Atropos is one of the major antagonists of Stephen King's novel Insomnia. He is an agent of those "Higher Powers" which cut the lifelines prematurely, known as the "Random" in the upper dimensions. He is essentially the same as the Atropos of Greek mythology, the Moirae who cuts the life line, but unlike his mythological counterpart, he is male. His colleagues, Clotho and Lanchesis, are also male, except they work together as agents of the "Purpose," which carefully selects those who are about to die of natural causes.
Dolores Claiborne makes a reference to the figure of Atropos in the novel of the same name; however, she does so in reference to the Atropos of Greek mythology rather than the Atropos featured in Insomnia.
Like his colleagues Clotho and Lachesis, Atropos has existed since the dawn of human civilization, except unlike his colleagues, who presumably serve Maturin the Turtle or other deities, Atropos serves the evil deity, the Crimson King, in selecting victims who are about to die prematurely, i.e. in earthquakes, or by illness or road accidents.
Atropos is given a list of those about to die prematurely by the Crimson King and then he cuts their lifeline thread just as they meet their death. He has been busy throughout history, and inadvertently influences other events in King's mythology, as he cuts the thread of Gage Creed from Ludlow in Pet Sematary, and many others. Presumably he is active throughout IT's reign of terror on Derry, as he cuts the threads of IT's victims, hence their premature deaths.
Role in the novel
In the novel, the lives of creatures on Earth are known as "short-timers", or "Shorts", and those on the upper dimensions are known as "long-timers," and then on the dimensions above those are the "eternals," of which IT and his enemy Maturin may be categorized in. Atropos, Clotho and Lachesis have been the inspiration for the personification of Death throughout mythology, inspiring forms such as Thanatos, Baron Samedi and Kali.
In the novel, pro-choice and women's rights activist Susan Day comes to Derry to give a political speech on abortion and women's welfare. The Crimson King has already selected her and thousands of her supporters as the next catastrophe on the Random plane. Therefore, he sends his agent Atropos to Derry to sever all their threads when the catastrophe happens. Atropos selects a man named Ed Deepneau to carry out the assassination, severing his lifeline prematurely but leaving him still alive, essentially a Revenant. Ed begins to get insane and insaner throughout the summer, as he begins to be visited by Atropos who drives him nuts. Ed has a public breakdown where he accuses a labourer of transporting cadavers of infants to be buried.
Atropos appears to many other people too, such as Dorrance and Ralph Roberts. Ralph is notable, as the protagonist, because like the other victims of Atropos, he begins to suffer insomnia and notices Atropos' colleagues, Clotho and Lachesis, out on the street early in the morning. Later Ralph ascends to a higher plane with Clotho and Lachesis with a woman named Lois (another insomnia victim) and learns from them of their purpose on Earth.
Atropos haunts Ralph throughout the novel and makes him see auras surrounding everybody in town. Soon after he begins to see death-bags, portents of doom, and death-bugs surrounding those about to die too. Ralph notices Atropos wearing a friend's hat and realizes his friend's time is up. Atropos tries to sever the lifeline of a stray dog, but is thwarted twice by Ralph, but finally Atropos cuts the lifeline.
Ralph pursues Atropos down to his lair when Atropos takes Lois' earrings after her daughter-in-law stole them, and as he realizes Atropos has the earrings Ralph does a deal with Atropos that he will leave everybody in Derry alone if he gives back the earrings. Atropos does so, but says he is not responsible for the events, and that the Crimson King is his real master, and warns Ralph he will have to deal with the Crimson King if he is able to save those at Susan Day's presentation. Ralph tells Louis to leave and slices Atropos' skin open on his scalp, warning him of what Short-timers are capable of, but doesn't kill him.
Atropos vows revenge on Ralph for humiliating him before his boss and says he will take down Helen Deepneau's (Ed's wife) daughter Natalie, who is six, if Ralph doesn't save his next victims. Unfortunately, an infuriated Ed does manage to suicidally crash his plane into the conference center, killing Susan Day and seven hundred others. But Clotho and Lachesis' plan succeeds too: they were ordered to protect a boy named Patrick Danville who was of vital importance to stabilizing the future. Patrick and his mother do survive and thus the Multiverse is saved.
Just as Atropos is about to mow down Natalie when she is about to be run over, Ralph, having made a deal with Clotho and Lachesis to take his own life in exchange for saving Natalie's, jumps in front of the speeding car and is mortally wounded, thus having Clotho and Lachesis take his lifeline. Even though Ralph does die, his insomnia is over and he can rest once more. Atropos is left quivering with rage over his most recent failure.
Atropos was a cold, ruthless, manipulative, and calculating maniac. He was prone to sudden fits of rage, hinting at mental instability, which was probably bought on by serving the Crimson King, but he could be frighteningly nonviolent and calm at times. He had the eerie ability to transform into his last victims; as he took on the form of a young girl whose lifeline he had recently cut.
Physically, Atropos was really small, around three or four feet, and made Ralph think of a space alien before he realized he was from a higher dimension and thus more sinister.