What would tempt a 13 year-old boy to make a pact with a demon?

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.

STC198813Then it came to me: the catalyst for both Henry’s and John’s actions wouldn’t be desire; it would be desperation.

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.

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One thought on “What would tempt a 13 year-old boy to make a pact with a demon?

  1. Pingback: Well, there’s magic – and then there’s magic | Griselda Heppel

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