I, Lucifer, by Glen Duncan

66717Glenn Duncan’s I, LuciferI, Lucifer is the latest book to try and tell the Devil’s story from his own perspective. The premise of this short novel is that God gives Lucifer another chance at forgiveness. If he can live as a mortal for a month without committing any hell-worthy sins, Lucifer can join the heavenly host. As you might expect, Lucifer decides to use his month to a) tell his side of the story and b) work his way through all the venal sins.

This novel features some turns of theology I’ve seen before in novels. (Most in Lamb and Good Omens, but still.) Examples: humans think up and perform most of the evil without so much as an infernal nudge and that everything is part of the ineffable plan. The parts of the book where Lucifer talks about his rebellion and the Garden of Eden are probably the best parts of the book. A lot of the rest, unfortunately, is  taken up with Lucifer’s binging and whinging. This novel could have used a lot more plot, I think. A good idea can only sustain a novel so far. Towards the end, I admit that I had to skip a few pages just to get to the point of it all.

This book, I should note, is not a “Sympathy for the Devil” situation. (That would have been pretty interesting actually.) It’s just a chance to look at the Fall from a different perspective. It’s not so much pride that leads to the Fall so much as independent thought, taking time away from praising God to think about yourself. Personally, I don’t think this is such a bad thing. The Old Testament God was not a fun entity to be around, what with the punitive Shake ‘n’ Bake every other Book. But that’s free will for you. You have to take the bad with the good and have the guts to do what you think is right.

But this premise has been done better elsewhere. Milton, for example, in Paradise Lost, give Lucifer this speech in book one:

[Lucifer]: and till then who knew
The force of those dire Arms? yet not for those
Nor what the Potent Victor in his rage
Can else inflict do I repent or change,
Though chang’d in outward lustre; that fixt mind
And high disdain, from sence of injur’d merit,
That with the mightiest rais’d me to contend,
And to the fierce contention brought along
Innumerable force of Spirits arm’d
That durst dislike his reign, and me preferring,
His utmost power with adverse power oppos’d
In dubious Battel on the Plains of Heav’n,
And shook his throne. What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?
That Glory never shall his wrath or might
Extort from me. To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deifie his power
Who from the terrour of this Arm so late
Doubted his Empire, that were low indeed,
That were an ignominy and shame beneath
This downfall; since by Fate the strength of Gods
And this Empyreal substance cannot fail,
Since through experience of this great event
In Arms not worse, in foresight much advanc’t,
We may with more successful hope resolve
To wage by force or guile eternal Warr
Irreconcileable, to our grand Foe,
Who now triumphs, and in th’ excess of joy
Sole reigning holds the Tyranny of Heav’n.
So spake th’ Apostate Angel.
(Book One, I’d give you the lines, but I can’t be bothered to count them).

Duncan’s Lucifer can’t compete with this, even discounting the language. Then end was pretty good, actually. But I think this story might have worked better as a short story or a novella, because the beginning was interesting and well done, and the ending was much better than the cop out it could have been. It was just all that stuff in the middle that didn’t seem to serve a purpose. The problem was that the narrator kept digressing and wandering away from the point. The entire Declan Gunn plot just seemed superfluous. (And the name really made me wonder if the character was really an Anti Sue, as opposed to a Mary Sue.) I didn’t care about the character at all, and the more I heard about him, the less I cared.

Coincidentally, I got a copy of Religulous today from Netflix, so I’ve been thinking about belief and religion for a few hours now (and probably will be for a while). All things considered, I would agree with the idea that there’s no Devil and that Sartre was right when he said that hell was other people. We have free will, and we can’t blame the Devil for the shit that we get up to. I don’t know about the ineffable plan, though. (And if anyone thinks this is a cry for some proselytizing, I’ll consider those comments to be spiritual spam. I am happy with my current afterlife plan, thank you.)