An Unclean Legacy: “Sophie and the Devil”

That night as the questing shadow comes Sophie does not run.

She stands there and the moonlight is behind her so she shines.

There is a sword of bone in her hand.

So dead old Baltasar stops and he stares at her through his ruined eyes. She does not move.

Slowly, taut with the pain of moving his broken body, he steps forward.

“Tonight,” says Sophie, in a clear and ringing voice, “I will destroy you. Or I will make you my slave. Or I will force you to leave me alone for all of the days of the world. Or, should I be vindictive, should I be angry for these past seven years, I will strip you of your throne as King of Hell and assign it instead to some lesser evil, such as a malevolent frog or Francescu’s shoulder demon. Then you will have to bow and simper and cower to it for all the days of your existence.”

There is a pause.

“And should I fail,” Sophie adds, in a concession to realism, “then I will try again tomorrow night, and the night after, and each night that follows until I succeed, and I will make you suffer more strongly for each night I have suffered before then. You have tested me and I have not broken. You may hunt me again each night between now and forever and it will only give me another chance to win.”

There is moonlight in her hair.

You are mine, and you will be mine, says the shadow.

But the shadow is hesitating, and it is more than just the ruination of the corpse.

Sophie lowers her sword. She points it at the shadow.

“Do we begin?”

And . . .

Once upon a time there was a seraph who had a different vision for the world than God’s.

He rejected the drive that would lead the world to grace. And God said to him, “Then I shall cast you from Heaven into the blue realm, whence you may strive against me to bring harmony and fellowship into the world even when it opposes the fabric of the greater design.”

“No,” said that seraph.

“Is it the purple realm, then, that calls you? Are you to be a servant of the life?”

“I am indifferent to life,” said that seraph.

“Then you may choose the onyx realm, though it sorrows me, the realm of Saraman and Santrieste; the realm that dreams of silence and the dark.”

“There is a realm of burning red,” that seraph said.

And God hardened his heart against that seraph and cast him down into the fire of the pit; and everlasting damnation decreed against him; and shattered in him forever the understanding of God’s grace.

Now that fallen creature seeks to turn men and women from the path of righteousness. Now he seeks the damnation of the world. As the serpent he broke the Garden of Eden. As the reveler in white he brought the flood. As the red giant he fought with Montechristien Gargamel. As old dead Baltasar he hunted Sophie down the road.

He will not rest while grace exists within this world. He is the architect of sin.

The shadow forces words from dead Baltasar’s lungs. “We will not start yet.”

Suddenly there is a chill in Sophie. Every sense is telling her that behind her there are eyes. Her hackles rise. She casts about with her mind, but there is no physical location sourcing this unease; it is “behind” her in the realm of spirit. The attention grows more strict; more fierce; more painful. There is a flare of red and black in her mind.

Her legs go nerveless and she sits.

The thing in dead old Baltasar sits down opposite her. It writhes inside the corpse. Then it abandons it. The corpse dissolves. Body parts black and blue and rotten fall to every side. Shadow dissipates.

Sophie glimpses a portal to another realm in the Devil’s shapelessness. It is a horror too great for her mind to comprehend. She squints, trying to filter it down to pieces she can grasp, but by that time it is too late. The enemy has chosen its new form.

It has become a lean and elfin man, four feet tall. He has horns. They are simple, curved, and short.

He is shirtless, though trousers hide his shame.

He is red, red, red, and his shapeless cap is white.

“I do not wish to engage you on those terms,” says the horned man.

Sophie forces out these words: “It is beyond your power to change.”

“I am a coward,” says the horned man casually. “It is because I have so much to lose. So we will converse, you and I, and find another way to settle our affair.”

“This is not a conversation,” Sophie points out, struggling even to speak.

“Ah.”

The sense of a predator’s gaze vanishes away. Feeling returns to Sophie’s limbs. She curls in on herself, gasping in breath, shivering, recovering, restoring order to her mind.

“It is not my specific intention to hurt you, though I am perfectly willing to see you in agony,” the horned man says. “You do not find my attentions enjoyable because change is distressing, and I must change you.”

Sophie half-looks up, squinting. “Why?”

An Unclean Legacy


“Sophie and the Devil”

The horned man tilts his head to the side. “Will I gain points with you, Sophie, for answering that question?”

“If the answer doesn’t suck.”

“I disagree with God as to the proper purpose for this world,” the horned man says. He stands up. Sophie notices for the first time that his trousers include pointed booties for his feet, and it is only because she is exhausted and terrified and wounded that she is successful in smothering her laughter. “He directs it like a symphony towards a kingdom of eternal grace. But I find it more interesting to develop its potential for drama and tragedy.”

