All Dogs Go to Heaven, character reviews, Charon, Charon's Obol, Dante Alighieri, Dante's Inferno, Divine Comedy, Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, Ferryman of the Damned, Ferryman of the Dead, Greek Pantheon, Halloween Horrors, Inferno
Son of: Erebus (Darkness) & Nyx (Night)
Brother of: Nemesis (Divine Retribution), Thanatos (Death), and Eris (Discord)
Titles: Ferryman of the Dead/Damned, Ruler of the Dreary Coast
Featured In: All Dogs Go to Heaven, Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
Voiced By: Bart McCarthy (Dante’s Inferno)
There have been a lot of films that I’ve seen in my life. Films both old as the projector from whence they were made to as new as the dawn of another day. There have been movies that have disturbed me, there are some that have frightened me, and there are some that have sent me to many sleepless nights in the days following their viewing. Yet, it is not in the entirety of a film but in one horrific scene that I am haunted still to this very day.
The film, All Dogs Go to Heaven, is about a dog named Charlie whom is murdered and almost immediately revokes his predestined place in Heaven to return back to Earth to have a second chance at living whilst simuntaneously taking revenge against his former partner and murderer, Carface. An animated film by Don Bluth and, arguably, one of the best that he and his company had ever made, All Dogs Go to Heaven featured in it a scene the likes of which scared… well, scared the Hell out of me as a child.
There is a moment in the film, one where Charlie is sleeping and dreaming again of the heavenly voice that tells him once more that he can never come back to Heaven due to his actions. What follows is a spiraling trip straight to the black pits of Hell itself as Charlie quickly finds himself trapped on the ferry of the damned with a demonic ferryman cackling down at him with vicious glee. It wouldn’t be for several more years that I would discover that the ferryman in question not only has a name for himself, but a surprisingly unique history.
Charon is one of the children of Nyx and Erebus, sister and brother primordial deities of the night and deeper darkness respectively. Both of these deities precede those of the Olympian gods and Nyx herself is said to possess such power and beauty that even Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, fears her wrath. Charon also has many powerful siblings that include but are not limited to…
Nemesis, the goddess of divine retribution and is often considered as the very personification of vengeful fate and merciless revenge. Thanatos, the god/personification of Death and who is both merciless and indiscriminate in his dealings with mortals and immortals alike. Eris, the goddess of discord and the one who is most commonly recognized/famed for inadvertently starting the Trojan War.
What makes it a particularly interesting family tree, which considering this is the Ancient Greek Pantheon we’re talking about here that’s really saying something, is the fact that most of Charon’s relations have feathered wings and are, for the most part, defined straightforwardly as “gods.” Yet, Charon himself is not an actual deity in the strictest sense of the word. He is a psychopomp, a type of being who is in charge with ferrying the souls of the dead, and in Charon’s case that is quite literal.
Originally, Charon was under the employ of Hades the Greek Lord of the Underworld and was tasked to ferry the souls of the dead across the River Styx, the waterway that divided the world of the living from the realm of the dead. However, such passage was not given freely and newly arrived souls were expected to pay but a single coin to Charon in order to be ferried to the other side lest they be forced to wait. The tradition of leaving coins or other precious objects with the dead was popularized in the modern era by Charon to such a point that the practice is most commonly referred to as “Charon’s obol.”
However, like all things that have come before and after the Ancient Greeks, Charon had changed with the times and while his role still remained as a ferryman for the dead, he was given a more specific cliental, one that aren’t quite so willing to pay the fare. In the works of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, specifically the section entitled simply as “Inferno,” it is told that Charon’s new task is ferry the souls of the damned across the River Acheron into Hell proper. Yet, for those who have sinned enough to not warrant a place in either Heaven or Purgatory but not enough to deserve a place in one of the Nine Circles of Hell, Charon leaves them behind to remain forever more upon the shores of the River Acheron.
The select few in the entirety of Hell that could be even remotely considered as fortunate given the circumstances…