A Bride for the Devil by Stuart Palmer from Vol 1, Num 1, 1949
Emily Parkinson, a rich, bored woman, buys an ancient scroll from her favorite antiques dealer, because he tells her that it’s a ritual for summoning Satan written on real human skin. And he’s not even lying! She asks him to translate it, and he does.
Together, they form a “Satanist Society,” the membership of which is a gaggle of other bored rich women who follow Emily on her various supernatural phases. They gather the ingredients (the blood of still-born babies proves difficult but not impossible to acquire) and finally come together for the ritual.
Dr. Baynard, the dealer, preforms the ritual, reciting the names of the devil and saying the Lord’s Prayer backwards. When he finishes, there is silence, and Emily thinks it’s failed. She turns to console her followers, but they’re all staring, horrified, at something in the middle of the pentagram. It’s a disgusting creature, anthropomorphic but also frog-like, scabby, oily, and dripping.
It jumps onto Emily, riding her “as a rodeo performer rides a bucking horse” around the room and then out into the night. She was never seen nor heard from again.
Fun fact: This is the first story in this project where I’d heard of the author. I’d never read anything by him, but the name rang a bell. Per Google, he was a popular writer of screenplays and mystery novels. So that’s cool!
Overall, most of this story is just garden-variety good. Good writing, good story, good characters. Nothing that really bugged me, but nothing that I want to spend time extolling the virtues of, either.
There was one stand-out scene, though! As Emily and Dr. Baynard are preforming the ritual, all of the rich women who are part of the “Satanist Society” picture what they expect to appear. The diversity of images of the devil is the coolest thing about the story. Full disclosure: I’m Jewish, and we don’t have a devil in our theology, so I’d never put much thought into the depictions of Satan. Is he Pan with horns and hooves or Lucifer, a tragically beautiful fallen angel? Does he have a mustache to twirl or a contract to sign? I wish more time had been spent on this moment, because it was absolutely fascinating.
The other aspect of the story that I found interesting was the creative ways they found to modernize the ritual and its ingredients. Replacing unicorn horn with rhino horn because “what was the fabled beast but the result of garbled tales brought back to Europe from Africa by someone who had met someone who had seen a rhino?” Isn’t that clever? I feel like there’s a lot of potential for other stories in that one idea.
We’re clearly supposed to laugh at Emily Parkinson for her foolishness and search for distraction in Satanism and think that she deserves what she got, but it’s hard to tell exactly what we’re making fun of her for. Is the thesis that women are frivolous and kind of shitty or that rich people are? Or that this attitude is a perfect storm the “worst parts” of femininity and wealth? I’m legitimately not sure. It definately comes off as sexist, but I can’t bring myself to be too mad at it, because I have a little bit of that “fuck the 1%” attitude myself.
That said, Emily gets one (1) feminism point* for having just a heck ton of agency. She makes her own decisions, and she makes sure that her commands are carried out. The other women seem to only follow in her wake, though, so it’s a bit of a wash.
And just to nitpick, at one point the narrator points out that villains are more memorable than heroes with the example, “who battled with Quasimodo?” Um?? I grant you that I haven’t read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I was pretty sure that Quasimodo is a protagonist! Was this a common interpretation of the novel back in the day?
Final Word: Does it hold up? Yes/No/Sorta
This is a fun little story but not quite substantive enough to reccomend wholeheartedly.
*to avoid falling under Poe’s Law, I want to clarify that feminism points do not exist and that feminism cannot be quantified like that. I used the phrase because I think it’s funny.