Sophie is staring at him.

“What?” the Devil asks, irritably.

“You’re still trying to oppose him?”

The red thing laughs. “I would think you of all people would understand that, Sophie.”

Sophie blushes a little. “Yes,” she says, “I mean, sure, but still?

The red thing frowns, just a little.

“In truth,” he says. “I am winning. It is the nature of humanity to count as my victories their sins and their sorrows, these petty things that win one soul at a time away from God’s eternal kingdom. Then they see sorrow and tragedy in the world and they cry out, ‘Lord, why are you cruel?’

“The former may be my work, but the latter is my pride. When God is cruel, I am victorious. When God makes people suffer. When he tests. When he punishes. When he turns a blind eye to pain. Those are the points of my victory. Those are the compromises that he makes with my red purpose to achieve his eventual kingdom.”

“. . . I am not theologically prepared to debate the problem of pain with you at this time,” Sophie says, a little dazed.

The Devil grins.

“That’s so,” he says. “In truth, you are probably best served by listening to nothing that I say. But if you did not, we could not talk, and then I would continue troubling your life.”

“So what do you want?”

“You can be anything I want,” the red thing says. “That is the gift your father gave you, that he never had reason to explain. It is your most marvelous quality: that you alone in all the world can be anything that anybody wants.”

“Anything?”

“The damnation of the world,” says the Devil. “The destruction of Montechristien. You can be everything that I desire. And yet you prefer to be a bunch of animals at once or a girl with a sword growing out of her hand.”

“Oh.”

“It is vexing,” says the Devil, “and we will resolve the matter tonight.”

Time for theology! Can you minimally adjust Pseudo-Dionysus’ hierarchy of angels to include matrices of blue energy in human shape, three apples high, wearing shapeless white caps?

Can proper Biblical exegesis reveal more about these strange creatures? Are there oblique references in Ezekiel 15 to the doom ‘Handy’ worked on Israel? Did ‘Batty’ save Zipporah and Moses from a giant snake?

Make sure to read the first nineteen installments of this story, and tune in Friday for a special Unclean Legacy: “The Duel!”

11 thoughts on “An Unclean Legacy: “Sophie and the Devil”

  1. Is this the first time in Hitherby that the Christian God has appeared as a character?

    OK, here’s my interpretation, although it’s necessarily partial, and since it relies in part on what the Devil says in the story, it’s not trustworthy. (The narration in italics is probably completely trustworthy in terms of what’s supposed to be actually going on, but the Devil in the story says that “you are probably best served by listening to nothing that I say”.)

    I think that this is presented as, essentially, an aesthetic conflict. The Devil says that “He [God”> directs it like a symphony towards a kingdom of eternal grace. But I find it more interesting to develop its potential for drama and tragedy.” In other words, the Devil is sort of a hack writer. Or perhaps a tragedian, if you prefer, though I’d say that the potential for tragedy was there, and the Devil is not creating it, but accentuating it.

    This conflict is framed in the same way that Tolkien framed the beginning times in the _Silmarillion_, with whoever his standin for God was conducting a choir into which whoever his standin for the Devil was kept trying to introduce new and clashing themes, which God would resolve with a yet greater synthesis. In another sense, it’s the conflict that Neil Gaiman wrote about in Sandman #6: _24 Hours_, which starts with a woman in a diner dreaming about being a writer and writing a version of everyone there with happy lives (and it is understood that, as a book, this would have little interest) and ends with another character with magical powers entering the diner and making the people there become characters in a series of excessively dramatic, horrifying scenes. I’d say it’s Gaiman’s investigation of the guilt that a writer would feel if his characters were real, and also of the factors that push a writer towards easy overuse of drama.

    The problem of pain is described in that way by us, because we are the ones who actually feel the pain. But for those entities who are imagined to design the whole thing, it seems more like it would be a problem of art.

    In previous comments, I’ve hypothesized that Martin’s Hitherby-entity classification is that he’s a dragon, and that dragons within Hitherby might be thought of as metaphors for writers. In any event, Martin is thinking of rewriting the Hitherby world in some sense. Since this is a legend, and legends are about what Jane (and presumably Martin) are thinking about, I think that’s one of the levels of what’s going on with this entry.

  2. It is your most marvelous quality: that you alone in all the world can be anything that anybody wants.

    Oh, right, I have to post this before Friday: I want Sophie to be someone capable of beating the Devil. Or really whatever she wants to be.

