Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

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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.
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