I donâ€™t want to get into a whole theological debate concerning the existence of a devil, so let me warn you now: I, as an agnostic, do not believe in Lucifer. I view him as a mythological character who has appeared in a variety of fiction over millenia, making him appropriate for this series. However, if you believe that Lucifer does, in fact, exist, than look at it this way: Iâ€™m mainly looking at his appearances in pieces of fiction, so even if he is real the stories Iâ€™m going to be talking about arenâ€™t.
Now that thatâ€™s out of the way: Lucifer is the greatest villain ever created. I donâ€™t just mean that in the obvious way, what with him being the personification of all that is evil in the world. I mean that Lucifer has a fantastic back story and is, in my opinion, sympathetic. While some may argue that the devil is quite real, what they may not be aware of is that much of what they believe about him and his kingdom does not come from any holy scripture but more from the fictional works of John Milton and Dante Alighieri.
Lucifer was Godâ€™s most beloved angel, a bringer of light and beauty. Over time Lucifer became arrogant and believed that he was more suited to rule Heaven. The angels became divided, and a war broke out in Paradise. God and his army were victorious, and Lucifer and those who followed him were cast down into the underworld, which they transformed into Hell. Lucifer became Satan, chief tempter of humanity, scourge of all that is good in the world. He is responsible for humanityâ€™s expulsion from Eden, itâ€™s fall into sin, and is ultimately defeated by Christâ€™s sacrifice and, upon his second coming, will be destroyed for all time.
As I said, I donâ€™t really believe any of that happened, but that doesnâ€™t mean itâ€™s not a damn good story. Milton shows us a tragic figure, undone by his own hubris. A thing of beauty who becomes the ultimate grotesquery. Dante, showing us Satan in his kingdom, takes the tragedy even further. His Satan is not powerful but rather pathetic, imprisoned in ice in the ninth circle of Hell, frozen for all time. Danteâ€™s devil weeps, for he is further isolated from the divine than anyone else ever could be.
However, as we all know, while Lucifer may be trapped in Hell his spirit still manages to get about. It was Satan who tempted Christ in the desert, offering him the kingdoms of the world in exchange for his loyalty. Luciferâ€™s hatred of God and his desire to destroy his creation seems to be like the rebellion of a child against his parent. He will never accept the part he played in his own downfall, always raging against his Maker.
That rage explodes in William Peter Blattyâ€™s 1971 novel The Exorcist, adapted to film in 1973. While many of you will be quick to point out that the demon who posses young Regan MacNeil is not actually Satan, but instead a minion named Pazuzu, I choose to ignore the sequels where this becomes the case. In both the book and the movie, the monster inside of Regan names itself as the devil. In the book the demon recants this statement, but in the original movie it does not.
The Exorcist is perhaps the most terrifying movie ever made. Satan takes possession of an innocent 12-year-old girl, and what follows is a portrait of evil at itâ€™s most bestial. We see Lucifer to be a vile creature, twisted and repugnant. He possesses young Regan to lure an elderly Jesuit priest who exorcised him once before, and also to destroy the brittle faith of a younger priest. He chooses Regan specifically for her purity, to spit in the eye of God and to break the clerics.
I left the Catholic Church in 2000, after two years of studying to join the priesthood. While I do not believe a being like Lucifer exists, I still to this day am terrified of The Exorcist. Even seeing a still image of Linda Blair in that movie is enough to keep me up at night.
Satan has appeared in literally thousands of films, books, comics, video games, songs, paintings, and every other artistic medium. He was Ned Flanders on The Simpsons. He is Memphisto in Marvel comics. Heâ€™s been played for comedy and horror. Hell, he even fought Arnold Schwarzenegger in End of Days. For thousands of years he has been the ultimate villain, whether you believe in him or not. And yet, despite his immense power and his destructive influence, I canâ€™t help but pity this creature. I see him as Dante did: Forever frozen in ice, weeping in regret at all he threw away for his own vanity.