Tag Archives: John Kessel

Sympathy for the Devil

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Sympathy for the Devil edited by Tim Pratt.

Tim Pratt Sympathy for the Devil

I found this book by chance at the public library, being interested in a few of the included authors. It’s one of those monster theme collections, gathering thirty-six stories in which “the Devil” features as a principal character, from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first. (Longfellow’s translation of the thirty-sixth canto of Dante’s Inferno is the oldest item, and concludes the book.) Six stories I had read prior to their appearance here. “Thank you, Satan!” quoth the editor, introducing his first effort at anthology. Despite the title, most of these stories don’t portray the Devil as sympathetic.

Charles Stross’s story “Snowball’s Chance” was a major attraction, and did not disappoint, other than its clumsy misquotation of the Law of Thelema. I suppose any 21st-century Big Book of Beelzebub is likely to include some content touching on the Great Beast who heralded the New Aeon. Nick Mamatas’s fictional protagonist in “Summon, Bind, Banish” may be a full (i.e. Ninth Degree) initiate of O.T.O., but Mamatas himself obviously isn’t. His pretended exposure of the Order’s sovereign secret is overshadowed by the way that he vilifies Crowley with an impressionistic biography of mostly-true episodes.

Elizabeth M. Glover’s “MetaPhysics” was cornball, but some of these pieces were genuinely funny. In particular I was delighted with the one-act comedy “Faustfeathers” by John Kessel, which casts Groucho Marx as the paradigmatic sorcerer. Jeffrey Ford’s “On the Road to New Egypt” was a key inducement to my reading the book, and turned out to be hilarious.

Some of the creepiest stories were the most questionably related to the book’s espoused theme, and these were often among the ones I had already read, such as China Miéville’s “Details,” “The Professor’s Teddy Bear” by Theodore Sturgeon, and “The God of Dark Laughter” by Michael Chabon. Probably the most horrific story in the book that was new to me on this reading was “The Goat Cutter” by Jay Lake. The most surreal story was either “Lull” by Kelly Link or “The Heidelberg Cylinder” by Jonathan Carroll, and both of these get high marks from me.

Older selections included Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” (still excellent), Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Bottle Imp” (how had I missed this one before?), and Mark Twain’s “Sold to the Devil” (justly neglected by a mass readership). “Big names” likely to appeal to genre fans include Stephen King (“The Man in the Black Suit”) and Neil Gaiman (“The Price” and “We Can Get Them for You Wholesale”).

The book is a fairly mixed bag on the whole, as one might expect with such a large number of stories and such a narrow criterion for inclusion. Still, it was definitely worth the bother. [via]