Sunday 10 June 2007

20 great Satanic characters in novels

Following our list of literary Christ-figures, Kim and I decided to put together a list of great Satanic characters as well. Here are our top 20, listed in chronological order:

1. Daniel Quilp: Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop (1841)
2. Roger Chillingworth: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1850)
3. Ahab: Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
4. Simon Legree: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)
5. Count Fosco: Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (1859)
6. Ivan Karamazov: Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (1880)
7. Mr. Hyde: Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886)
8. Dracula: Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897)
9. Kurtz: Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1902)
10. Naphta: Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1924)
11. The bureaucrats: Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925)
12. Pinkie Brown: Graham Greene, Brighton Rock (1938)
13. O’Brien: George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
14. Johann Ulrich Voss: Patrick White, Voss (1957)
15. George Rayber: Flannery O’Connor, The Violent Bear It Away (1960)
16. Nurse Ratched: Ken Kesey, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962)
17. Alex: Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (1962)
18. Jorge: Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (1980)
19. Daryl van Horne: John Updike, The Witches of Eastwick (1984)
20. Kevin: Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk about Kevin (2003)


Nathan said...

What, no Voldemort? Seriously though, I would also consider Sauron from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Ayesha from Rider Haggard's She, though I think that one is not so widely read.

John Lyons said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ChristianMarxistFortean said...

One good one is Lord Henry Wotton in Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray". Then there is also Melmoth the Wanderer in Maturin's novel of the same name... gothic literature is full of them. And of course there is Uriah Heep in David Copperfield. And I guess Mephistopheles is too obvious...

Anonymous said...

Cool. I've clearly got some summer reading to do!

Weekend Fisher said...

On what Nathan said re: no Voldemort? If we open up to include the Potter books -- c'mon, they're fun -- what about Draco and Lucius Malfoy? Or Dolores Umbridge ... evil in a pink bow.

Anonymous said...

Wait, Ivan isn't Satanic, just because he is a protest atheist. The satanic in The Brothers' Karamazov is divided between the horrible father who has just died (after warping all of his sons' lives and psyches) and the Grand Inquisitor in Ivan's parable. Ivan is a tragic figure, but not satanic.

I also protest this characterization of Ahab. He is more definitely evil (but the white whale is also a symbol of evil for Melville), but his is a human evil--the evil of obsession. Ahab is like a figure of Greek tragedy, his flaw (his obsession with the white whale) destroys him and nearly all around him. But that makes him a Cain, not a Satan.

Unknown said...

Jack Nicholson's Costello in The Departed.

A grave omission.

Anonymous said...

It's curious that you list Alex as a satan figure, when I think he actually function as a Christ figure of sorts. I'm not trying to be blasphemous here, but I recently read a brief literary analysis of a clockwork orange and it made a persuasive case.

Some things to consider would be Alex's leading a troup of men, having a successor named "Pete", being betrayed and so forth.

Just a thought. Good list!

Anonymous said...

Hi Fisher,

Yeah, I knew we'd hear from Harry Potter fans. There is no accounting for taste! :)
I'm with the Devil's party - I prefer Pullman to Rowling.

And Michael,

Good points. As a matter of fact, in our first draft I had the Grand Inquisitor instead of Ivan, but decided against him because he is a character in a story within the story, and only a mouthpiece really, certainly not a developed character. In defence I would only say that Ben and I have used the term "satanic" in an underdetermined sense, and we recognise that all our characters are not univocally "evil". With Ivan, as with O'Connor's George Rayber, his constitutive satanic feature is his nihilism - with Ivan, to the point of despair.

Ahab presents different problems again. He has even, eccentrically, been described as a Christ figure (see especially the chapter "The Symphony"). Conversely, yes, the Whale is ambiguous enough to be said to have demonic properties, though surely in ways completely asymmetrical to Ahab (see especially the beautiful successive chapters "The Tail" and "The Grand Armada"). On the whole, and at the risk of sounding too, too pedestrian, I would argue that the Whale is a God-symbol.

But it's not just Ahab's "obsession", it's the nature of his obsession - that's what sets him apart from your Greek tragic heroes - its qualities of hatred, vengeance, and, above all, self-conscious rebellion, set in a Puritan context. And Melville certainly constructed this monumental character on the model of Milton's Satan. But, hey, this is the greatest "novel" ever written, so our discussion could (rightly) be endless!

By the way, I am constantly suggesting that Moby-Dick, as well as The Brother Karamazov, should be required reading for all seminarians. But in my experience, mention M-D to even otherwise cultured Brits and they look at you askance. Americans have an admiration for British literature that, I'm afarid, is not reciprocated, certainly with respect to the American Renaissance, when Yank authors began respectfully to cut loose from their European heritage.

Anonymous said...

Kim said,"By the way, I am constantly suggesting that Moby-Dick, as well as The Brother Karamazov, should be required reading for all seminarians. "

With that I have absolutely no disagreement whatsoever.

Michael F. Bird said...

What about Iago from Othello? Or Aaron from Titus Andronicus?

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

Iago was in the list until we restricted our selection to novels only. And we kept away from novels already represented in the Christ-figures list (so no Sauron, Nathan). Of course you could probably do both lists just from Shakespeare.

Anonymous said...

A good contemporary novel is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The satan figure in this book is clearly Assef who brutalizes others as a boy and then as an adult. The protagonist, Amir, is not a Christ-figure, but a person looking for redemption. Gripping story, sad and gritty, but with a glimmer of hope. Lyn

Ben Myers said...

Speaking of Harry Potter fans: I'm counting down the days till the release of the final volume! I'm a very committed Harry fan -- at least as excited and excitable as any of Rowlng's younger readers.

But for the sake of the "weaker brethren" who don't share my enthusiasm (i.e. Kim), I decided to omit Harry from these lists....

Anonymous said...

The ultimate Satan figure is Judge Holden in Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian," one of the great novels of the 20th Century. In fact, the Judge may actually be Satan.

JG ZM said...

Naphta wasn't Satan, the other bloke was. I forget his name. The Italian.

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