Why does the devil keep coming here?
March 21, 2008 4:13 AM   Subscribe

The devil visiting earth seems to be a pretty common happening in certain litterature or films. I am looking for examples of what he actually does when coming here.

The two most common practises seems to be kidnapping people for everlasting parties (Master & Margarita or Strange & Norell) or playing games about peoples souls (Seventh Seal). I am looking for other ideas authors have explored.
posted by ilike to Writing & Language (51 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Job: a comedy of justice, by RA Heinlein

Desolation Road, Ian MacDonald (magical realism on Mars, Satan appears as a pool player)

AngelHeart, film starring Mickey Roarke before his plastic surgery disaster.

The common thread in these is that Satan is just doing the usual tempting thing. I can't tell you if he wins as that would be a spoiler.
posted by Sparx at 4:33 AM on March 21, 2008

In the Devil's Advocate, he was the head of a law firm.

I heard he also plays a pretty good fiddle.
posted by clearly at 4:36 AM on March 21, 2008

In Bedazzled ('67) he makes the bottoms fall out of shopping bags.
posted by spasm at 4:39 AM on March 21, 2008

In Twain's The Mysterious Stranger Satan (but not Satan) entertains a group of boys by molding a mini civilization of clay people that he inflicts destruction upon. Then the little clay people turn on each other, destroying themselves.

The story was never finished by Twain and there are a couple of versions floating about. It's kind of half-baked but that particular scene is pretty neat.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:41 AM on March 21, 2008

Representatives of Satan appear in Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gamon.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:50 AM on March 21, 2008

Apparently Satan is a pretty good violinist as well.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:55 AM on March 21, 2008

There are lots of Irish folk tales where a person meets a mysterious stranger, who turns out to be "Old Nick himself". Usually he's playing cards with them (though not necessarily, I think, for their souls).
posted by tiny crocodile at 5:03 AM on March 21, 2008

In Bedazzled ('67) he makes the bottoms fall out of shopping bags.

Oh, but he does so much more. He tricks old ladies out of cash with silly trivia games, he crosses telephone lines, he makes pigeons poop on people, bruises bananas en route to the market, and scratches up brand new records in shipping. In that version, the devil is responsible for all the little annoyances of life, but doesn't seem to go after the biggies. (I love that movie)
posted by piratebowling at 5:31 AM on March 21, 2008

Apparently, someone has created a Wikipedia entry on this subject.

Also, in DC Comics, Lucifer abandons Hell and tries to retire quietly on Earth.
posted by chengjih at 5:35 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

This clip from the claymation Adventures of Mark Twain is based on that "The Mysterious Stranger" story that Toekneesan was taking about. I remember it being disturbing when I watched it as a kid, and re-watching is now....well it is still sort of disturbing for a kids movie.
posted by Captain_Science at 5:39 AM on March 21, 2008

In The Stand, he assembles all the bad people, preparing to do something bad to the good people.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:41 AM on March 21, 2008

In Young Goodman Brown the Devil shows the story's namesake the evil nature of all the figures in his life he thought righteous... or does he?

Also, thanks Toekneesan and Captain_Science! Just a few days ago, I saw a version of that clip that was truncated at either end and didn't say where it came from. I was actually considering posting an AskMe, but you've saved me the trouble.
posted by owtytrof at 6:03 AM on March 21, 2008

Robert Burns'
"Address to the deil"
(not misspelled, btw) explores some of his supposed hobbies, though you'll need a glossary-containing version to make sense of it and it is brief.
posted by FauxScot at 6:06 AM on March 21, 2008

Best ever "Satan on earth" tale: Mikhail Bulgakov's wonderful The Master and Margarita, where Old Scratch appears in athesistic Moscow in the early 20th Century to wreak havoc among the literary elite as Woland, a stage magician with a retinue of freaks and evil-doers. The story is contrasted by a narrative of Pontius Pilate's encounter with Jesus, and Margarita's story, as she tries to bargain with Satan to save the sanity of her lover, a failed writer (the Master of the title, who has written the novel about Pilate and Jesus).

As a work of early metafiction and political satire, this can't be beat. Do yourself a favor and dig it up.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:14 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

And the Jews hold these beliefs about what exactly the Satan is all about:

The word satan means challenger. With the leading ha- to make haSatan,
it refers to /the/ challenger. This describes Satan as the angel who
is the embodiment of man's challenges. Satan works for G-d. His job is
to make choosing good over evil enough of a challenge so that it can
be a meaningful choice. Contrast this to Christianity, which sees
Satan as God's opponent. In Jewish thought, the idea that there exists
anything capable of setting itself up as God's opponent would be
considered overly polytheistic--you are setting up the devil to be a
god or demigod."

posted by watercarrier at 6:23 AM on March 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

"of what he actually does"? You mean in stories, I hope. That "actually" word is confusing.
posted by cmiller at 6:23 AM on March 21, 2008

There is some great dialogue with Satan in the movie Constantine. Beyond turning this world into a burning inferno (like Hell) the Devil appears to want justice.

