Sympathy for the Devil


Tim Pratt

I’m a big fan of the Devil.

I like stories about the Adversary in all his incarnations. Most of the stories in this book are about the Capital-D-Devil in his various guises, from the fiddle-playing trickster of Charles de Lint’s “Ten for the Devil” to the hard-nosed businessman of Carrie Richerson’s “…With By Good Intentions” to the hitchhiking prankster of Jeffrey Ford’s “On the Road to New Egypt” to the mindless gnawing monster of Dante’s Inferno.

There are funny devils (“A Reversal of Fortune” by Holly Black, “The Power of Speech” by Natalie Babbitt, “Faustfeathers” by John Kessel), scary devils (“The Professor’s Teddy Bear” by Theodore Sturgeon, “The Price” by Neil Gaiman) and just plain weird devils (Kelly Link’s “Lull”, Jonathan Carroll’s “The Heidelberg Cylinder”, Richard Butner’s “Ash City Stomp”). There are classics here (“That Hell-Bound Train” by Robert Bloch, “Thus I Refute Beelzy” by John Collier, “The Bottle Imp” by Robert Louis Stevenson), and stories published within the last few years (“Nine Sundays in a Row” by Kris Dikeman, “The King of the Djinn” by David Ackert and Benjamin Rosenbaum). There are even a few deal-with-the-devil stories, though not as many as you might expect; I could have filled another book with the best of those easily, though.

There were a few narrative pairings I couldn’t resist, like putting Stephen King’s “The Man in the Black Suit” next to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” the story King says inspired the piece. And consider the scientifically-savvy title character of Mark Twain’s “Sold to Satan” as compared to the scientifically-thwarted villain of Elizabeth M. Glover’s “MetaPhysics.”

For the sake of variety I included a few edge cases—the Devil as seen through a glass darkly, say—like Michael Chabon’s dark oppositional deities in “The God of Dark Laughter”, the self-proclaimed Great Beast 666 (better known as Aleister Crowley, or “Alick” to his friends) in “Summon, Bind, Banish” by Nick Mamatas, and the mysterious furious unnatural force at work in China Miéville’s “Details”. It seemed appropriate—after all, the Devil appears in many guises, from long-suffering employee of God to prideful fallen angel to pure malevolent force of nature to suave collector of souls.

When I first conceived of the idea for this anthology, I knew I’d have no trouble filling the pages, because just about every writer of weird short fiction has taken a crack at the Devil at some point (even I have, though modesty forbade me including any of my stories here), and I had to leave out as many good stories as I put in. I don’t have time or space to list all the great stories you should read, but I’ll mention a few: “The Playground” by Ray Bradbury, where the Devil doesn’t explicitly appear, though I personally think he must be the one making those dark deals beneath the swings and behind the merry-go-rounds; “The Howling Man” by Charles Beaumont, which was made into a classic Twilight Zone episode, but don’t miss the original story; “The Devil and Daniel Webster” by Stephen Vincent Benét, which is so famous it’s been parodied on The Simpsons, but read it if you haven’t; both Natalie Babbitt collections about the Devil, The Devil’s Storybook and The Devil’s Other Storybook—it was hard deciding which of her short funny pieces to reprint here; The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, which is great reading even if you’re not particularly interested in Christian apologia; “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” by Joyce Carol Oates, even though the author herself insists the character Arnold Friend is not precisely the Devil… and I’d better stop now, or I’ll be here all