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Deal with the Devil

"History has proven a thousand times that no man has ever gained from a bargain with The Dark, yet cowards and fools continue to try, and The Dark never turns them away."
The Mayor, Myth: The Fallen Lords

You know how it works. Want to be a trillionaire, Take Over the World, gain Omniscience, or just to get back at that obnoxious Jerk Jock? Well travel down to those crossroads and Mr. S will guarantee your wildest dreams, if you just sign on the dotted line with your own blood. This trope is Older Than Steam, and does not even require the Abrahamic Devil; any trickster or evil deity roughly equivalent to Satan can be used. It reached its current version in the 16th-century legend of Faust selling his soul to Mephistopheles (who technically isn't quite exactly Satan or Lucifer, but still a high-ranking demon).

This trope includes both literal Magically Binding Contracts with a literal devil, and crooked deals between any corrupt exploiter (the Mephistopheles role) and a desperate pawn (the Faust role). The exploiter can be offering anything from some shiny new Applied Phlebotinum to making a high school nerd popular, to saving your life moments before death. Sometimes it has no practical value whatsoever. He then asks for something — often apparently innocent at first — that means the total ruin of the Faust if delivered: soul, conscience, sanity, first born, loved ones, voice, horseshoe nail...

Note that actual devils will always follow through with their end, even if their end is a sinister bastardization of the terms. Thus always remember to Read The Fine Print and have an experience in law with you if you try to do this. We never see Mephistopheles simply take the soul and run like an amateur scammer; he gave his word, narrated the fine print, put his name on the dotted line and made the wish come true. As icing on the cake, the Mephistopheles sometimes makes sure or just shows in reality that the gift is, in itself, detrimental to the life of the Faust and others around him in the first place - especially if there's a chance at irony, where lacking their "soul", the element they gave up as payment, is the only thing that makes the gift worthless.

An alternate form is a deal where the Mephistopheles offers the Faust exactly what he wants, if not more, but to get it, he has to undergo an Impossible Task Mephistopheles obviously does not think the Faust can complete, with Faust's soul as the penalty if he fails. Alternately, the deal truly has no strings attached, as it's a Xanatos Gambit where the Faust's good fortune or success will deliver the soul of another to Mephistopheles.

Whether God or the equivalent would be interested in a soul that someone has gambled is the Elephant in the Living Room.

Deal With The Devil plots can overlap with What an Idiot. Some writers try to defend the Faust by having the Mephistopheles make the offer when the victim has no time to think (e.g., offering to save him from the Death Trap in return for something nasty) or by making the contract so long, complex and filled with Latin-esque legal jargon no one will Read The Fine Print (Sloth is a very undervalued sin). Also expect Exact Words and You Didn't Ask to be employed against the Faust.

If you should find yourself suckered into a Deal With The Devil, The Power of Love may be your best bet at defeating the infernal contract. Or you can try your luck (literally) with a Jury of the Damned. Some Guile Heroes can make it into a Meaningless Villain Victory. With enough power, a Faustian Rebellion is possible.

Common solutions are:
  1. Ask the devil for something he can't do (like worship God) or that destroys him, which makes the entire deal pointless.
  2. Make a Logic Bomb, infinite loop, Loophole Abuse, etc. For example, if the devil asks to give him your soul after death, you can wish for immortality. In the case of immortality, however, beware — a truly crafty devil might pull a Jackass Genie on you, either by conveniently forgetting about the "eternal youth" part or by turning you into an undead abomination. It may also turn into a case of Who Wants to Live Forever?, even without the devil's manipulations.
  3. It may be possible to gain enough power through the deal to prevent the devil from forcing you to keep your promise - or just kill him. See Faustian Rebellion.
  4. Use your new power to annoy the underworld so much that your deal gets nullified simply to get rid of you.
  5. If the wish is already wasted, then someone else is required to fight fire with fire by engaging into a new contract and defeating the devil.
  6. In comical versions, if the devil is female - usually some apprentice demon who always fails - of course she will be insanely sexy or cute (according to Evil Is Cool, Evil Is Sexy, Horny Devils and Cute Monster Girl rule), so why not ask her to become your girlfriend or wife?
  7. Seem a little too anxious to sell your soul. (See the Frank Zappa example below)
  8. Turn to religion. While rarely used in fiction due to it being too quick a solution (and it failing having Unfortunate Implications), there are many cases when a saint or mystic claimed they (or someone they knew) sold their soul to the devil and were saved by Jesus or the Virgin Mary. In these cases, you merely consecrate yourself to him; the demon only literally gets the soul after death.
  9. Prove you'd already sold or given your soul to someone else, a la Homer Simpson and Mr. Krabs.
  10. Manipulate some tiny, arcane loophole or hire some Rules Lawyer to render the contract null and void. (Rarely successful, Hell is full of lawyers after all and "Satan" literally means "prosecutor".)
  11. Use the power you gain from the contract to change the entire system, sometimes even retroactively.