In Letters from the Earth, a Mark Twain classic, the Devil visits the Earth and later returns to heaven. God asks him where he's been. The Devil says, "Raging the Earth from end to end."

In the movie the Ninth Gate there is a sort of pagan-like concept... that the Devil is a kind of Socratic figure that comes here to free people from God's influence, an influence which continues to begrudge human beings fruit from either tree.
posted by ewkpates at 6:25 AM on March 21, 2008

In the Northern Expsoure episode, "The Robe" (season 6), the Devil tries to take Shelly's soul, fails, and complains about how drugs like Prozac make his life so much harder.
posted by dzot at 6:38 AM on March 21, 2008

In addition to fiddle/violin, he apparently plays guitar.
posted by TedW at 6:42 AM on March 21, 2008

i'm blanking on the movie title right now, there's at least one where the devil is still super pissed he got tossed out of heaven and is trying to weasel his way back in (or trick god into letting him back in).
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:43 AM on March 21, 2008

The Baal Shem Tov and the Werewolf Satan disguises himself but his blackened heart cannot hide.
posted by watercarrier at 6:45 AM on March 21, 2008

In the South Park movie, he comes back to earth to violently take it over, but ends up quietly returning to hell after double crossing his abusive lover, Saddam Hussein.
posted by jtfowl0 at 6:54 AM on March 21, 2008

ewkpates mentions the movie The Ninth Gate, but doesn't explain what else the Devil does in that movie: Collect books, turn into a woman, and have sex with Johnny Depp. Now that's making good use of your time on Earth!

In Arthur C Clarke's book Childhood's End, aliens who look exactly like the Devil stop humans from killing each other and institute a long period of peace which eventually results in the human race becoming a telepathic super race, taking to the stars, and vaporizing what's left of the earth when they're done with it.
posted by dylan20 at 7:02 AM on March 21, 2008

Here's the text of Twain's Letters from the Earth, which has always been a favorite of mine.
posted by adamrice at 7:02 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Satan's first appearance in the Bible goes something like this:

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them

And the LORD said unto Satan, Whenst comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it

(Job 1:6-7)
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:04 AM on March 21, 2008

In Meet Joe Black, he explores what it's like to be human.
posted by geeky at 7:33 AM on March 21, 2008

Oops, I take that back. I guess that was "death", not the devil.
posted by geeky at 7:35 AM on March 21, 2008

In The Devil's Advocate Al Pacino, I mean, the devil, wants his children (half-siblings) to get freaky with it and have a child who will be the antichrist. Ultimate goal? Devil 1: God 0.
posted by collocation at 7:38 AM on March 21, 2008

Rosemary's Baby -- Satan wants a son.

He never seems to want a daughter. What's up with that?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:46 AM on March 21, 2008

James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) has the devil playing an pious and scholarly young stranger tricking an insufferable Calvinist youth into bad ways. One memorable scene has the pair walking through a wood, discoursing on the minutiae of predestination, and the doomed youth not noticing the devil leaving burnt and steaming footprints in the grass.

You'll probably need a glossary (it's mostly in broad Scots) but it's a supreme work of dark humour.
posted by scruss at 7:57 AM on March 21, 2008

In the TV series Reaper he basically serves as a PHB (although more devious than incompetent) to a guy whose indentured servitude consists of capturing the evil souls that have managed to escape Hell's clutches.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:06 AM on March 21, 2008

Guy_Inamonkeysuit: Because a male offspring can impregnate many women...
posted by watercarrier at 8:06 AM on March 21, 2008

He never seems to want a daughter. What's up with that?

He's actually got a daughter in Reaper.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:07 AM on March 21, 2008

Here's chapter two of Twain's Mysterious Stranger, where "Satan" creates a little civilization and then smotes them.
posted by Toekneesan at 8:16 AM on March 21, 2008

These days he'd be better off cloning himself. Less chance of undesirable traits coming from the distaff side.

Oh, and let's honorably mention The Screwtape Letters here, shall we?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:24 AM on March 21, 2008

> In Meet Joe Black, he explores what it's like to be human.

