01/03/2009 § Leave a comment
Perhaps the most common character in fairy stories from any country is the Devil. He is not the Devil that one generally thinks of, or at least anyone who grew up with religion. Sure all the other characters are frightened of this Devil, but he can generally be fooled, he is usually amicable, and he is almost always well dressed.
In Italo Calvino’s collection of Italian Folktales, the devil shows up at a home of four wahserwomen after the eldest says that she intends to “leave home, even if she has to go and work for the devil.” Nothing unusual about that. Hundreds of stories begin with unhappy folks thinking that hanging out with and/or working for the Devil would be totally fine.
And wouldn’t you know it? The Devil arrives a few days later. As is typical of the Devil he is well dressed, the height of “courtesy” (however tall that is), and dressed in black. For some reason the Devil in this story has a silver nose, which is what tips off the mother that he might not be trustworthy.
The Devil promptly puts one of the daughters to work in his home. A la Bluebeard, he forbids her from entering one single room in the whole mansion. She promptly enters and has to join the other souls in hell who are locked behind that door. Hell is apparently located in the sundry closet of the Devil’s mansion in Italy!
The second daughter fares the same. Then the third daughter, the most clever one, saves them both with keen eyesight and parlor tricks. The last few sentences tell the reader that she has been stealing large sums of money from the Devil as well so there can be more of a happy ending than just escaping.
Something nice I’ve noticed in most tales that involve the Devil is that he is portrayed as merely a trickster. He is always trying to get your soul but he can almost always be outfoxed. It seems that the devil is just some kind of immortal uncle who is perpetually playing got-your-nose with all the souls of the country and forest inhabitants.
Whether it be by the clever sister who makes him carry his laundry (her sisters) home in a bag, or by an American who uses invisible ink on their soul contract, thus nullifying said contract, the devil can always be outdone.