Thea encumbered me with the responsibility to write a shout out to Demons in literature and as I was organizing myself, it occurred to me that most demons I read about these days are not scary – at all. Sometimes they are so cool, I would like to spend eternity with them (like the demon Crowley, from Good Omens by Neil Gaiman) or they are proper HERO material – in which case I wouldn’t mind spending eternity and one day with one of those.
So I started to wonder: isn’t that strange? I mean, historically (and generically ) speaking, Demons are source of Evil, connected to or working for Top Demon Numero Uno – Satan himself. Beings to fear, to stay away from as a demon getting too close to you probably means Big Problem: corruption of your soul, torment of your mind, possibly forever chaining you to hell.
It seems to me, that the most common theme in literature with regards to Demons is that of the Pact with the Devil – in which a person invokes a demon or the devil himself and sells his/her soul in exchange for fortune!glory!eternal youth! Most known case is that of Faust by Goethe (which is by the way, based on a classic German tale) , in which the main character, Faust makes a pact with the devil in exchange for Knowledge. Similarly, Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray also has a young man who never gets old – although the presence of the devil or a pact is more inferred to than explicitly put.
More recently and more close to geek home, comic book character Ghost Rider sells his soul to the demon Mephisto, to save his father’s live.
Now, even if, within the realm of these works, it is possible to “cheat the devil”, still the idea of evil, or eternal suffering is ever present.
So, how did we go from this:
In the whimsical Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, the apocalypse is near, the antichrist has been born and the demon Crowley (cover above) , is hell’s agent on Earth, who has been living amongst humans tries to avert it. Why? Because he got used to humans and more than that, he loves the chaos (which he has helped creating) and life as a human. Crowley is Cool with Capital letter. Not especially evil but not good either, he is right there in the grey area.
Speaking of Neil Gaiman, his portrayal of Lucifer himself is one that allows the devil to come across as a more sympathetic character. His short story Murder Mysteries, which later became
a graphic novel, tells the tale of the early day of creation when Lucifer was still an Angel. The story has the first ever murder/death and the subsequent investigation and demise of the villain carried out by an unseen God in a fashion that makes Lucifer the Angel question his creator. The tale is left open but the ballsy creativity of the author raises the question of unfairness of our treatment of Lucifer.
Extending on this theme, in his series The Sandman, Lucifer makes several appearances and the culmination of his storyline has him quitting his job as keeper of Hell, releasing the condemned souls and demons and giving the keys to Morpheus. He then proceeds to cut his wings so that he can live amongst humans – sitting by the sea having conversations with strangers, playing the piano at a nightclub.
The very idea of demons living amongst humans because they like to seems to me to be subversive in itself, since the very reason for the existence of Lucifer, Demons and Hell, according to Christian knowledge is that Lucifer was envy of the attention humans, the lesser creatures were getting from God.
Neil Gaiman’s demons have inspired my favorite paranormal romance writer, Meljean Brook in her Guardian series. In Demon Angel, Demon Night and the upcoming Demon Bound, the theme of bargaining with demons is very strong and plays a significant role in all three books. Her take on the war between Heaven x Hell is intelligent and why not, cool? More than that, some of her demons are very sympathetic characters, from Lilith, the heroine of Demon Angel who falls for a Guardian or Demon Night’s secondary character Sammael, the demon who wants desperately to love and to be loved.
Meljean Brook is not the only paranormal romance writer currently writing about Demons. The recent release Pleasure Unbound by Larissa Ione or Dark Desires After Dusk by Kresley Cole are perfect examples of demons that are heroes – again, all of the inhabiting a world of grey, much less black and white than we could expect but certainly not evil at all.
It is the same thing with vampires isn’t it? Both cases in which literature appropriates itself of cultural knowledge of myths, legends, religion and re-imagine and re-shape them into something palatable. Is this an unconscious (or maybe even conscious) attempt to de-fang or neutralize these creatures and make them more acceptable so that we can live more comfortably with the idea of evil?
I obviously have no answer for that.
But faced with the choice between watching the Exorcist and being scared shitless or reading Demon Angel and rooting for the Lilith the Demon to beat the Devil, I know which one I prefer.
little alysOctober 28, 2008 at 8:44 am
Maybe it’s the expansion of humanity. Historically, there were many unexplainable facets of life and easily catergorized into a religiously rigid world of good and bad. Us good, them bad. Anything that deviates from this ideal becomes a sort of ‘evil.’
Nowadays, I think it’s easier to say that people are all shades of gray. Rather than blame all sources of bad situations upon an unseen evil, people are able to look and say “hey, some human beings are worse.”
Demons, historically, may have been used as a form of warning. Maybe current times, people are able to go “hmmm, why did this demon/human/being become the way it is?" So, ability to question and the fact people want to take responsibility for their actions rather than say someone else made them do it.
Eh, I donno. I just got my blood drawn after fasting…brain not function. >_<
AnaOctober 28, 2008 at 8:47 am
ability to question and the fact people want to take responsibility for their actions rather than say someone else made them do it.
You found the words I was looking for and couldn’t find anywhere ; )
TheaOctober 28, 2008 at 9:24 am
I think I’d rather be scared shitless.
Seriously though, very interesting stuff. I do think there is a lot of humanizing of ‘demons’, making them seem less two-dimensional and more rounded as chaaracters, as opposed to seeming Eeeevil. I think Richelle Mead also does a good job with looking at the other side of demons (her succubus with a conscience Georgina certainly bends the rules on all occassions).
HagelratOctober 28, 2008 at 10:49 am
I love Good Omens so much! I read it twice a year roughly.
HeatherOctober 29, 2008 at 6:35 pm
Great food for thought! Little alys spoke my very thoughts so I won’t bother repeating.
I did want to add that I thought that Lucifer in Milton’s PARADISE LOST was portrayed fairly sympathetically. I daresay Gaiman and others are drawing ideas from that in addition to the fact that times have changed. But often the most exciting characters are the villains and Lucifer is no exception.