Though Georgia Thackery, an English professor and single mother, is the actual protagonist of my Family Skeleton mystery series, it’s the skeleton himself that people associate most with the books. You see, the Thackery family skeleton is an actual skeleton: Georgia’s best friend Sid, who lives in the Thackery family attic. Well, sort of. Technically he’s not living. Despite that, Sid walks, talks and makes bad jokes. And he’s the one readers usually mention first when talking about the books. My calling them the Family Skeleton Mysteries may also have something to do with that.
I admit that having an osteo-American sidekick is a bit unusual. In fact, when I first came up with the idea of a skeletal sleuth, I thought I was being astoundingly original, even ground-breaking. But the fact is, there are a slew of skeletons in popular culture, and Sid is connected to all of them. Metaphorically, anyway, since he no longer has connective tissue.
The most famous skeleton is probably the big guy himself: the Grim Reaper. He’s usually portrayed as a skeletal harbinger of death wearing a chic black robe, carrying a scythe. Sid doesn’t go in much for clothes, other than when attending the occasional anime convention dressed as Lord Shinigami from Soul Eater, and the only thing he’s the harbinger of is bad puns. As for weaponry, while he has been known to use his own femur as a bopping weapon, he’s generally a peaceful kind of guy. About the only thing he really has in common with the popular incarnation of death is that he’s a gamer. Whether it’s playing chess in The Seventh Seal or Bill and Ted challenging him to Battleship, Clue, and Twister in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, obviously the Grim Reaper isn’t always so grim. Of course, Sid is more likely to play online games like Neopets and Bejeweled Blitz, and he doesn’t play for souls or lives.
Staying with movies for a moment, Ray Harryhausen created some of the most iconic movie skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, and they certainly have similar body types to Sid. But while I admire their stop-motion fighting prowess, they always look so grumpy. Sid smiles all the time, what with his not having lips.
I’ve always thought the most appealing film skeletons are animated, and the most famous of that batch has to be Jack Skellington of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Unlike many skeletons, Jack has no problem making friends, even if he doesn’t technically have a heart. Sid also makes friends, though other than Georgia and her family, most of his are on Facebook.
I also have a particular fondness for the femur-kick-line of Disney’s 1929 Silly Symphony “The Skeleton Dance.” Sid, too, dances, though with an unfortunate fondness for twerking.
Even on the page, there are plenty of skeletons. Comic books give us Deadman, Mr. Bones, and Ghost Rider. All are worthy role models, in their way, even if not really Sid’s style. Dead Man has an annoying tendency to slip into other people’s bodies, which is just rude, and Sid isn’t crazy about spandex suits. Mr. Bones kills with a cyanide touch, not to mention second-hand smoking. As for Ghost Rider, Sid thinks motorcycles are dangerous even when they aren’t demonic and flaming. Sure, he’s immune from most wounds, but he can still break bones. Besides, Sid doesn’t consider himself a superhero, despite some pretty heroic actions.
Sid is more of a humerus guy—pun totally intentional–and when it comes to funny skeletons, first up is comedian Jeff Dunham’s Achmed the Dead Terrorist, who is mostly skeletal. (He does have eyeballs and eyebrows, which Sid doesn’t consider nearly as attractive as bare bone kept nice and white by weekly hydrogen peroxide sponge baths.) Achmed is not, however, the most friendly of characters. His best-known catchphrase is “Silence! I kill you!” Sid, on the other hand, rarely goes for stronger language than calling somebody “an ossifying piece of sacrum.”
Then there’s Geoff Peterson, the animatronic skeleton on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. But Geoff is plainly a robotic skeleton, while Sid is all bone, and proud of it!
Really the most famous funny skeleton is probably Yorick, of “Alas, poor Yorick,” fame from Hamlet. Admittedly, it’s only the skull that the melancholy Dane uses as a talking point during his soliloquy, but I think it’s safe to infer that Shakespeare would have dug up the whole skeletal shebang if he’d had a bigger budget. Now you might think that Yorick wasn’t all that amusing given that he shows up in a tragedy, but Shakespeare clearly says he’s a man of infinite jest, and Sid is all over that, even if his style of humor doesn’t quite measure up to the Bard’s.
Still, I think Sid is at unique in his role as a sleuth—a thinner version of the Thin Man, as it were. He solves his own murder in A SKELETON IN THE FAMILY and is a witness to another in THE SKELETON TAKES A BOW. (Where he plays the role of Yorick in a high school production of Hamlet.)
Maybe someday Sid will be as famous as those skeletons of pop culture, but for now, he and I are proud to following in their clattering footsteps.
PS – Just in case you’re you be in the mood for some skeletal entertainment, I should warn you that the movie The Skeleton Twins, Stephen King’s book Skeleton Crew, and both the Alice Sebold book The Lovely Bones and the movie it inspired are all fake-outs. Not a skeleton to be seen. Sid was so disappointed.