The character who offers the deal is often, though not always, The Corrupter (and not all Corrupters use this as a tactic).

There is an Inversion of this trope largely forgotten in the mainstream, but still very much in use in some contexts: The Bargain with Heaven. Compare also Reasoning with God.

For the occasions when the Devil comes out behind, see Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?.

Compare the supertrope, Power at a Price, and its other subtropes.

Examples

    Other 
  • The first page quote spoofs the fact that end-user licence agreements do make you click "I Agree" to a lot of legal Techno Babble that most people don't bother reading and most who try don't understand. Subverted in that, for this exact reason, there's doubt over whether they're actually legally binding.
  • Bill Hicks had a notorious comedy routine in which he accused bands that endorsed anti-drug messages of doing this. Sort of. "SUCK SATAN'S COCK!"

    Real Life 
  • While reliable evidence that Satan has ever actually bought anyone's soul is not available, some Theistic Satanists may claim to have sold their souls to him, or to have given themselves over to him.
  • There have been a few attempts of people selling their souls on eBay. Known examples include electronic musician Moby, who put his up as a Take That to critics who felt he "sold out".
    • So did the atheist activist Hemant Mehta, who later wrote a book I Sold My Soul on eBay. Note that what he was actually selling was the right to have him attend a church of the winner's choice for a year. The soul thing was a gimmick.
    • eBay has, perhaps unsurprisingly, banned this practice, prohibiting the sale of items whose existence cannot be verified and deleting such listings as soon as they're discovered.
    "If the soul does not exist, eBay could not allow the auctioning of the soul because there would be nothing to sell. However, if the soul does exist then, in accordance with eBay's policy on human parts and remains, we would not allow the auctioning of human souls."
    • Somebody got around the ban by instead selling an autographed card of himself - the card being, naturally, a deed to the seller's soul.
  • In Latvia, a country hard hit by the 2007-9 economic crisis, the Kontora loan office is lending people money at high interest rates if they agree to use their souls as collateral. So far, about 200 people have taken Viktor Mirosiichenko up on his offer. They don't employ any debt collectors either...
    Mirosiichenko: "If they don't give [the money] back, what can you do? They won't have a soul, that's all."
  • British game retailer GameStation decided to make a point about online Terms & Conditions and how nobody ever reads them, by inserting a clause that the user gives up his soul to them. They later e-mailed all those who had agreed to the terms assuring them that they would be immediately nullifying any claim they had on their customers' souls. This happened on April Fools' Day, incidentally.
    • At least in the US and most other Common Law countries, this type of contract has a legal remedy because it's well-known no one reads them. Imagine what a pain it would be if you had to read these every time you rented a car, bought a cell phone, and so on. Now imagine the headache if a company did slip some truly odious language into the fine print somewhere, say, a $10,000 USD cancellation fee for your cell phone contract. This type of contract is called a standard-form contract, a contract of adhesion or a boilerplate contract, and a court reserves the right to throw out any clauses in it which are deemed unreasonable or too odious. This is a rare exception to the general principle of, "Your signature means you read it all, understood it all, and accepted it." To date, there aren't known instances of someone challenging the Devil on the grounds that his contracts are boilerplate with unreasonable terms.

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alternative title(s): Faustian Bargain
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