That was my first question as I set about creating a children’s version of the legend of Doctor Faustus (The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst, out 28th August).
Young Faust was already forming in my mind – or rather, two young Fausts: hero of the story Henry Fowst, and his 16th century counterpart, John Striven. Both boys are hardworking and keen to learn – traits which come close to Doctor Faustus’s striving after knowledge – but somehow the idea of either of them giving up his soul in exchange for learning failed to convince me. Learning is what children do anyway; why would they want more? Even the prospect of supreme power might not be all that alluring for an ordinary 13 year-old boy, not unless I was writing a dystopia in which the hero has to Save the World. And I wasn’t.
What if your problems were so great that no one – not friends, parents, teachers, last of all yourself – could help you? If you happened to stumble across instructions in an ancient manuscript on how to summon a demon to your aid… well, wouldn’t you give it a go?
Except for one thing. Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus follows a strange kind of logic: he blithely enters into a pact with a devil from hell, all the while maintaining that hell doesn’t exist, leading to some amusing exchanges with Mephistopheles:
FAUSTUS: Come, I think hell’s a fable.
MEPHISTOPHELES: Ay, think so still, till experience change thy mind.
Desperate as Henry and John are, in their separate predicaments, I just couldn’t see them inviting danger and darkness into their lives, as if they were a pair of J K Rowling’s Deatheaters. For a while, I was stumped.
Then I did some research into Elizabethan attitudes to magic – and got my answer, which I’ll reveal in my next post.