Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Devils Sooty Brother or Work is hell!

Christmas is almost upon us and in my country it means BBQs, cricket on the beach and singing about all those lovely carols how cold and deep the snow is and Santa has to wrap up warm to deliver presents.

So it's a good job that I stumbled across this little gem when I did because my version of the nativity was going nowhere fast.
    Inkeeper: We don't often get mothers of potential deities in here
    Mary: At these prices I'm not surprised.
Better to leave it on the cutting room floor and spare myself a lifetime of dodging lightening bolts addressed to “That smartarse who thinks he can make fun of my mum”

It's actually one of The Brothers Grimm stranger stories, it doesn't follow the rule of three [1] that so many of their stories do, except in the most roundabout way and I suspect that the only child that was given this as a bedtime story grew up to be Hannibal Lector.
Its another one that will most likely never get past the doors of Disney [2] But that's not a bad thing because this is clearly a more of a Mike Mignola type story anyway.

There was once a soldier who had been discharged from the army, for reasons that were never actually made clear, he had nothing to live on and did not know how to make his way in the world.  While he walked through the forest he met a little man who turned out to be the devil.

Hi Devil” the soldier said calmly enough
Damn” replied the devil who had been hoping to spring the surprise himself “it's the pitchfork isn't it? I knew I should have left it behind. Anyway, I was just sitting here minding my own business when you walked by looking sad. Whats got you down friend?” [3]
I'm hungry” the soldier replied, completely ignoring the prompt that would have turned this into a musical number “but broke”
That's fixed easily enough. Hire yourself to me as my serving-man and I promise that you shall have enough for all your life.”
That sounds like a good deal”
The devil smiled like the slimier kind of used car salesman “Of course it is. All I ask is seven years and then you'll be free [4] My only condition is that you must not wash, comb, trim or cut your hair and nails. You can't even wipe the water from your eyes”
That's an amazingly specific list sir. I take it there’s a union?”
“Naturally. I am the devil after all” [5]

The pair shook hands to seal the pact and the devil led the soldier down into hell. When they arrived at the devils house he received his list of duties.
Official list of hell duties:
  • Keep the house clean
  • Drive all the sweepings behind the doors and make sure that everything is kept in order
  • Poke the fire under the kettles where the hell-broth was stewing.
  • Collect the mail
  • Walk the Dog
  • Maintain the garden
  • Manage my downloads
As can be expected the list went on for a while but the top three were the most important and the devil strongly cautioned him against looking inside the kettles.
No prob boss. You can count on me” and the soldier got on with the work while the devil went out again on his wanderings.

When the devil returned he had a good look round and appeared satisfied with the soldiers work and left once he had remembered that he was running late for an appointment in Georgia. [6]
Left to his own devices the soldier looked at the huge kettles and, overcome with curiosity, looked inside each one.
Inside the first was his former corporal who looked decidedly uncomfortable. Inside the second was his former ensign who wasn't having such an easy time of it either. Finally inside the third kettle was his former general. He closed the kettles up and made the fires hotter and hotter since these three had once delighted in making his own water very hot indeed.

Time passed and for seven years he didn't wash or cut his hair and the seven years seemed so short to him that he thought he had only been there half a year.
Well soldier what have you done?” the devil asked one day
Everything on the list. Poked the fire, swept the dirt behind the doors, walked the dog and got your mail”
Anything interesting in there?”
Just some bills. Price of coal has gone up again”
And they call me evil” the devil shuddered “It's been seven years since we met and don't bother denying that you didn't look in the kettles because I've got the whole father of lies thing sewn up tight. I'll just say that it's a good job that you kept on making the flames larger and hotter because otherwise you would have paid with your life. Anyway, now that your time is up will you go home again?”
I will” said the soldier “my father hasn't heard from me all this time so I'd better drop in and say hello”
Very well. In order that you may receive the wages you've earned in my service [7] go and fill your knapsack full of the sweepings and take it home with you. Also you must remain in your unwashed state and when anyone asks where you're from you've got to say 'from hell' if they ask who you are you must tell them 'I am the devil's sooty brother, and my king as well'”

The soldier held his tongue as he collected the sweepings from behind the door, added a few more logs to the kettles and left thinking that all he'd been tricked by his friend into working for this muck. When he returned to the forest he looked in his bag and discovered that his sweepings had become pure gold. He felt bad about what he had been thinking and whistled happily as he entered the town.

