Literature: The Devil and Daniel Webster
"I'd fight ten thousand devils to save a New Hampshire man.""The Devil and Daniel Webster" is a 1937 short story by Stephen Vincent Benét, which in turn was based on the 1824 short story "The Devil and Tom Walker" by Washington Irving. Both stories are based on the legend of Dr. Faustus.Its protagonist is Jabez Stone, a man for whom fortune has never shined and has, in fact, laughed upon. That all changes when the sly Mr. Scratch, who is none other than Satan himself, comes visiting. Jabez sells his soul to the devil and enjoys seven years of contractual good luck. However, near the end of the deal, Jabez decides to find some way out of it; he finds it in the famed attorney Daniel Webster. Now, Jabez can only hope Webster can give him a chance out of hell.Its most well known adaptation was a 1941 film, starring Walter Huston as Scratch, Edward Arnold as Webster, and James Craig as Jabez Stone. It was retitled All That Money Can Buy in some states, as well as Academy Award ballots. At that year's ceremony, it won Bernard Herrmann his only Oscar for Original Score.Was given a short musical parody by DominicFear. There is also an operatic adaptation by Douglas Moore, who also wrote The Ballad of Baby Doe. There is an animated Funny Animal adaptation for children called The Devil And Daniel Mouse.
— Daniel Webster
This short story contains examples of:
- Affably Evil: The devil is depicted as not all that bad of a guy, considering. He's only asking that Stone uphold his end of their bargain, and when he loses the case he takes it in stride.
- As Long as There Is Evil: Scratch gives a pretty good tirade about it when Webster questions his claim of being an American.Webster: Mr. Stone is an American citizen, and no American citizen may be forced into the service of a foreign prince.Mr. Scratch: Foreign? And who calls me a foreigner?Webster: Well, I never heard the dev— of you claiming American citizenship.Mr. Scratch: And who with better right? When the first wrong was done to the first Indian, I was there. When the first slaver put out for the Congo, I stood on the deck. Am I not spoken of, still, in every church in New England? 'Tis true, the North claims me for a Southerner, and the South for a Northerner, but I am neither. To tell the truth, Mr. Webster, though I don't like to boast of it, my name is older in the country than yours.
- Butt Monkey: Jabez Stone
- Deal with the Devil
- The Devil Is a Loser
- Did You Just Kick Out Cthulhu: The Devil has left New Hampshire for good.
- Hanging Judge: Justice Hathorne. This may also count as Truth in Television as Hathorne was the judge who presided over the Salem Witch Trials. However, he is an American judge, which is what Daniel Webster demanded.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Yes, Daniel Webster was a great statesman. No, he did not possess a pair of horses that could outrun the wind, a ram that could butt through an iron door, or the ability to sink a river into the ground with his oratory.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Not all of the jury of the damned were really that evil in reality. In particular, Thomas Morton was only evil in the sense of being an enemy of Puritans and was an early proponent of treating Native Americans decently.
- Lampshaded when, in Webster's final speech, the author turns the perspective around and lets the reader see their more-admirable qualities — though they're still, you know, damned.
- In the Style of... / Spiritual Successor: It's written in a sort of tall tale style which fits the literature written at the period that it's set, and also shows the influences of American Lovecraft Country stories, specifically "The Devil and Tom Walker" by Washington Irving
- Jury of the Damned: the Trope Maker
- Laser-Guided Karma Miser Stephens' contract expires hours before Jabez's.
- Louis Cypher
- Our Souls Are Different: Miser Stephens' soul appears as a moth-like creature. Scratch informs us that most of the souls he gets look like moths. He does suggest, however, that the souls of greater or more virtuous men are "bigger".
- Patriotic Fervor
- Setting Update: Shortcut to Happiness.
- Shout-Out: Not only does the Superman novel Miracle Monday make reference to the events of TDADW, the basic premise (Superman beating The Devil's agent with just his righteousness) is inspired by it.
Weber: While the official reports disclose no case where this defendant has appeared as defendant there is an unofficial account of a trial in New Hampshire where this defendant filed an action of mortgage foreclosure as plaintiff. The defendant in that action was represented by the preeminent advocate of that day, and raised the defense that the plaintiff was a foreign prince with no standing to sue in an American Court. This defense was overcome by overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Whether or not this would raise an estoppel in the present case we are unable to determine at this time.
- A United States District Judge once dropped a reference to this story in an opinion in a case where a man sued the Devil. United States ex rel. Gerald Mayo v. Satan and His Staff.
- Take That: The story's last line is one against Vermont and Massachusetts.
- Trial of the Mystical Jury
The film contains examples of:
- Badass Boast: Daniel Webster is full of these.
- Chekhov's Gun: Miser Stephens leaves the bar when Scratch enters.
- Devil in Plain Sight: Scratch, of course, but he's (usually) open about who he is. Most people only think Belle is Jabez's mistress; no one suspects her true nature even when she's every bit as demonic as Scratch himself.
- Evil Is Petty: In addition to bargaining for peoples' souls, Scratch enjoys random acts of vandalism and is a consummate kleptomaniac.
- Extreme Doormat: Mary has watched Jabez change from an honest-but-loveable schmuck to a rich asshole whose screwing his (hell-sent) maid Belle and letting his son roam free. Her reaction? "It must be all my fault, I know it!"
- Faux Affably Evil: The movie Scratch is far more in this camp than he is Affably Evil.
- The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: Before the credits roll, Scratch looks through the screen, selecting the viewer as his next target.
- Horny Devils: Belle Dee seems to be one... by 1940s standards anyway.
- Horrible Judge of Character:Mary: "What a sweet and kind girl..."
- Spoken of Belle. Immediately before she bangs Jabez no less.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Jabez Stone embraces corruption fairly quickly, especially after Belle enters his life. Averted in the original story, unusually enough.
- New Job as the Plot Demands: Scratch seems capable of appearing anywhere at any time in any occupation — all without raising a single eyebrow.
- Obviously Evil: Scratch usually makes no secret of his identity, but Belle is clearly up to no good.
- Spoiled Brat: Young Daniel, Jabez's son. His poor role models are mostly to blame.
- The Vamp: Belle Dee. What else could Satan's lovely henchwoman be?