REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:
BASIL DAVENPORT, Editor – Deals with the Devil. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1958. Ballantine 326K, paperback, 1959 (abridged to only 12 stories).
I don’t deny the existence of a God, but I haven’t felt much need of one since I became a grown-up, so I leave the Almighty to those who do. But though I have never longed to find God, I have often wished there were a Devil.
Old Nick has brought so much to our culture that I feel some disappointment that His Satanic Majesty lacks the flesh-and-blood basis given to legends like Wyatt Earp and Richard III — and never have I felt this longing more keenly than while reading Basil Davenport’s excellent anthology Deals with the Devil.
In the excellent introduction to this volume, Davenport cites the Devil’s unique contributions to folklore and literature, from Genesis (Satan’s role in the Bible is small and open to debate, but he was always a rock star in the Christian church.) through Marlowe, Goethe and Stephen Vincent Benet.
Were he writing today, he might have included Ira Levin, William Peter Blatty and Stephen King, but I prize this collection for its antique charm, as Davenport lays out a spicy buffet of authors like Dickens, Dunsany, De Maupassant and the ever-popular Anonymous, to Asimov, Boucher and the underrated John Collier.
Davenport points out in his introduction that of the twenty-five tales collected here, the Devil loses out to God and Man in thirteen and wins in twelve. I also noted a tinge of sly humor running through the pages, perhaps best exemplified in Collier’s line, “Seated on a red-hot throne suspended over that pit whose bottomlessness I shall heartily envy.” (That one took a minute to sink in and be appreciated.)
The effect, however is to make the un-funny stories seem much more grim and unsettling, as Satan is sometimes depicted as an ethical square-dealer (albeit a sharp one) and sometimes as brutal, duplicitous and (worst of all) a bit stupid.
Whatever the case, a reader looking for a bit of atmospheric Halloween reading won’t go wrong here. As for me, I cherish the fantasy that when Steve posts this and my words light up the computer screen, I shall notice a bit of smoke in the room, a faint smell of sulphur, and hear a deep, ominous chuckle at my back….