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In Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, the Lady on the Grey makes two brief but striking appearances. To quote from the first one:

A huge white horse, of the kind that the people who know horses would call a 'grey', came ambling up the side of the hill. The pounding of its hooves could be heard before it was seen, along with the crashing it made as it pushed through the little bushes and thickets, through the brambles and the ivy and the gorse that had grown up the side of the hill. The size of a Shire horse it was, a full nineteen hands or more. It was a horse that could have carried a knight in full armour into combat, but all it carried on its naked back was a woman, clothed from head to foot in grey. Her long skirt and her shawl might have been spun out of old cobwebs.

Her face was serene, and peaceful.

They knew her, the graveyard folk, for each of us encounters the Lady on the Grey at the end of our days, and there is no forgetting her.

She is interpreted as the Angel of Death in the Wikipedia entry for the Graveyard Book. An interesting (but inaccessible to non-subscribers) story about "The Lady on the Gray" appears in a 1951 issue of The New Yorker.

I wonder whether one can trace any reference, inspiration, or background for this character.

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This probably comes from two main sources: the first, the idea that Death rides a pale horse, traces back to the Bible, Revelation 6:8. This image has been echoed in many Western depictions of death and tends to be immediately recognizable.

The second, Lady Death, also has a long history but in this case may well be echoing Neil Gaiman's own interpretation, Death of the Endless, the woman who sees us through the beginning and end of our lives. Here, she does not wear the appearance associated with Death the character in Sandman, but Gaiman has many time portrayed the Endless' ability to wear an expected guise.

It may be wistful thinking, but in the pale horse itself, huge and docile enough to be ridden bareback, I see an echo of Terry Pratchett's Binky.

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'The Lady on the Grey' short story that appears in the New Yorker is by John Collier and is available in one of the original collections of his short stories 'Fancies and Goodnights' (1951, but reprinted fairly recently), and also in The John Collier Reader (1970ish). In this story, the Lady is a ghostly(?) survivor of ancient Irish nobility, who avenges the ill-treatment of her fellow-countrywomen at the hands of Anglo-Irish degenerates.

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  • Yes, but how does this answer the question (which is asking about the background of this character, rather than where to find the New Yorker short story)?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 24 '16 at 0:29

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