Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The Devil’s Storybook collects ten literary folktales, each of which depicts the Devil as a bungling, humorous figure. Although the characters, plot, and context of each of the tales differ, the tension usually resides in the various situations that provoke the Devil to exercise his evil power and tempt innocent humans. Young audiences will appreciate the juxtaposition of the humorous, folktale format and the stories’ thematic concerns, which explore the strength of goodness and humankind’s struggle to overcome pure evil at its very source. A brief synopsis of each of the tales emphasizes their individual plot characteristics while placing them within the larger context of a unified whole.

In “Wishes,” the Devil tempts a farm wife, an old man, and a vain young man with the promise of a wish, an event that he hopes will lead to their moral destruction. Both the old man and the wife possess an inner strength and refuse the Devil’s offer. The Devil tricks the young man into wasting his wishes, however, and then returns to Hell, happily aware that humans are easy prey.

“The Very Pretty Lady” relates the story of a beautiful woman whom the Devil determines to have for himself. When she learns that there is no love in Hell, she refuses his offer. In a fit of anger, he takes her beauty and returns to Hell with its fragments. Years later, the Devil returns to find the now-ugly woman, her ugly husband, and their ugly baby in a house filled with love. He angrily throws away her beauty; it floats toward heaven to become a star.

In “The Harps of Heaven,” the Devil sends accomplished thieves Jack and Basil to steal a heavenly harp. The brothers’ incessant fighting leads to their breaking the harp, and the Devil never fully realizes his goal. As punishment, the Devil makes Jack and Basil take lessons from an unpleasant piano teacher, but they learn only scales.

“The Imp in the Basket” examines the sacrifices of a gentle clergyman who adopts a demon baby that has been left at his door. When the community becomes fearful of the imp’s evil connections, they set fire to the cottage while the clergyman and baby are inside. When the flames clear, the demon has disappeared, but the clergyman is unharmed. Everyone...

(The entire section is 929 words.)