(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story’s title, “Prince of Darkness,” alludes to the devil. Father Ernest Burner is an ambitious but unsuccessful priest who lacks a spiritual vocation. He goes through the empty motions of his clerical duties during the morning, noon, and night of one day, but still craves a parish of his own. Fat, sweaty, and impatient, he stares with malignant eyes, seethes with resentment, and is crudely blasphemous. He uses his Roman collar as a putting ring in golf and deposits a burnt match in a holy-water font.

Dwelling in his private hell, Burner is surrounded by infernal associations. He finds red-hot believers a devilish nuisance, demolishes the perfect rose window of a grapefruit, operates on the principle of discord, constantly smokes, shuns the light, rigs up a darkroom, gropes blindly in the shadows, applies a cloven foot to the gas pedal, and garrotes his image of St. Christopher. The dean, his superior, referred to Burner (because of this darkroom) as the “Prince of Darkness,” and the name caught on in the diocese.

Burner’s conversation with Tracy, who is trying to sell him an insurance policy, reveals that he has little spiritual reserve on which to draw in old age. He seeks mundane security in the immediate future rather than eternal salvation in the next world. Burner’s talk with the young priests, Quinlan and Keefe, exposes his gluttony and obesity, his lack of literary taste, his cynical skepticism, and his indifference to a mother in the parish who wants to add a star for her son, who is away at war, in the “servicemen’s flag” in the church.

In the afternoon, Burner hopes to take a flying lesson (his idea of heaven) but is earthbound by the rain. He fantasizes about becoming a flying Junker and quotes...

(The entire section is 724 words.)