Ginger Nuts of Horror
Better the Devil you Know. I was torn between titles for this one. I was either going to go with the above, or "Sympathy For the Devil". In the end the content of the article made the decision for me. So the Devil, then. Not a real person. Not to me, anyway, as an atheist. But also, strangely, not to a lot of Christians either. As time has moved on so has the belief system, so that many Christians don't even accept existence of the Devil as a literal being.
More that he represents sin, temptation, and basically anything remotely fun to be done in this world. I find that a bit odd given that this would then mean Jesus was talking to himself whilst walking in the desert, but given that he'll have been dehydrated it's highly possible. He might also have had conversations with a floating hippo, but that bit didn't make it into the Bible.
Anyway, now that the Mary Whitehouse types are suitably offended and furiously shaking their fists in my direction, let's get back to the point. Whilst I personally don't believe the Devil is a real being, he is nonetheless a very strong fictional character. In a way I suppose you could call him the world's first villain. Yes I know there's much older stories than the Christian one, and that the Christian story itself rips off countless other religions and tweaks and twists bits to make it seem original. However some version of that story.......father and son or two brothers fall out, one is cast out and becomes the bad guy in the future stories etc......exists in many religions. Set in Egyptian, Hades in Greek, Loki in Norse, and of course Lucifer in Christianity. It's the same story told with different names. But who is the Devil?
What do we know about him? How would he act? What would his personality be like? The above question is something many, many writers have had a stab at for centuries upon centuries. I myself have done it with my recently-published book Nick and Abe (not released yet so technically this isn't a plug!) In this book, God and the Devil agree to spend a year on earth as mortal men, each trying to prove that they understand humanity better than the other.
What actually happens is that their newfound humanity and "lowered perception" forces them to re-evaluate their own relationship with each other, what went wrong with it, and maybe, just maybe, start to come to a place where it can be repaired. In this version of the Devil I play him as a guy who used to be the 'only child'. He was loved, spoiled, had all the attention to himself. And then the new baby came along (in this case 6 billion of them) and suddenly Daddy didn't have as much time for him. His ego screaming in his ear that "you're better than them, why would he care so much about them and not you?" made a conflict inevitable, and so goes the story of the Fall. It's a lot deeper than that as for the sake of this article I've tried to sum it up quickly, but that's a very abbreviated summary of how I feel the Devil would act, were we to give him humanity.
It's far from the only version though. The idea of giving him humanity isn't one everyone uses. Many versions paint him as a near-mindless beast with nothing in his eyes but torture, devastation and conquest. See any number of cheap horror movies from the late 70s and 80s full of rubbery Devils and you'll see plenty of this. In my experience as a reader/viewer/gamer though, this interpretation is rare. However he might look, whether its a mortal man or the stupid big horned monster (this really pisses me off seeing as how the only reason people imagine Lucifer this way is because pictures of Pan were used as representations of the Devil when the Church first took over the Western world. There's no reference at all to horns and pitchfork in the actual Bible, and yet it endures) it's actually much more common to have the Devil shown to be in possession of a great deal of intelligence. Like Dracula, he's usually dark, handsome, manipulative and a Hell of a lot smarter than those around him. This version seems to be the most common, but how it's played varies once again. Gabriel Byrne played a smart and seductive version of the Devil in the movie End of Days.
Now a lot of people write this film off as a late-90s attempt by Arnold Schwarzenegger to regain some credibility outside of a standard action movie, but if you ignore that cynicism it's actually a very good dark story. Byrne's version of the Devil is, as you'd expect from an actor of his calibre, brilliant. It's subtle, understated, but when he snaps and yells he genuinely seems like he's a God towering over Arnie. The fact that the plot around him isn't the best thing ever doesn't take anything away from his performance, and it remains a strong version of the Devil in my mind.
The interpretation of Lucifer as seen in Neil Gaiman's 'Sandman' is also another highlight. Slightly cold, indifferent, and basically having "had enough" of the whole conflict, Lucifer walks away from his assigned role and leaves Hell behind him. The chaos that creates in its wake isn't his concern. Like everything else, it's beneath him. I liked this version. He wasn't waiting for some big "round two" with Heaven, wasn't interested in damning mankind and dragging them down with him. He was just the keeper of a jail that he had no real interest in. It was a new slant to my eyes and I liked it.
My personal favourite though, has to be the way Lucifer is shown on the TV series Supernatural. Now yes that is a show that's very "hit and miss" with virtually everything it does. But when it came to the Devil, I really liked what I saw. He had the confident dark charm, he had the obvious superiority complex and the absolute indifference to everything that wasn't himself or God or his immediate family (the Archangels). Anyone or anything apart from that was completely beneath his notice and easily swatted away with a blow from his ridiculously-powerful hand. That was shown nicely (and in a very entertaining fashion) when a gathering of Pagan Gods got together to kill Lucifer, and he just casually murdered the lot of them without even breaking a sweat. He didn't even seem angry at the attempt on his life, futile as it was. The whole affair was just one more "sigh, whatever" to him. This attitude even extended to demons, which was very bold and refreshing. To demons, Lucifer was their God, their King, their leader. The one who would lead them against God once more and take back their glory. They both loved him and feared him at the same time.
To Lucifer though, demon's were just this tiny noise chanting his name, about whose fate he didn't give a rats ass. They and the angels could all kill each other for all he cared. As far as he was concerned, the only thing that mattered was him, God, and his brothers. That's it. He blatantly stated at one point that he could, and WOULD, wipe out the entire demon race as soon as he was done with humanity. THAT was something I'd not seen before, and it was perfect. That he'd show such indifference even to those who loved him. It gave him something of the "tired rockstar" feel, and strange as that might be, it actually worked. What we see later in the series though is that this portrayal is entirely down to the strength of the actor, Mark Pellegrino, as when Lucifer hops into a new body (Sam, played by Jared Padalecki) he turns into your typical "I'm the Devil, Raargh!" and then it all goes a bit shit.
No surprises really given that neither of the leads in Supernatural were hired for their acting ability. I've only covered a tiny amount here, and I doubt very much that I have even scratched the surface of the sheer variation in the character of the Devil. I know which version I like to see, but I expect everyone reading this will have their own, very different, opinions. So what are they? If you want to share in the comments below what your personal favourite is, and why, then it'd make a nice list of various media for all of us to look into watching/reading. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and respond to some complaint letters about the fact that I said Jesus may have hallucinated a floating hippo. Lex
Lex is the author of ‘The Other Side of the Mirror’ and the ‘Harkins’ book series, currently available on the Kindle (and hopefully in print at some point soon.) and also 'Nick and Abe' which is soon to be in print. He is a regular contributor to the Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog, and more recently the Ginger Nuts of Horror, and has been interviewed on various radio stations and websites talking about whatever random horror-related crap he could get away with waffling on about.