The first time I read On a Pale Horse (Incarnations of Immortality, Bk. 1) by Piers Anthony, some of the deeper meanings flew straight over my head, but even at age thirteen, Death was fascinating. I’d lost family members, sure, but I was of the age where the larger questions were springing forth. Why do people die? Where do people go when they die? Was Death a person? Some sort of creepy angel who visits before people are snuffed from this existence?
Published in 1983 by Del Rey Books, the novel’s main character, Zane, is a photographer who is about to commit suicide. He accidentally kills Death and now must assume his office. As you read through the novel, Zane (aka Death), has to learn how to deal with not just the elderly and the sick dying, but children dying as well. Death becomes both a curse and blessing, depending on who is doing the dying, and Zane learns quite a few harsh lessons when he takes up the mantle of Death. The series continues with other supernatural “offices” such as: Time, Fate, War, Nature, Evil, and Good.
As a thinking and questioning child with quite a few big thoughts, I loved this series. It not only helped me to come to terms with my questions and the lack of answers, but it pushed my brain into thinking about other rolls in society. For example, in Neil Gaiman’s book, American Gods, Money has become a deity due to the worship and belief of the American people. It’s a thought I can identify with as I watch our world struggle with want vs. need.
As an older reader, I don’t enjoy most of Mr. Anthony’s body of work, mostly because some of his personal views are a bit creepy to me. But I look back on this series and remember how much I enjoyed reading it. I thought, if Death had to exist in the world, Zane was the kind of Death I could meet at my end, whenever that will be, and do so without regret. As I grow older, I instead focus on living every day for what it is: a moment in time. A chance to do good.
Another friend lost someone this week, and I’m reminded that as I grow older, so does everyone else around me. I could allow this melancholy to sweep over me and age me, but I refuse. Death comes for everyone in the end, but it’s not the end that matters. It’s the journey—a lesson Zane learned while riding a pale horse.
Want to read other Flashback Fridays? Click here to see the list in this series.