Seven Stories That Will Make You Think Twice About Selling Your Soul to the Devil
Seems like an obvious deal to pass on, right? Oh sweet summer child, this is humanity we’re talking about. There’s a reason why the devil and his fiendish temptations have been a story staple since Eve bit the proverbial apple in the Garden of Eden, and every generation since has been fascinated with the “Deal with the Devil” trope. It takes center stage in Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan play Doctor Faustus, inspires short stories such as “The Devil and Daniel Webster” and “That Hell-Bound Train,” and hits the big screen in films including The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Rosemary’s Baby, and Angel Heart. Some stories end well and others…not so much.
1) That Hell-Bound Train
An award-winning short story by Robert Bloch, it’s haunted me ever since I first read it decades ago, which is why I give it a hat tip in Dead Souls. If you sold your soul to the devil for a pocket watch that could stop time at your happiest moment, seems like a good deal. You get to be happy forever and the devil can never collect because you’ll be immortal to boot. One question, though—when do you stop time? The day you get married? But then you’ll never be able to have kids. When your first child is born? But then you don’t get the pleasure of watching him/her grow up. Not so easy, is it?
2) Rosemary’s Baby
Boy, does Rosemary get a raw deal in this chilling tale that was a hit in both novel and film form. Let’s start with the fact that if you’ve ever been pregnant, you’ve had that dream—the one where you discover your newborn is a lizard or some other monstrous creature. That horror is ramped up past a gazillion when Rosemary discovers that her true baby daddy is none other than Mr. Beelzebub himself. Apparently her husband traded her firstborn’s soul so they could be rich and stuff. Did he bother to ask her? ’Course not.
3) The Picture of Dorian Gray
This wonderfully creepy novel created an uproar by pushing the boundaries of what was considered morally decent in the late 1800s (and must pale in comparison to that other novel about a man named Gray). While Dorian is getting his portrait painted, he’s struck by the thought that he will age, and die, while his figure in the painting will stay young forever. Wouldn’t it be cool if it were the other way around? Well, there’s only one fallen angel who can make that happen, and once Dorian offers up his soul, presto-change-o, he’s free to pursue hedonistic pleasures for all eternity. Meanwhile, his figure in the portrait ages horrifically. Does it end well? Read it and see.
4) The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus
Spectators were reportedly driven mad watching this play about Doctor Faustus, who, like Icarus, suffers more than a bit of hubris and meets a similarly tragic end. Faustus is eager to trade his soul for scientific knowledge, which he does despite the warnings of angels, divine intervention, demons, heck…everyone. And it’s all for naught because Mephistopheles, the demon who’s supposed to deliver said vast scientific knowledge, only offers impossible-to-decipher wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff instead. Gotcha!
5) Angel Heart
A film adaptation of the novel Falling Angel, it didn’t fare too well when it was first released in theaters, but stellar performances by Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro, the gothic New Orleans location, and twisty plot make it one of my personal faves. Rourke plays Harry Angel, a private investigator hired by one Louis Cyphre to track down a missing singer who owes Cyphre…something. While the names are over-the-top obvious, the ending isn’t. Worth a watch.
6) The Devil and Daniel Webster
If you’ve ever been to New Hampshire and seen the “Live Free or Die” license plates, you’ll wonder why the devil even bothered to set foot there. But he did in this story, offering a down-on-his-luck farmer seven years of prosperity in exchange for his soul. Seven years later, the devil returns to collect, only now the farmer has retained the services of an ingenious Yankee attorney, Daniel Webster. It’s one of the few stories where the devil meets his match.
7) The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Terry Gillam directs this visual spectacle that centers on Doctor Parnassus, the leader of a theater troupe who suffers from serious gambling issues. He won a bet with the devil for immortality (yay!), then decided to refinance for youth by offering his firstborn child’s soul as the payment (boo!). While Parnassus won’t win any father-of-the-year awards, Gillam uses him, and his exploits, to dig into the darker side of human nature, creating a trippy blend of fantasy, horror, and philosophy.