What is it about the Devil that makes him so very appealing? Don't get me wrong, I know that enjoying a literary depiction of the Devil is a far cry from being a Satanist. But there must be something intriguing about the personification of ultimate evil, because the Devil appears in a wide variety of books, TV shows, movies, comics, and songs about going down to Georgia. He goes by different names, and he wears different clothes, but he still crops up all too often. So here are some of the best depictions of the devil in literature.
The "fun" thing about the Devil (as much as the Devil can be fun) is that every writer has a different take on him. Is he your classic red-skinned monster man with horns and a pitchfork and a goatee? Is he a slimy business man with slicked back hair and a tailored suit and a goatee? Or is he a slobbering demon, or a talking serpent, or a beautiful angel damned to Hell? It's all fair game. Over the centuries we've seen charming Devils and grotesque Devils, sympathetic Devils, fiddle-playing Devils, and skin-crawlingly plausible Devils. So take your pick of these literary Lucifers (and maybe reconsider befriending anyone with a goatee):
1. Satan, Paradise Lost by John Milton
If you're looking to blame a particular author for making Satan seem sexy and misunderstood, blame Milton. Paradise Lost is an epic retelling of the Adam and Eve story, with a charismatic Satan at its center. He's a classically tragic figure: beautiful, arrogant, and instrumental in his own downfall. Milton's Lucifer is the one who gives us the quote, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." He's dedicated to his comrades, but he leads a rebellion of the angels and winds up cast out of Heaven and damned for all time (but you knew that was coming).
2. Dis, Inferno by Dante Alighieri
Dante's Devil, "Dis," is the classic Monster Devil. Think the demon from Disney's Fantasia, times a thousand. He's not running Hell so much as trapped there in a frozen lake. And he's giant monster, forever weeping blood and pus, with three faces and six wings. He spends eternity gnawing on Judas Iscariot's head (the apostle who betrayed Jesus in the Bible). Luckily, Dante's Devil is so gross and huge and preoccupied with eating people, that our two heroes are able to climb down his fur and escape without him even noticing.
3. Mephistopheles, Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Mephistopheles is a trickster Devil in most versions of Faust. Goethe's play starts off in Heaven, where our pal Mephistopheles makes a bet with God: he thinks he can lure God's favorite dude, Faust, away from righteous pursuits and make him a terrible person. Why does Mephistopheles want to do this? Because he's the freakin' Devil who even cares. So he follows Faust home in the guise of poodle and proceeds to draw up a contract and muck up Faust's entire life, because why not?
4. Lucifer Morningstar, The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and Lucifer by Mike Carey
Lucifer Morningstar from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series (and later his own spin-off, Lucifer) owes a lot to Milton's depiction. He's got the angelic beauty, the arrogance, and the tragedy. But his story begins when he's decided enough is enough: he's tired of running Hell, and he's over all the cliches that mortals believe about the Devil. So he closes Hell, expels all the demons, and moves to L.A. He's charming and powerful, but never quite able to escape the Hell of his own mind.
5. Our Father Below, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Satan doesn't strictly appear in The Screwtape Letters, but he's a strong presence. The letters in question are between Screwtape, a senior demon, and his nephew Wormwood, who's a "Junior Tempter". Screwtape gives him advice on how to secure souls for Our Father Below (the Devil), but neither of them are really up to the task. It's a very British satire, painting Hell as a bureaucracy and demons as administrators working under Satan. If any of them ever speak a positive word about God, they are punished by the Infernal Police (or possibly turned into centipedes).
6. Woland, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Woland is a lot of fun, as far as Devils go. He's arrived in Moscow in the guise of a foreign professor. He promises black magic, but spends most of the novel exposing the greed and corruption of the Moscow elite. He also has a killer entourage: a fanged assassin, an ex-choirmaster capable of creating any illusion, a beautiful vampiric succubus, the black-goggled angel of death, and Behemoth, a giant black cat with a passion for vodka and chess.
7. Memnoch, Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice
Memnoch is the Devil, sure, but he's not like those other Devils! He's a cool Devil (according to him, at least). He's not evil, it's just that "reforming" lost souls is his job. That's the story Memnoch gives Lestat, the vampire from Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, as he takes him on a whirlwind tour of Heaven and Hell. Memnoch wants Lestat to join him, but Lestat is on the fence. On the one hand, Memnoch seems cool. On the other hand, he is the Devil.
8. Satan or No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain
If you're not attached to the idea of ever sleeping again, I encourage you to watch the claymation adaption of The Mysterious Stranger (which was banned from television for being too creepy). Mark Twain is known as a humorist, but The Mysterious Stranger is far, far darker than his previous work. He died before the story was completely finished, leaving behind several weird drafts. The Satan of this novel (inexplicably named No. 44 in some versions) claims to be an angel, and the nephew of the famous Satan. Satan, or No. 44, doesn't seem outright evil so much as convinced of mankind's futility, and the book as a whole is pretty bleak.
9. Arnold Friend, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates
I'm going to assert right now that Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? is hands down the creepiest short story every written. Joyce Carol Oates was inspired by a string of actual murders in Arizona, but there's no explicit murder in the story. And it's left unclear whether Arnold Friend is meant to be your garden variety serial killer, or Satan himself. All that's clear is that Arnold Friend is a smooth talking, dangerous man. And he wants young Connie to get into his car. Not a story to be read while home alone.
Images: Gustave Doré/Wikipedia Commons, Giphy (1)