The two parts of Faust, by Goethe, are actually two separate stage plays. Excuse me for treating them as fiction, but these are only tangentially plays, in my view. Not impossible to stage, but you’d chase your audience off pretty darn quick if you tried to put them up, I’m thinking. I’m sure people have. But Goethe was not particularly concerned with conflict here, nor continuity, cohesion nor any of the other C’s authors are taught to consider. As fiction, however, they work for me as modernist, experimental works.
Goethe plunges into what makes a man good or evil. Is it simply being flawed? Lustful? Careless? If so, then his character Faust would seem doomed to be hauled off to hell by the demon Mephistopheles. He is careless of those he loves, but his interest is in experiencing human existence to its fullest. His deal with the devil isn’t really a contract, per se, (many of the mechanical aspects of the play were very hard to interpret. I recommend time with a knowledgeable interpreter; for me that was George Priest) but more of a bet: ‘if you ever catch me sloughing off, you can haul me off to Hades,’ is a rough interpretation of part of it. Very different than the popular understanding of the deal, I think.
There are long, dreary stretches where it is very hard to understand how what is happening on the page has anything to do with the main action of the work. But these are also the parts where Goethe wrestles most directly with the big questions of life, so it’s all a case of what’s to your taste.
So if you like thinking about the nature of reality, of humanity, of hope and despair, this might be the story for you. But be aware you will be running down endless rabbit holes inhabited by Helen of Troy, Paris, and countless other classical personages unfamiliar to all but a few of us. The language, in translation anyway, is beautiful, the storytelling abysmal. Maybe that’s appropriate. I’m glad I read it, but the story begs for someone to come along and update it. I’d say, wait for the movie.
Happy Reading, Happy Writing,
P M F Johnson
Call of the Labyrinth, the latest novel in my Saga of Sinnesemota fantasy series, follows Rev and his fiancee Stara on a quest through a deadly jungle as they hunt the magical Labyrinth, hoping to reestablish peace in a time of war. You can find this rousing tale, as well as Disk of Dragons and Trollen Rose, the first novels in the series, on Amazon. Check them out.
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