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The Devil’s Disciple

The Devil's Disciple

The Devil's Disciple

Selling Your Soul - The Art of the Faustian Bargain

The major theme in The Devil’s Disciple is The Faustian Bargain (or Faustian Deal). This theme has been creeping up in literature for a very long time. It has been done numerous times and yet it remains as one of the most interesting stories ever told. I have read a ton of stories that had Faustian Deal themes and despite being similar, the stories were still fresh and original.

The idea of the Faustian deal represents making a deal with the devil or dark forces, often in exchange for power, wealth, or other personal gains. This theme finds itself at the core of The Devil’s Disciple, where I crafted a tale filled with despair, success, and an exploration of the human soul.

This theme explores the limits of human ambition and the consequences of transgressing moral bounds.

Contents

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Origins

It all started in medieval Germany when the theme was rooted in the legend of Faust. During the late 16th century, the tale of Johann Faust was first published as a small pamphlet. It talks about a scholar who was dissatisfied with the limits of traditional forms of knowledge makes a pact with the Devil through Mephistopheles. In exchange for his soul, the scholar seeks unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.

The Faust Legend Evolves

Various European writers contributed to the popularity of the legend of Faust. Christopher Marlowe’s play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, premiered around 1592 and is considered one of his most notable works. Marlowe’s interpretation provided a strong framework for the development of the theme, highlighting Faustus’s inner struggle, his desires, and the tragic repercussions of his bargain.

Goethe’s Faust

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust, published in two parts (Part One in 1808 and Part Two in 1832), is considered the most significant reinterpretation of the Faust legend. Goethe’s version took the story and made it a thought-provoking philosophical drama about redemption, enlightenment, and the human spirit. Unlike in earlier versions, Goethe’s Faust is not ultimately damned. But instead, he’s looking for redemption and gets saved, hinting at the chance of forgiveness and a fresh start.

Modern Interpretations

In today’s world, the Faustian deal is everywhere in books, movies, and music. These adaptations often explore current issues using the theme, like ethical dilemmas from scientific advancement, the corrupting force of ambition, and the human ability for both moral failings and redemption. Novels like The Last Days of Jack Sparks  by Jason Arnopp and Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill are great examples of how the Faustian Deal theme is relevant today.

Synopsis of The Devil's Disciple

James Morgan is a New York City detective grappling with family tragedy. In desperation, he engages in a dark pact with Mr. Black, offering his soul for protection and success.

*SPOILER WARNING* Please read the story before reading ahead.

Themes

Desperation and Greed

James’s desperate situation leads him to make a Faustian bargain, reflecting the universal human inclination towards greed and desire for personal gain. His decision to deal with Mr. Black demonstrates how the allure of success can drive individuals to make moral compromises. 

Success and the Passing Nature of Life

Following the deal, James experiences a meteoric rise in his life, from his career to his family’s success. However, the inevitable downfall begins with his wife’s diagnosis, a symbol of the fleeting nature of life and a warning against pursuing success at any cost.

Ambiguity of Evil

The ending of the story, where Mr. Black’s Enterprise is revealed to never have existed, raises questions about the nature of evil and whether James’s success was a result of the contract or coincidence. This ambiguity is a profound commentary on human choices and the enigmatic nature of evil itself. 

What Writers Can Learn

Exploring Universal Themes

The Faustian bargain is a theme that resonates with a broad audience because it deals with universal human desires and fears. Writers can learn to craft stories that speak to shared human experiences, making their work more engaging and relatable.

Example: A writer could write a story about a young musician trading something precious for fame, reflecting on the desire for success and recognition. The theme could resonate with a wide audience, similar to how the Faustian theme in The Devil’s Disciple speaks to human desires and fears.

Building Complex Characters

The Devil’s Disciple offers a nuanced portrayal of its protagonist, exploring his motivations, desires, and moral struggles. Writers can learn to develop characters with depth, making them more real and compelling to readers.

Example: A writer could create a protagonist faced with an impossible moral decision, like James Morgan’s soul-for-safety deal in The Devil’s Disciple. By delving into the character’s internal struggles and moral complexities, the writer creates a character that feels real and relatable.

Creating Suspense and Ambiguity

The story’s ambiguous ending keeps readers thinking long after they’ve finished reading. Writers can learn to cultivate suspense and ambiguity to make their stories more thought-provoking and engaging.

Example: Crafting a story with an ambiguous ending, where it’s unclear whether a supernatural deal was real or imagined, could keep readers pondering long after they finish reading. This mirrors the unsettling uncertainty in the ending of The Devil’s Disciple.

Utilizing Symbolism and Literary Devices

Symbolism and other literary devices can add layers of meaning to a story. Writers can learn to use these tools effectively to enrich their storytelling and provide readers with a more profound reading experience.

Example: Using symbolism, like a broken mirror to represent shattered illusions, can add depth to a story. This would be akin to how the diagnosis of lung cancer in The Devil’s Disciple symbolizes the breaking of the illusory perfect life. 

