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December 18th, 2010

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01:13 pm - Speak of the Devil and he shall suck
Last night I started reading The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, which was partially adapted into the film The Ninth Gate. The movie is one of those which must be decoded in order to be understood, and annoyingly, the clues didn't make the transition from page to screen. Some years ago I did some reading online and figured out what actually happens in the movie, and it's infuriating that such a poor adaptation is so compellingly executed.

But anyway, the reason I bring it up is that The Ninth Gate is one o' them Devil Movies involving satanists and demonology and the apparently seedy world of rare book sales, and it reminds me that the last time I saw this movie, I had an epiphany.

I hate it when Satan is the villain of a work of fiction, or when the primary threat to the protagonist is damnation.

The concept of The Devil predates Judeo-Christian theology, but if you buy into the popular contemporary conception of Satan, then you pretty much have to accept that he's a schmuck and a loser. He's a corrupting force on a personal level, and individual souls might be lost to him, but in a larger context he's just not very dangerous if you accept that God is greater than Satan. If God is not greater than Satan, or if there is no God, then the definitions of good and evil are arbitrary and Satan is reduced to the level of dictator. The idea of Heaven allows you to cluck your tongue and feel superior to the protagonist when he or she falls from grace, but if there is no Heaven, then there's no question of nonfulfillment after death. And if the only afterlife is Hell, then there's no threat because there's no alternative. For that matter, I have a hard time enjoying fiction where the main character makes a deal with the Devil because everybody knows that the Devil doesn't keep his word. I can't think of a single stupider action than entering into a pact with someone who more or less by definition works an angle in every agreement he makes.

My viewpoint on this only applies to works presented as fiction. It's a different matter for a person of faith to guard his or her soul against the ever-present threat of perdition. But in a cautionary tale you can always shake your head and wag your finger. What scares me much more in fiction is the idea that the human race might exist without context is a universe that we can't understand and which simply doesn't care one way or the other about us. Which I think is why I find the fiction of, say, H.P. Lovecraft and Gary Myers so effective. The threat of damnation isn't so scary if salvation is possible. But the idea that human existence can yield nothing of value, or that everything everywhere is essentially futile... that's much more disturbing.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
Current Music: The Greatest Movie Ever podcast

(4 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2010 06:25 am (UTC)
If Satan is the villain and the threat is damnation in a work of fiction, I'd guess that at least the characters believe that Heaven and Hell are the two afterlife alternatives. If not, then making a deal with Satan is more like making a deal at a Payday Loan business-- it won't work to your advantage, but he can't really, literally buy your soul.

Also, my feeling is that religion was invented to avoid embracing the concept of the universe you describe in the last paragraph, back when people had fewer tools for understanding the universe. Granted, there's still a lot that humans don't understand.

As for a purpose to things, that sounds like the human brain speaking-- something genetically-encoded, making "sense" of things, planning, logic, finding patterns. Then again, if we expected less of our universe, maybe Lovecraft wouldn't be very scary at all.
[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2010 05:04 pm (UTC)
The concept of a devil has a long literary history. It's not so much the devil but what it represents, the idea to "give in" to our basic "animal instincts" or keep hold of ourselves in acceptable society. The idea is that letting go is so tempting that you have to ask yourself if you would be able to resist.
Secondly the devil has many forms in modern society. Is any one of us able to stand up to the world gone wrong? Can we really live life in a way that doesn't kind of bother us on an ethical level? Refuled your car? Bought something that was borne on the sweat of Chinese child. We make a deal with the devil every day.
[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
However right you may be about what the Devil represents, it's the character that I object to. When the Devil shows up in person, I lose interest.
[User Picture]
Date:December 22nd, 2010 05:11 am (UTC)
The good Dr. Had this exact argument in space in side the planet that the "BigD" was prisoner in an episode of Dr. Who.
Speak of the Devil and he shall suck - Garmonbozia for the soul. — LiveJournal

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