Twists on the themes of temptation & the corrupting nature of power in spec fiction

Mephistopheles, Lucifer, or is it Beelzebub?
When I first got hired to teach lit at an art college, and specifically Christopher Marlow's Doctor Faustus, I alternately balked and thrilled at the challenge. The story is about a brilliant college prof. who, after earning what is now equivalent to a PhD, is bored and asks the medieval version of "Is this all there is?" He has noble ideas: he wants to enrich public education, find cures for dreadful diseases--even raise the dead. Hey, rewind, please ... you need superpowers for that, right?!

You sure do. Thus, he falls into temptation when he calls up Mephistopheles to grant him these superhuman powers. Dr. Faust thinks he has nothing to worry about. He doesn't believe in the devil, or hell. He's a modern man, a man of science. Damnation, piffle! He makes a vow with the devil's messenger and signs it in blood.

But Faustus soon learns that power corrupts, and there's no taking back his damnable vow. Hey, Mephistopheles warned him. What devil does that? A modern, enlightened devil, that's who!
At any rate, the good, or I should say bad doctor gets his comeuppance.

I was fretting about teaching this book because I don't believe in heaven or hell or the devil or any of that ... well, yeah, piffle. Because I'm a modern agnostic. I just couldn't find a way into this novel. Then, I ran into a prof. who teaches Doctor Faustus at Boston University--one of those weird coincidences that seems ordained by higher spirits--haha. And this cool, witty man totally turned my head around. He chuckled heartily at my whining and replied that one doesn't have to be religious to get into Faust. That it's really about the nature of temptation--on any level--and how we handle that, when no one is watching. It's also about the corrupting nature of power. And how, what people are secretly attracted to can be the same things they condemn! I've been teaching this novel now for eight years. And I love it so much I wrote an homage to it. A twist for the Internet generation, called Dorianna. More on Dorr in a sec. First:

Here are some of the many homages, over time, on the original German Faust myths:
In the time of the Faust myths it was a literal fear of the devil
In Goethe's version, one could actually be redeemed of dreadful sin through love
In Marlow's time the sin was intelligence and arrogance over God.
In Wilde's day the sin was pride of beauty and sexual promiscuity.
In Will Self's day (Dorian, 2002) it was the terror of contracting AIDS
In Dorianna's day (2014/15) it's our obsession with Likes and Internet followers

My YA horror, Dorianna will launch on October 24 with Evernight Teen. It's a twist on the Faust story for the Internet generation. To get details of the launch, FB party and tour, subscribe to my newsletter. Here's a short summary:

Internet followers, beauty, power. It all sounded good. 
Until it transformed into a terrifying reality Dorianna couldn’t stop

Dorianna is a dark twist for the Internet generation on A Picture of Dorian Gray. When her father is jailed, her mother ships lonely, plain Dorianna to her aunt’s. There, Dorianna yearns to build a new identity, but the popular Lacey bullies her—mostly for getting attention from her ex, Ander.
Ander takes Dorianna to Coney Island where Wilson, a videographer, creates a stunning compilation of her. She dreams of being an online sensation, as she’s never even had a birthday party, and vows she’d give anything to go viral. Wilson claims he’s the Prince of Darkness and warns her the pledge has downsides. Dorianna thinks he’s joking. She has no idea of the dire consequences.
She’s thrust into the spotlight, and an incomprehensible nightmare. Not only is she prettier, she’s gaining harmful powers of manipulation. When her powers grow beyond anything she can control, she’s desperate but clueless as to how to stop it.

If you were to do a fresh twist on a classic tale, 
what might it be and why?


  1. What a fascinating twist on a very familiar and salutory tale.
    As a reader, I am often frustrated because the classic stories stop too soon for me. What happens to Sleeping Beauty after she is married (or any of the fairy tales princesses)? Questions like that rattle around in my skull - and have done forever and a day.

  2. Actually, EC, Perrault tells you what happened to Sleeping Beauty. She has an ogress mother in law who tries to eat her children and her. It's the Brothers Grimm version that has the couple riding off into the sunset. :-)

  3. That is awesome! I love the twist you put on the old tale. Can't wait to read it!

  4. Temptation is a tempting subject to toy with in a story. I'm a goner for a good piece of chocolate. Sounds like a great plot you came up with, Catherine.

  5. Very clever, Catherine! It sounds really good. I do have something up my sleeve for a twist on a classic, but I'm sitting on it for now ;)

  6. There's another story that keeps being re-twisted/re-visioned: The old Flowers for Algernon. In last year's Planet of the Apes film, in Her (the reverse of the original plot), in a book by Robert Sawyer that I'll be teaching this fall called www.watch.

  7. Your story sounds wonderful and very appealing for this internet age. I'm not sure what classic I wouldn't mind re-hashing into something new. That gives me something to consider as I shuffle through various story ideas to see what can come of them.

  8. I'd say, but I've already got it pipelined, so mum's the word until it's done. :-P

  9. Very cool, Catherine! Congrats on your upcoming release! I've always enjoyed the Faust tale, particularly Gounod's opera Faust. "Un roi de Thule" from the opera is one of my favorite arias. If I could put a twist on an old tale, I would love to one day write a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic version of Homer's The Iliad.

  10. I only know Goethe's version. Congratulations on the upcoming release.

  11. I love modern twists on the classic tales, especially ones involving Greek mythology. Congrats on Dorianna!

  12. The themes of good vs evil, temptation, and the corrupting nature of power will never grow old since they deal with the gist of human nature and society. I'd have to think on the twist idea. So many have been done already. I'd rather come up with a new approach, but there's nothing new under the sun or so they say.

    Best wishes for the upcoming release.

    Tossing It Out

  13. Good ole Beel is always on our shoulder. I love Faust and thought it quite the well-telled tale. I am glad you are teaching it and it is so true as one just has to look at every day people. How many people have one the big lottery to only lose it all a few years later to do wanting all right away. The newest story sounds quite intriguing and one many girls could relate to actually.

  14. Thanks, Birgit, and everyone who gave me a shoutout for Dorianna. I just started to gather up swag for the launch party, including Edgar Allen Poe bandaids, and T-shirts that say: Dorianna, playing with fire.... it's fun.

  15. Dorian Gray haunted me for years after reading it. Well, it still haunts me as does Faust's deal. Very human, indeed. Both go to the core of us.

  16. Dorianna sounds fantastic! I love horror tales like this. As for fresh twists on classic tales, I can never resist doing this to mythology. It's my weakness! ;)

  17. Lee, it haunted me so much that I had to write about it! Thanks, Heather. I have yet to do a mythology twist.


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