Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The Christian anti-God, otherwise known as the Devil. "Satan" is a Hebrew word meaning "adversary"; the term is used in the Old Testament as a trivial noun except in Job (where there is no textual implication that Satan is Evil). Christian writers later co-opted the notion that there had been a war in Heaven as a result of which Satan, alias Lucifer, had been consigned to Hell along with a host of rebel Angels, but had been given permission to return or send emissaries to Earth in order to tempt humans to sin; by way of example, Christian writers alleged that the Serpent which tempted Adam and Eve in Eden was Satan in disguise. The Christian Church became increasingly anxious about Satan's wiles, eventually deciding that many heretics and Witches had made Pacts with the Devil; this conclusion licensed the use of torture and mass murder. In Christian art Satan is usually represented as a monstrous figure with a bestial face, horns (borrowed from the Horned God), a tail and sometimes cloven feet (borrowed from Pan) – an image much parodied on stage and in the cinema.

Satan remains the explicit or implicit adversary of much Horror, although he usually remains a shadowy figure now that his appearance has been trivialized by too many jokes. His role in fantasy is complicated by the apologetic tradition, Literary Satanism, which sprang from William Blake's observation that John Milton had been "of the Devil's party without knowing it" when he analysed Satan's character and motivation in Paradise Lost (1667). Percy Bysshe Shelley likewise refused to see Milton's Satan as a villain, extolling him as a heroic rebel against tyranny, but substituted Prometheus in his own cosmic fantasia Prometheus Unbound (1820); it was left to Charles Baudelaire to issue "Les Litanies de Satan" in Les Fleurs du Mal (1857). Jules Michelet (1798-1874) amplified this prayer into a four-act ritual "Communion of Revolt" in his classic Scholarly Fantasy La sorcière (1862), and Anatole France, after first employing Satyrs as stand-ins, brought full-blown Literary Satanism to the peak of its achievement in "L'humain tragédie" (1895; trans as The Human Tragedy 1917) and The Revolt of the Angels (1914). In the latter, Satan – living quietly as a gardener – refuses to lead a new army of revolt on the grounds that the struggle against the tyranny of moral absolutism must be carried forward in the hearts and minds of men rather than on the battlefield.

Notable additions to the sceptical tradition of Literary Satanism include The Memoirs of Satan (1932) by William Gerhardie (1895-1977) and Brian Lunn (1893-1956), The Devil and the Doctor (1940) by David H Keller, Mister St John (1947) by Raoul Fauré (1909-    ), "Talk of the Devil" (1948) by Ewan Butler, The Innocent Eve (1951) by Robert Nathan and The Master and Margarita (written 1938; 1967) by Mikhail Bulgakov. The mischievous fables in The Devil's Storybook (coll of linked stories 1974) and The Devil's Other Storybook (coll of linked stories 1987) by Natalie Babbitt extend the tradition into Children's Fantasy, as does Satan: The Hiss and Tell Memoirs (1987), by Jeremy Pascall (likely a pseudonym). A distinct note of sympathy is also evident in such devoutly anti-Satanic works as The Sorrows of Satan (1895) by Marie Corelli and The Devil Takes a Holiday (1955) by Alfred Noyes. Sympathy of a rather different kind is displayed in fantasies which portray Satan as a pathetic no-hoper in severely reduced circumstances; notable examples are The Devil, Poor Devil! (1934) by Murray Constantine (Katherine Burdekin) and The Return of Fursey (1948) by Mervyn Wall, and there is something of the same ironic spirit in John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick (1984), filmed as The Witches of Eastwick (1987). The Day After Judgment (1972) by James Blish, the Technofantasy Satan (1982) by Jeremy Leven (1941-    ) and the Incarnations of Immortality sequence (1983 onwards) by Piers Anthony all allow Satan to retain his adversarial role, but with various significant modifications.

In many modern Slick-Fantasy tales of diabolical pacts and infernal comedies Satan becomes an urbane and witty social sophisticate, but he retains his adversarial role in some modern horror, especially stories dealing with demonic Possession (although he is here usually represented by lesser minions) and the activities of Devil- worshippers. Some fundamentalist Christians allege that Satan is still at work in the world, aided by legions of active Satanists engaged in Black Magic, Human Sacrifice and ritual child abuse.

Appearances of Satan in the Cinema are far too numerous to list. As polar opposites, each in their way an accurate portrayal, we can note Ridley Scott's Legend (1985), where Satan (in this Secondary World called "Darkness") is a huge and hugely horned figure of slobbering lasciviousness, and Paul Bogart's Oh God! You Devil! (1984), in which Satan is the Twin of God, both being amiably folksy elderly gents – and neither more ethically reliable than the other. [BS]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.