grass.

So, that’s what a scythe is, and why it matters. The last question – why do artists have trouble with Death’s scythe, especially recently? – is an open one, and interesting. I can think of two possible reasons, maybe even both at a time. Maybe artists in recent times don’t have much experience with scythes, and don’t have the chance to observe how they’re used or put together. We don’t generally harvest with a scythe anymore, so the chance to see one in action is more rare. The other half is that maybe the modern experience of death itself has changed. We’re used to people dying one at a time from disease, picked off with precision, not mown down. For contrast, this is what the 1918 Flu Pandemic looked like:

South Beach Hospital Ledger.

South Beach Hospital admissions ledger. Everybody’s got the flu, and four people are dead in a matter of days. WWI was just wrapping up, and still gets most of the attention, but this flu pandemic still killed more people than the entire infamous Great War, and in a matter of months. Here’s the document source!

Yikes. By contrast, our death, the death with a wonky, useless scythe is a much less fearsome entity than the Grim Reaper.