From whence you came?” called the landlord in fear of this horrible man who looked like a particularly badly made scarecrow
From hell” the soldier replied as the devil had instructed him
Who are you then?”
I'm the devil's sooty brother, and my king as well”
You're a loony” the innkeeper said to himself “but a loony with money and that means he's just eccentric”
Our friend the soldier made certain he had the best meal and rooms in the place which was easy since very few people wanted to spend a night under the same roof as the devils brother.
Finally he lay down to sleep but during the night the innkeeper stole his gold filled knapsack.
Of course the theft was discovered in the morning and the soldier returned to hell and talked with his old boss about the problem.

Sit down soldier boy” the devil said and for the first time in seven years the man was made clean, neat and tidy. “now you go back to the inn and tell the keeper to return your gold or else I'll fetch him and he can work for me”
So the soldier went to the landlord and threatened him with servitude to the devil if the gold wasn't returned right bleeding now.He left the inn with a bad review, all of his gold and all of the innkeepers gold as well.

On his way home he strolled about making music, since the devil, as we all know, has the best tunes it had made sense to spend some time learning them.
It was a good thing that he had because a king heard his music and was so delighted with his playing that he promised him his eldest daughter in marriage.
Give me to that common muck and I'll kill myself” the eldest daughter proclaimed and looked around for a divan upon which to suitably languish.
So the king gave the soldier his youngest daughter who was happy to please her father and when the king died the devils sooty brother inherited the throne. [8]
The end.

  • The devils kettles:
    It's a nice setup. On the one hand if the devil says don't do this then you probably should but on the other hand he's your boss and you have to obey his orders. Either way he wins.
  • The men in the kettles:
    The three men who had made his life as a soldier hell just happen to be in the kettles? Methinks the devil didn't choose this soldier at random.
  • and the seven years seemed so short to him that he thought he had only been there half a year”
    this suggests that he enjoyed his work a lot I think we can take it as a truth that this guy wasn't going to be very nice even without the devils job.
    In fact we could go so far as to say that, by keeping him in hell and away from humanity, the devil of our tale is actually the good guy of the story. Um, yay?
  • Don't wash or cut your hair...
    I'm pretty certain that the devil was just messing with him. But could this be something deeper? Perhaps an attempt to make him look as ugly on the outside as he was on the inside?
  • Why did the soldier return to hell when his money was stolen?
    He might have resolved the matter by dropping the devils name into the conversation like so.
    “You know my brother, the devil, gave me that bag of money and I'm sure that Old Scratch, isn't going to like the fact that someone has taken it. Lets also not forget that his old boss sees everything that happens in the world and some of his staff are taking notes about things that people have done. Hint bloody hint mate”

    On top of that he's a soldier.  Any soldier who knows that someone has pinched his money, especially a sack full of gold, isn't going to bother with the law when there's such a thing as a rampage.
Its difficult to know what to make of this one and since it ends so abruptly I wouldn't be surpised if there was a part two floating around out there.

I think my biggest question is what exactly are the devils motives here?
He gets a serving-man for seven years but what is he really after?  The more I think about this the more I think that the whole thing was the devil using the soldier to scare an innkeeper into living a good life.
But how mean and nasty do you have to be before the man in the striped pyjamas looks up and says "Damn me [9] If I don't do something then this guy will be coming down here for sure"

  1. Three brothers, three godmothers, three this, three that. You get the picture.
  2. Unless there is one heck of a Christmas party the night before.
  3. Cavet! The devil calls everyone friend, be wary of this.
  4. “You'll also have a hard time explaining this to Saint Peter but I didn't say that”
  5. Boom Boom!
  6. He'd been practising and was confident of winning back his golden fiddle.
  7. Your completely voluntary service to the prince of darkness that is.
  8. And there was much rejoicing because nobody wanted to be the one that wasn't rejoicing hard enough. Not with the devils sooty brother sitting on the throne and watching everyone.
  9. Again


  1. I live in cold country for Christmas. I'd love to trade with you just once and experience bbq's in the sunshine.

  2. Just come on down. Bring a pavlova and you're assured of a welcome at any home the land.