  3. I’ll post something clever once I finish rereading Ezekiel 15. :D

    For now, I’ll just say bravo to Rich. I want to say that what the Devil says isn’t necessarily untrue in regards to Sophie’s potential – it would make sense, given what she asked for her 10th birthday present – but you have to assume that they don’t call him the Lord of Lies for nothing. (I’m assuming that Loki never existed in the Unclean Legacy universe.)

    But this line makes me think:

    And God hardened his heart against that seraph and cast him down into the fire of the pit; and everlasting damnation decreed against him; and shattered in him forever the understanding of God’s grace.

    If the Devil has forgotten what God’s grace means, it’s possible (even probable) that he’s wrong about the nature of his conflict with God in other ways.

  4. You have tested me and I have not broken. You may hunt me again each night between now and forever and it will only give me another chance to win.

    These lines make me happy. :)

  5. Time for theology! Can you minimally adjust Pseudo-Dionysus’ hierarchy of angels to include matrices of blue energy in human shape, three apples high, wearing shapeless white caps?

    Thrones seem the most obvious route from one perspective, or angels from the other. Yes, probably angels. Adding a new classification of angels would throw off the symmetry and numerical symbolism of Pseudo-Dionysus’s arrangement, which was pretty much the entire point of the system. Thus, it’s a clear requirement to fit them into an existing class.

    Based on that description… the “matrix of blue energy” part reminds me of Ezekiel’s wheels within wheels, which if memory serves were equated with the order of Thrones in the Pseudo-Dionysian heirarchy. However, if you follow Aquinas’ ideas about the physical nature of angels (later satirized, of course, with the “angels on the head of a pin) a close approximation of that description could be applied to any type of angelic being.

    There is, of course, the size to work with. The presence of the number three is suggestive, as it’s pretty much the case that P-D’s system of angels will compulsively cry out “Oh, three! Three! THREE!” when in the metaphorical embrace of other systems of angelic classification, casuing much hard feelings. We could interpret that as a symbolic implication that they’re the third choir of angels, which (if I’m correct in remembering that the numbers begin with the Seraphs) would be the Thrones. The human shape, though, is a problem there. It would, however, explain their apparantly great importance in Unclean Legacy cosmology.

    Alternatively, they could be from the third triad, making them either angels, archangels, or principalities. This would fit the human shape, if we went with angels proper. Further, angels are the third choir of the third heirarchy. Merely controlling angels proper, however, would perhaps not explain Montechristian’s unnatural degree of power over angellic beings.

    The white hat could signify purity, and thus the seraphs. Such a position would be strengthened still further if one were to go so far as to interpret “La la la la la la, la la la la la” as singing the praises of God. However, their distinct tendency to not cause death merely by their sight would be a problem.

    We could go from the fact that each smurf seems to connect to a somewhat abstract quality, but always one that connected with traits of individual humans. This would make the most likely choir be the angels proper, as all higher orders tend to be beyond individual human concerns.

    A quick perusal of Davidson’s Dictionary reveals relatively few angels with smurfy names. Perhaps the closest is Smnglf, an alternative name of Samangaluf, who’s in turn associated with bringing Lilith back to Adam, a clear symbolic reference to the return of Smurfette.

    Now, if memory serves, there were a hundred smurfs, who were each (barring special cases like Smurfette, Papa Smurf, and Baby Smurf) about 100 years old. That’s far too many for them to all be seraphs, and I believe about half again too many to be thrones.

    On the whole, then, I think that the preponderance of evidence suggests that the smurfs are angels proper, the lowest rung on Jacob’s Ladder. Throne meet a close second, with seraphs in a distant third. For the aforementioned reasons, the idea of them making up a separate choir of their own is rejected.

    -Eric

  6. “”In truth,” he says. “I am winning. It is the nature of humanity to count as my victories their sins and their sorrows, these petty things that win one soul at a time away from God’s eternal kingdom. Then they see sorrow and tragedy in the world and they cry out, ‘Lord, why are you cruel?'”

    Best paragraph I have ever read on Hitherby. I don’t know if you meant how I see it, but I read it as humans giving ‘lucifer’ an undeserved victory when they are actually doing nothing different than what God intended. Their perceptions, though, are affecting the balance.

  7. The moral of this story, of course, being that correlating archaic angelology and pulp culture is the contemporary equivilent of Charles Atlas’ fitness program, causing women to love you and men to fear you.

    If only the would could have learned this earlier.

    -Eric

  8. :shock: I really, really, really should read more of these, more often, rather than when I have time.

    Though when I don’t have time, that has its own problems.

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