The Devil Take Tom Walker

You don’t need me to tell you that Washington Irving (1783-1859) is a famous American author.  In school most of us read at least one of his short stories–“The Devil and Tom Walker”,“Rip Van Winkle”, or “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.  

Stories where the devil offers a deal in exchange for a man’s soul are common. The deal is made, but then the man (or woman) thinks better of the bargain and tries to cheat the devil.  Sometimes he succeeds like Johnny does in the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”.  Although the devil has preyed upon Johnny’s weakness, pride, Johnny’s arrogance is proved valid when he defeats the devil in a fiddle duel.

Washington Irving’s Tom Walker is not as lucky or clever as Johnny. Miserable, miserly Tom Walker has no God-given talent coming to his aid.  To escape his bargain with the devil, Tom “prayed loudly and strenuously, as if heaven were to be taken by force of lungs.”  Do Tom’s prayers save him?  Irving’s story is well worth the read if you are unsure of the answer.

Folktales are stories that have been passed orally down through generations.  By this definition “The Devil and Tom Walker ” does not qualify as a folktale since it is written.  But, this story, and others like it, are based upon the same traditions, themes, and morals as the older tales.  Maybe they can be categorized as folk narratives, a much broader genre that covers myths, fairy tales, and jokes. 

I define my own narrative, The Devil and Ella Davis, as a folktale novel.  Ella Davis is abducted from her middle age back to her youth in order to pay her great grandmother’s debt to the devil.  Although my tale is influenced by time travel and alternate history fiction, its Irving-inspired title aims to establish it as a folk legend.  

Let all the griping money-brokers lay this story to heart. 

— Narrator in “The Devil and Tom Walker”

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