I like stories about the Devil, or at least ones that feature him as a character. Not the epic apocalypse pieces like 1999 and The Exorcist where the Devil is out doing his usual business of possessing and bringing about the End of all Things. It's old and trite. That's what the Devil does, right? Go around fucking up Everyone's shit.
No, what I love are the semi-classic pact-with-the-devil stories. You know, like Crossroads -- a riff on the Robert Johnson legend where a musician sells his or her soul to the devil -- or The Ninth Gate -- an individual meets the Devil on his own terms and discovers they have a lot in common. The title of this post comes from one of my particular favorites from this genre (archetype? aesthetic?), the Murder by Death album Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them -- a tragically unimaginative title for a fantastic CD. It's the only rock opera I appreciate for both the music and the story.
The Devil walks into a small town one evening and starts drinking at the bar, cussing and being a cocky bastard until dawn when he turns to leave. As the Devil passes through the threshold, a man at the bar shoots him in the back. The story that follows is twofold. First, the Devil comes back and goes to war with the town to take out his Vengeance on the whole populace, which is, predictably, unimaginably horrible. The second story is about the man who shot the Devil and his quest to Finish the Job. It is a miraculous album ringing with a Southwestern clang and a classic rock, ballsy poetry that I adore. The ending lyrics still send shivers down my spine every time I hear them.
What really gets me about the album, though, is the Devil as a character taking a personal and terrible interest in someone. This, and other stories like it, intrigue and terrify me. I like the idea of individuals meeting personified malevolence not as victims, but as People who went in too deep but are fully prepared to deal with the consequences. It's a very compelling trope which can be boiled down to the old "Man Against Nature" theme. This is the ultimate test, isn't it? An individual faced with an unknowable force that is purely, inexplicably bent on his/her destruction.
... And here I was going to segue into some crack pipe story about my personal encounters and dealings with the Devil, but you were expecting that, weren't you? Well, too bad. I don't have any personal anecdotes and I hope that I will never have any. There are people I have met whom I think the Devil would get along with famously, but I am not one of them.
Worrying about the Devil, however, seems absurd in the everyday context. Magical, wondrous, and awful things happen everyday and just because they are in the realm of possibility does not make them any more or less fantastic. The problem of human evil and the incidence of tragedy are no less horrifying because they are not caused by a Source of All Evil.
Shooting the Devil in the back seems to come up a lot in art. I could read into this one, but I won't because there are elements to the paradigm that are obvious and others that are ineffable. Still, I'd like to think that I'd challenge the Devil to a fair fight (possibly a drinking contest), but I'd probably wait until he's swaying at the threshold, just like Murder by Death's protagonist.