The devil is a far more interesting character than god in the Bible and quite a lot of Christian literature like Paradise Lost. He is authentic. His authenticity makes him rebel against god who is a bombastic and whimsical character. The devil’s problem, however, is not with god’s self-conceit and capriciousness. His problem is why he should endure all that and remain a slave to such an entity. The devil has self-respect and wants to assert his individuality and dignity. Hierarchical systems don’t like people with self-respect and individuality.
Human beings love to create hierarchies. Our gods sit at the top of all our hierarchies and they are as hideous entities as the creators of our hierarchies. Our gods are the supernatural projections of our leaders. In other words, our gods are created in the images of our leaders who create our hierarchies. Our leaders obviously know how to make use of these gods for various purposes: political as well as others. You can bring a billion people to their knees before you if you have the right god(s) with you.
There are always villains, however, who won’t bend their knees so easily. They are a tiny minority and hence not too problematic. If they become problematic, you can always behave like your god and pronounce a new commandment like UAPA or TADA. Even then that self-respecting tiny minority won’t bend their knees, of course. That tiny minority constitute the legion of devils.
Jack London’s character, Wolf Larsen, is one such devil. The novel, The Sea Wolf, is not particularly outstanding as a work of literature. But it has continued to draw the attention of readers for over a century now because of the character of Wolf Larsen.
“You are a man utterly without what the world calls morals?” the narrator, Humphrey Van Weyden, asks Wolf Larsen.
“That’s it,” Wolf agrees instantly.
Humphrey goes on to compare him to “a snake, or a tiger, or a shark.”
“Now you know me,” responds Wolf.
“You are a sort of monster.” Humphrey doesn’t seem to know what Wolf really is. After calling him many names, Humphrey then says that Wolf is “a Caliban who has pondered Setebos and who acts as you act, in idle moments, by whim and fancy.”
There you are. Whim and fancy. That’s the Biblical god, Yahweh. Caliban is a monster from Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, and the reference here is to Robert Browning’s re-creation of Shakespeare’s Caliban. Setebos is Caliban’s god who also acts by whim and fancy. Caliban, like any devotee, can’t be much different from his god. And most gods are bizarre creatures irrespective of their religions.
Wolf Larsen chooses to be his own god. It’s not a choice really. One of the most neglected truths is that we don’t have too many choices. Our character is mostly given to us by the chromosomes that constitute us, the environment in which we grew up, our teachers, well-wishers, priests, and gods. Our choices are limited by our character. Wolf Larsen’s character was no different. Yet he remains fascinating to a lot of readers even today, a century after his death in the novel to which he belonged. Why? Let’s take a break today. The answer to that why is very interesting. As interesting as the devil himself. See you tomorrow with a sequel to this post. Why is the devil more interesting than any gods?