First published in May of 2012, ‘The Devil: A Very Short Introduction’ was written by Dr Darren Oldridge (a senior lecturer at the University of Worcester) who has written extensively on religion in the early modern period – in particular with the depiction of evil.  As such, Oldridge was perfectly suited to write this introductory overview of ‘The Devil’ for inclusion in the Oxford Books ‘A Very Short Introduction’ range.

The book is essentially broken up into four distinctly separate sections.  Along with a short introduction to the topic (and to the book itself) as well as an even briefer concluding chapter, the sections are:

Introduction – 19 pages
A Short History Of Satan – 26 pages
The Devil And Humankind – 27 pages
Depicting The Devil – 17 pages
The Devil Today – 12 pages
Conclusion – 3 pages

So what does the book offer up?  Firstly, it should be pointed out that Oldridge is exclusively writing about the Christian Devil, and not a devil figure in any other form of religion.  Oldridge begins the somewhat mammoth task of condensing down ‘who’, and ‘what’ the devil is, how this demonic character has changed throughout the ages, along with the impact this key-mythical figure has had on society.

The book takes us from the time of Jesus Christ’s initial following and on to when The Devil was undoubtedly most prominent – that of the European Medieval period.  Throughout this, Oldridge references a plethora of historians, writers, philosophers, poets and key historical figures to create a well-informed picture of how this dark figure has evolved, both in a spiritual sense as well as in a social/cultural context.

And then over the following two-thousand odd years since Christianity’s Devil was first really established in any substantial historical records, Oldridge gathers together passages of text, paintings and historical/environmental influences, to paint a vivid picture and interesting timeline for the evolving life of this particular dominating figure.

Interesting philosophical views on what the Devil is in essence (and what the Devil is not) are brought into the debate.  Ideas that have been pondered throughout the history of this key character – which are briefly (and I really do mean briefly) explored.  The notion that Satan is built from the absence of faith; a dark void which instead of having a purpose, in fact has the mirror opposite.  The Devil detracts and destroys rather than having a creative and developmental purpose.

From the history and theorising on what the Devil is Oldridge takes the character into the modern age, where a host of questions are raised as to the modern-day interpretation of The Father of Lies.  Transposing this demonic character onto the tragic backdrop of 9/11, terrorist warfare and the (almost contagious) fascism that was at the root of WWII, is quite haphazardly touched upon.  The ideas brought into question never really fitting as tightly as they had with the author’s primary area of expertise – that of earlier history.  

However, as the book continues, the reader is then shown the Devil brought forward into modern-day society; within the media, films, and the diluted-down caricature of the once-powerful-demon that is now so often portrayed in a glamorous and almost family-friendly light.

As a whole, the book is short and immediate, with a tight constraint put on condensing down every aspect of the subject, making for a light and thought-provoking introduction to the topic that is as easily digestible as it is informative.  So much is touched upon in the book, the sheer speed at which each point is addressed, merely illuminates further how expansive this topic is.  And as such, if the reader’s interest was spiked enough, Oldridge provides a ‘References and Further Reading’ section that is thoughtfully broken down to reflect the chapters covered in this introductory book.

The book runs for a total of 121 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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