Readers will find the bungling version of Satan in Natalie Babbitt’s The Devil’s Storybook more reminiscent of William Shakespeare’s humorous Falstaff than an embodiment of evil. The delineation of the Devil as a comic figure reduces his traditional, epic proportions and affords a look at a cosmic landscape with relatively small dimensions. The Devil tries diligently to maintain his reputation as the supreme trickster; however, he fails miserably. From humans who outdistance his intellect to minor demons who diminish his power by insubordination, this version of Satan wades through one confrontation after another slightly out of control.
Each tale of the ten exhibits the literary elements of traditional folktales. The time and places are vague. Locales are thinly identified as “Heaven,” “Hell,” and “the World.” Introductory phrases such as “There was a little girl once” echo fairy-tale openings and create a universal time frame. Human characters are flat and static, elements that underscore their one-dimensional qualities and relegate them to symbolic depictions of all humanity. The plots plunge quickly into conflict, and resolutions provide tidy, satisfying endings. The universal themes qualify the explicit didacticism present. “Nuts,” for example, ends with the dictum “We are not all of us greedy.” The third-person, omniscient point of view enables readers to observe the internal motivations of all the characters as they clash over issues of good and evil.