Schreck's "Satanic Reader" is an anthology tracing the development of Satan
as a literary character in fiction and poetry. Most selections are
excerpts from longer works (novels, plays, epic poems), beginning with
Dante's Inferno and culminating in Michael A. Aquino's The Diabolicon (1970). Short stories and poems are reprinted in their entirety.
anthology of old classics (Aquino is the only living contributor), the
sole original content is Schreck's lengthy Introduction, which is instructive,
if opinionated. Schreck provides historical context for each selection,
but also critiques them from an iconoclastic perspective.
that Schreck admires Satan -- or at least the Satan concept. Schreck
views Satan as a celebration of rebellion, individual liberation, courage,
inspiration to artistic creation. And he argues that many authors
and artists, throughout the centuries, have had "sympathy for the Devil."
the means of access to the Luciferian vision is a profound sense of exile,
a spiritual or physical dislocation that mirrors the Devil's own cosmic
sense of banishment. It is not surprising that the majority of authors
represented here experienced some form of exile during their lives, a radical
disruption from the norm that allowed the effulgence of the black light
to illuminate their work. It could be argued that no truly visionary
achievement is possible without this sense of Luciferian estrangement,
this liberating and individuating isolation that allowed the diabolical
consciousness to flourish. ...
"Whether by dint of their social dissent,
physical infirmity, socially disapproved sexuality, or simply their aesthetic
or spiritual alienation from their respective eras, the one salient characteristic
that most of the authors who speak in Flowers From Hell share is the nobility
that separation from the common man often confers."
does one begin in tracing the Satan character's development? I'd
have begun with the Book
of Job, but while Schreck refers to Job in his Introduction, he does
not include it as a selection. Neither does he excerpt the temptation
of Christ in the desert, nor anything from the Book
of Revelation. Schreck says the Bible (both Old and New Testaments)
gives scant details about Satan, who first appears in Job as "a small-time
emissary of Yahweh, obediently carrying out that wrathful tribal god's
selection in Flowers
From Hell is an excerpt from Dante's Inferno.
Schreck credits Dante with establishing Satan in the Western imagination. (The phrase: "All hope abandon ye who enter here" was coined by
Dante.) Seven hundred years of Satanic depictions (by sincere Satanists,
Christian preachers, heavy metal bands, and horror pulpsmiths) owe a debt
and neo-pagans like to insist that Satan is not a pagan invention, but
wholly a creation of Judaeo-Christianity. But Schreck demonstrates
that Satan is both younger and older than the Bible. For while Dante
created the modern image of Satan, the concept of an evil dark god -- a
malevolent deity in opposition to the established social order -- predates
Judaism. Satan's roots extend into paganism, and probably into prehistory.
Hannes Vatter observed in his 1978 'The
Devil in English Literature' that 'the oldest known deity bearing some
resemblance to our devil is Set or Setekh, the Egyptian god of drought
and tempest. ...
"The Norse Edda provides
us with the trickster god Loki, disobedient commander of Hel's dark forces,
identified with fire and a contentious relation to the All-Father of the
Nordic pantheon. ...
advent added surprisingly little to the ancient mythos of the Dark God,
save for that faith's declaration that the morally ambiguous chthonic deities
of all other religions were now to be considered irredeemably evil.
"This simplistic dualistic understanding of the universe was adopted by
the Hebrew tribes during their Babylonian captivity, when they encountered
the Persian Zoroastrian philosophy. Zoroaster posited a never-ending
war between the good day god Ahura Mazda and his wicked foe, the night
god Ahriman, a conflict that spawned the Judaeo-Christian concept of Absolute
Good and Evil that would blight centuries to come."
spoke of Schreck's iconoclastic perspective. His Introduction evinces
ethical nihilism. He seems opposed not only to "the Judaeo-Christian
concept of Absolute Good and Evil," but to all objective morality. Schreck dismisses "evil" as an "entirely subjective chimera."
Schreck's remark, in context:
moralists, despite the purist of intentions, must ultimately fail to convince
their audiences that 'evil' -- however they may define that entirely subjective
chimera -- is not rather attractive and exciting. The tragic splendor
of the Devil's sullied beauty has proven to be an alluring literary device,
one that conspires time and time again to transform the ultimate villain
into a hero after all."
if evil is an "entirely subjective chimera," then so is good. Morality is illusory. Taken literally, Schreck's words deny any moral
difference between Hitler and Gandhi, between a hate criminal and a hate
believe his own words? Or is he sophomorically trying to irritate
Judaeo-Christian sensibilities, and in so doing, has inadvertently said
more than he meant? I don't know. However, it is noteworthy
that the late Anton Szandor LaVey espoused a similar nihilism in his Satanic
to Dante, Schreck credits three other authors with solidifying the modern
image of Satan: Christopher Marlowe (The
Tragical History of Doctor Faustus), John Milton (Paradise
Lost), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Faust). Schreck writes that their works "are the four foundation stones upon
which the modern Western image of Lucifer has been constructed. Without
this quartet of poetic monoliths, the character of Satan would be nothing
more than a dimly perceived aggregate comprised of a handful of Biblical
references and a few colourful scraps of folklore."
analyzing these four works, Schreck discusses Satan's depiction in Gothic
Romanticism (the literary roots of supernatural horror), and Satan's changing
portrayal by increasingly skeptical modern authors.
the complete list of contributors to Flowers
From Hell: Dante, Christopher Marlowe, John Milton, Johann Wolfgang
von Goethe, William Beckford, Matthew Gregory Lewis, Charles Maturin, Washington
Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Mark
Twain, Anatole France, Max Beerbohm, Aleister Crowley, and Michael A. Aquino.
from Biblical passages, I'd have included excerpts from the Koran (Schreck's Introduction refers to Islam's fallen angel, Eblis), The
Devil and Daniel Webster, Rushdie's Satanic
Verses, and LaVey's Satanic
Bible. (Although the Satanic
Bible was ghost written, LaVey is probably the best known Satanist
among the populace, if not among scholars and occultists.)
From Hell is beautifully bound, on heavy slick paper that will not
yellow. Seventeen full-page, black-and-white Satanic illustrations
through the ages: paintings, wood cuts, and an appropriate Art Nouveau
ink drawing for an excerpt from Crowley's The Black
Schreck is an informed authority on Satanic lore. In this same year,
Creation Books has released another Schreck book: The
Satanic Screen: An Illustrated Guide to the Devil in Cinema. Lavishly illustrated, in keeping with Creation Book's long tradition of
quality film books.
From Hell largely achieves its goal: tracing the literary development
of Satan. One need not be a Satanist or nihilist to find it useful
as a literary reference tool.
of the selections are written in the turgid, wordy, purple prose of centuries
past, teen "Satanists" may find goofy fun in reading aloud passages, but
those of an MTV-attention span will find the book a struggle. Ironically,
brighter teens may turn to the complete Paradise
Lost, their interest having been piqued. Schreck says (hopefully,
one senses) that we are living in a "post-Christian" era. An assertion,
rather than a given -- which Flowers
From Hell may make even less given.
Schreck, who lives in Europe, is doing a book tour in the US this October
Review copyright by Thomas