Thursday, January 28, 2016

"The Blacksmith and the Devil"

I had to search a bit, but I finally found the 'six-thousand-year-old' story I was looking for - "The Blacksmith and the Devil" - which can be found in The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition, as follows:
Once upon a time there was a blacksmith who enjoyed life: he squandered his money and carried on many lawsuits. After a few years, he didn't have a single cent left in his pouch.

"Why should I torture myself any longer in this world?" he thought. So he went into the forest with the intention of hanging himself from a tree. Just as he was about to stick his head into the noose, a man with a long white beard came out from behind a tree carrying a large book in his hand.

"Listen, blacksmith," he said. "Write your name down in this large book, and for ten long years you'll have a good life. But after that you'll be mine, and I'll come and fetch you."

"Who are you?" asked the blacksmith.
At this point, we readers surely already know who it is and also what's coming, but if you want the whole Faustian story, go here and read. But I must say . . . if this story really is so old as claimed, it's clearly picked up some elements from other times, that bit about lawsuits, for instance, what does that mean? A Bronze Age rule of law? Surely not! Actually, I don't understand, in any era, what point lawsuits might play in the story.



At 10:01 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

So Gandalf is a devil figure? Won't Tolkien be surprised.

At 10:25 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Because of Gandalf's smoking and expertise with fireworks?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:39 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

I was focusing more on the long, white beard, but... yes.

At 11:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ah, okay.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:15 AM, Blogger Antony Trepniak said...

Gandalf's similarity to the Norse god Odin (particularly in his 'Wanderer' guise, in which he is often depicted with a white or grey beard) has been noted, as has the Christianised depiction of Odin as a proxy Satan. So perhaps there is more to it after all!

What is memorable about this tale is the way in which the blacksmith gets the better of both Heaven and Hell, as well as the image of the devil as a disgruntled underling running off to his employer the Lord with his complaint. The idea that smiths have special supernatural powers is extremely widespread and ancient.

At 5:34 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Why the lawsuits, though?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:31 AM, Blogger Antony Trepniak said...

Because nobody likes a litigious blacksmith?

At 6:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Or maybe to get out of contracts with the Devil?

Jeffery Hodges

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