A skeleton is a type of physically manifested undead often found in fantasy, gothic and horror fiction, and mythical art. Most are human skeletons, but they can also be from any creature or race found on Earth or in the fantasy world.
Myth and folklore
Animated human skeletons have been used as a personification of death in Western culture since the Middle Ages, a personification perhaps influenced by the valley of the dry bones in the Book of Ezekiel. The Grim Reaper is often depicted as a hooded skeleton holding a scythe (and occasionally an hourglass), which has been attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger (1538). Death as one of the biblical horsemen of the Apocalypse has been depicted as a skeleton riding a horse. The Triumph of Death is a 1562 painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder depicting an army of skeletons raiding a town and slaughtering its occupants.
Figurines and images of skeletons doing routine things are common in Mexico's Day of the Dead celebration, where skulls symbolize life and their familiar circumstances invite levity. Highly-decorated sugar-shaped candy has become one the most recognizable elements of the celebrations.
The moderns association between skeleton iconography and the Day of the Dead was inspired by La Calavera Catrina, a zinc etching created by Mexican cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada in the 1910s and published posthumously in 1930. Initially a satire of Mexican women who were ashamed of their indigenous origins and dressed imitating the French style, wearing heavy makeup to make their skin look whiter, it later became a more general symbol of vanity. During the 20th Century, the Catrina entrenched itself in the Mexican consciousness and became a national icon, often depicted in folk art.
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- The animated skeleton features in some Gothic fiction. One early example is in the short story "Thurnley Abbey" (1908) by Perceval Landon, originally published in his collection Raw Edges. It is reprinted in many modern anthologies, such as The 2nd Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories and The Penguin Book of Horror Stories.
- An anthropomorphic depiction of Death which looks like a skeleton in a black robe appears in almost all volumes of Terry Pratchett's fantasy series Discworld, including five novels where he is the lead character.
Film and TV
- Undead skeletons have been portrayed in fantasy films such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Army of Darkness (1992), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), and Corpse Bride (2005).
- An extended battle scene against an army of skeletal warriors was produced by animator Ray Harryhausen for Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and is remembered as one of the most sophisticated and influential visual effects sequence of its day.
- Animated skeletons have been used and portrayed extensively in fantasy role-playing games. In a tradition that goes back to the pen-and-paper game Dungeons & Dragons, the basic animated skeleton is commonly employed as a low-level undead enemy, typically easy for a player to defeat in combat. Thus, in games which make use of them, such enemies often appear relatively early in the gameplay and are considered a suitable opponent for novice players. In these contexts, they are commonly armed with medieval weapons and sometimes wear armor. Some games may also introduce higher-level variants with heightened resilience or combat skills as well as the ability to cast spells or communicate.
- In the 1999 cult classic Planescape: Torment, Morte is a character who joins the protagonist on his quest and is essentially a sentient, levitating human skull with intact eyeballs who cracks wise and fights by biting.
- In the video game Fable III, there exist a race of antagonal characters called "hollow men" which are featured throughout the game.
- In the PlayStation action-adventure series MediEvil, the protagonist is an animated skeleton knight named Sir Daniel Fortesque.
- Following a poll taken during their Kickstarter campaign, Larian Studios added a playable skeleton race in their 2017 RPG Divinity: Original Sin II, as well as an ancient skeletal character named Fane.
- A duo of animated skeleton brothers plays an important role in the computer role-playing game Undertale. Named Sans and Papyrus, the brothers' dialogue text is printed in Comic Sans and Papyrus fonts, respectively.
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