Connecting with Other Works

The connection of The Devil’s Disciple to other well-known works of literature and film shows an awareness of the broader literary context. Writers can learn to enrich their works by drawing connections with existing literature, creating a conversation between their work and the works of others.

Example: A writer penning a modern-day Faustian story could draw parallels with classic works like Goethe’s Faust. By acknowledging these literary predecessors, they create a dialogue between their work and the broader literary tradition. 

Understanding Consequences

The story serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of our actions. Writers can create narratives that not only entertain but also teach moral lessons or provoke readers to consider the ethical implications of their decisions.

Example: Crafting a narrative where a character’s pursuit of wealth leads to personal ruin emphasizes the consequences of unchecked ambition, reflecting the downfall experienced by James Morgan in The Devil’s Disciple.

Crafting Resonant Endings

A powerful ending that leaves room for interpretation can be a compelling way to engage readers. Writers can learn to create endings that resonate, provoke thought, and encourage readers to revisit the story.

Example: Ending a novel with a moral dilemma unresolved, leaving the readers to ponder what they would do in the protagonist’s place, can create a powerful and thought-provoking conclusion, much like the ambiguity in The Devil’s Disciple.

Research and Inspiration

By studying works that explore similar themes, writers can gain inspiration and deepen their understanding of how to approach a particular subject. A thoughtful examination of The Devil’s Disciple and related works can provide valuable insights into crafting a compelling narrative.

Example: A writer seeking to explore themes of temptation and moral compromise could study works like The Picture of Dorian Gray and Needful Things to gain insights into how other authors have approached similar topics. This research can inform and inspire their own unique take on these themes, as seen in The Devil’s Disciple.

By examining these examples, writers can see how the Faustian theme has been utilized across various contexts, inspiring their own exploration of universal themes, character complexity, symbolic storytelling, and more.

A book from Ed Simon, Devil’s Contract: A History of the Faustian Bargain, will be released on July 9th, 2024, will discuss in greater detail the history of the theme. You can pre-order it on Amazon.

Below is a list of literature and films that explore the Faustian Deal.

Literature

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A two-part play that tells the story of Dr. Faust, a scholar who makes a pact with Mephistopheles, the Devil’s representative, trading his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.

Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg

A hard-boiled detective descends into a dark world of voodoo, black magic, and a sinister plot that challenges the boundaries between the living and the dead, as he investigates a missing person case tied to a Faustian pact.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Dorian Gray sells his soul to ensure that his portrait ages while he remains young and handsome. This leads to a life of hedonism and moral decline, reflecting the consequences of such a dark bargain.

Needful Things by Stephen King

In a small town, a new shopkeeper provides residents with objects they desire most, but at a terrible price. The bargains lead to chaos, destruction, and reveal the darker aspects of human nature.

The Devil and Daniel Webster by Stephen Vincent Benét

A classic short story about a farmer who enlists the help of the legendary lawyer Daniel Webster to win back his soul after making a pact with the Devil for seven years of prosperity.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Devil visits Moscow, creating chaos and reflecting the corruption of the society. The novel interweaves the Faustian theme with political satire and allegory.

Films

Faust (1926) Adaptation of Faust

A silent film directed by F.W. Murnau, Faust is a cinematic adaptation of Goethe’s play. The story follows an aging alchemist who makes a deal with Mephistopheles, exchanging his soul for youth, knowledge, and pleasure. As he enjoys his newfound power, he becomes aware of the heavy price he must pay for it. 

Angel Heart (1987) [A personal favorite] Adaptation of Falling Angel

A private investigator is hired to find a missing person, only to discover that he’s entangled in a dark, supernatural plot involving voodoo and a Faustian bargain that he unknowingly made.

The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

A young lawyer is recruited by a prestigious law firm, only to discover that his boss is the Devil. The story explores themes of temptation, corruption, and the cost of success.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

A pregnant woman discovers that her husband has made a pact with a Satanic cult to offer their unborn child to the Devil. It’s a chilling exploration of betrayal, desperation, and evil forces.

Bedazzled (1967 and 2000 versions)

A comedy where the main character makes a deal with the Devil, trading his soul for seven wishes. The film humorously explores the unexpected consequences of each wish.

Final Thoughts

The Faustian bargain theme in The Devil’s Disciple transcends simple storytelling, offering readers an in-depth analysis of human psychology, ethics, and the duality of good and evil. By incorporating timeless literary elements and aligning with well-known works of literature and film, The Devil’s Disciple contributes a unique and thought-provoking perspective to the discussion of the Faustian bargain.

Its rich symbolisms and themes invite readers to ponder on the complexity of human desire, choice, and the ever-persistent question of what one might be willing to give up in the pursuit of worldly success. In a world where the craving for more can often blind us to the consequences, The Devil’s Disciple serves as a haunting and timeless reminder of the price of our desires.

This story was submitted on Reedsy into Contest #190.

Below is my short story The Devil’s Disciple. If you enjoyed it, you’ll enjoy my other short stories.

Have fun reading!

The Devil's Disciple