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Faustian Pacts, Demons, and Chaos
This chapter looks at Irish works featuring deals with the Devil, as well as folktales and texts concerning encounters with demonic beings. Herein are considered multiple kinds of Devil (i.e. the ‘Adversary’ of religious orthodoxy, and the oddly personable hedonist of folklore) and different kinds of Faust (Marlowe’s irredeemable diabolist versus Goethe’s driven, Romantic genius), and it is shown that Irish texts tend to mix and match characteristics from the various iterations of each – Peadar Ua Laoghaire’s Séadna uses his demonic pact to enrich himself, as per Marlowe’s materialistic Faust, but he retains his conscience and retains the reader’s sympathy, much like Goethe’s protagonist; John Banville’s Mefisto, on the other hand, offers us two potential Satan figures – one of whom conforms to the archetype of the malevolent trickster, while the other’s single-minded pursuit of knowledge posits an existential threat to the universe. Overall, demons emerge from the analysis as agents of chaos, disrupting humanity’s attempts to understand the universe and dismantling the bonds of community.
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