Typos are the very devil

Tom Gauld in the 11/27 New Scientist (on-line on 11/24):

(#1) (on the New Scientist site:) “Tom Gauld makes a deal with the devil, with a soupy twist”

Three things: the Faustian bargain; versions of the story (tons of them); and the typo.

The Faustian bargain. From the Britannica site:

Faustian bargain, a pact whereby a person trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for some worldly or material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches. The term refers to the legend of Faust (or Faustus, or Doctor Faustus), a character in German folklore and literature, who agrees to surrender his soul to an evil spirit (in some treatments, Mephistopheles, or Mephisto, a representative of Satan) after a certain period of time in exchange for otherwise unattainable knowledge and magical powers that give him access to all the world’s pleasures. A Faustian bargain is made with a power that the bargainer recognizes as evil or amoral. Faustian bargains are by their nature tragic or self-defeating for the person who makes them, because what is surrendered is ultimately far more valuable than what is obtained, whether or not the bargainer appreciates that fact.

Versions of the story. The Wikipedia Faust article starts its summary of the history:

The Faust of early books — as well as the ballads, dramas, movies, and puppet-plays which grew out of them — is irrevocably damned because he prefers human to divine knowledge: “he laid the Holy Scriptures behind the door and under the bench, refused to be called doctor of theology, but preferred to be styled doctor of medicine”. Plays and comic puppet theatre loosely based on this legend were popular throughout Germany in the 16th century, often reducing Faust and Mephistopheles to figures of vulgar fun. The story was popularised in England by Christopher Marlowe, who gave it a classic treatment in his play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (whose date of publication is debated, but likely around 1587). In Goethe’s reworking of the story two hundred years later, Faust becomes a dissatisfied intellectual who yearns for “more than earthly meat and drink” in his life.

And goes on to enumerate treatments of the story in various media and many variants, including this rather overwrought movie (which has become a cult classic):

(#2) Theatrical release poster

Phantom of the Paradise is a 1974 American rock musical horror comedy film written and directed by Brian De Palma and scored by and starring Paul Williams.

… The story is a loosely adapted mixture of several classic European works: Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera, Oscar Wilde’s 1890 The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Faust by Goethe / Christopher Marlowe. [AZ: I suggest letting that sentence just sink in slowly. Well, what to expect in an American rock musical horror comedy film?]

Then the typo. Gauld’s wonderful conceit, that the devil’s contract had a P instead of an L, so that Faust bargained away his (immortal?) SOUP instead of his SOUL, immediately struck a chord — a delight of my early teen years, when an absorption with the novels of Isaac Asimov led me to the weird and delightful short stories of Fredric Brown (1906-72),  one of which I remember in some detail: “The Angelic Angleworm”. It was in fact an Angelworm. There were problems with the celestial compositor, the heavenly linotype machine. (A copy of the story should arrive at my house on Saturday, so that I can refresh my memories from nearly 70 years ago.)

2 Responses to “Typos are the very devil”

  1. J+B+Levin Says:

    1. “rather overwrought movie” is masterful understatement.
    2. Fredric Brown has been a favorite since I was in high school – not 70 years ago, but getting there. He wrote a few non-SF mystery novels (the title “Mrs. Murphy’s Underpants” – derived from the song parody “Who Put the Fire Ants in Mrs. Murphy’s Underpants” – is memorable, if the story isn’t as much), but the short stories were my favorite part of his writing. Also, I learned a lot about Linotype machines; besides the story you mentioned was also “Etaoin Shrdlu”. Printing presses and small-town newspapers figured in a lot of his writing. And his story “Arena” became the popular original Star Trek episode of the same name.
    Sorry – you strongly triggered some memories.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      1. Thank you. I spent quite a lot of time framing that description. The movie is over the top stylistically in much the same way as the movie of Tommy or (the masterpiece of the genre) Rocky Horror, but as I remember it, isn’t nearly as narratively coherent as they are. But I haven’t viewed Phantom of the Paradise in a very long time; maybe I should experience it again, through my much older eyes.

      2. I did consider whether I should mention “Etaoin Shrdlu”, from which I learned about ETAOIN SHRDLU well before I went on to work on a newspaper and saw the machinery in operation (and got to meet the craftsmen who operated them).

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