That's Death, not Satan. And re: someone's earlier mention of The Stand, Randall Flagg isn't Satan, either. His backstory is fleshed out in King's Dark Tower series.
posted by WCityMike at 8:25 AM on March 21, 2008

In Clive Barker's The History of the Devil, a deprived and lovelorn Satan is sick and tired of living in Hell. He bemoans the loss of his angel-wings, his freedom of flight, his elegance, and grace. And he misses God. So he calls a trial, his appeal, to seek re-admittance into Heaven. As the trial moves through space and time, we revisit scenes of humanity's great failures-or are they the work of the Devil, his own wicked crimes? If Satan wins his day in court, he'll be with his Father in Heaven. And if he loses? He'll spend eternity here with us- on Earth.
posted by bleucube at 8:34 AM on March 21, 2008

Smotes? Smites.
posted by adamrice at 8:52 AM on March 21, 2008

On Lucy, Daughter of the Devil, Satan runs a dildo factory. He's also bent on total world destruction, but apparently is surrounded by incompetents.
posted by adamrice at 8:54 AM on March 21, 2008

Apologies to James L. Brooks... This scene from Broadcast News sums up the devil for me pretty well:
This isn't friendship.

What do you think the Devil is going
to look like if he's around? Nobody
is going to be taken in if he has a
long, red, pointy tail. No. I'm
semi-serious here. He will look
attractive and he will be nice and
helpful and he will get a job where
he influences a great God-fearing
nation and he will never do an evil
thing...he will just bit by little bit
lower standards where they are important.
Just coax along flash over substance...
Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about
all of us really being salesmen.
(seeing he's not
reaching her)
And he'll get all the great women.
posted by OneOliveShort at 8:55 AM on March 21, 2008

In a completely underrated German novel called "Timm Thaler" the devil takes the form of a global production tycoon (dealing primarily with food production and trade) who signs contracts with various people giving material riches in exchange for personality traits. The protagonist signed away his laughter in exchange for the ability to win every single bet he ever makes, and spends the book trying to break the contract.
posted by Phire at 8:57 AM on March 21, 2008

He doesn't have to come to earth. Mephistopheles, from Marlowe's Doctor Faustus: "Why this is Hell, nor am I out of it."
posted by rdc at 9:22 AM on March 21, 2008

Damn you OneOliveShort. I just saw the post and was going to link to that.

There are lots of examples here and good ones. I'll just add one thing.

"The Devil doesn't deal in lies. He doesnt have to. He gives you what you thought you would never get, in return for something you thought you would never need. Of course, you were wrong on both counts. Welcome to Hell."
posted by elendil71 at 9:41 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've never really been able to figure out the purpose behind the devil's appearance in the Brothers Karamazov, he's this sort of worn out old traveler who isn't particularly sinister in any traditional sense. He appears to the increasingly insane brother Ivan towards the end of the novel.
posted by The Straightener at 9:48 AM on March 21, 2008

In The Devil and Daniel Webster (based on the short story of the same name), he conducts mock trials with juries of the damned and steals homemade pies cooling on windowsills.
posted by scody at 10:31 AM on March 21, 2008

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," he either reveals the hypocrisy and generally satanic nature of everyone, ever, with the possible exception of our hero; or he messes with our hero's head and slowly turns him into an antisocial paranoid. You make the call!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:35 PM on March 21, 2008

In Michael Moorcock's The War Hound and the World's Pain, Lucifer is trying to recover the Holy Grail to cure the World's pain and reconcile with God.
posted by D_I at 12:41 PM on March 21, 2008

In Brimstone, a late 90's TV series with a very similar premise to Reaper, the Devil is also a tormenting boss to the main character, who has been returned to Earth to catch escaped souls for him.

I thought that the party-kidnapping in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was done by faeries, not the Devil?
posted by cadge at 12:54 PM on March 21, 2008

In the Pick of Destiny Jack Black challenges Satan to a Rock-Off if Tenacious D wins he has to pay thier rent and go to Hell, if they win Kyle has to be Satan's sex-slave.... You must hear/see the songs that ensue.
posted by xpix at 2:08 PM on March 21, 2008

For the record, it's also death (and not the devil) in Seventh Seal.
posted by juv3nal at 3:44 PM on March 21, 2008

In Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them?, the devil goes down to a little town in Mexico to drink whiskey all night and "talk up a shitstorm," before someone shoots him in the back and everything goes to hell. Lyrics and backstory/analysis from the singer on the band's site.
posted by churl at 5:02 PM on March 21, 2008

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