Doktor Faust und Mephisto
First edition cover
|Publisher||110th / Satzweiss|
|13 Jan 2013|
|Media type||E-Book, kindle|
Doktor Faust und Mephisto is a 2013 novel by German novelist Albrecht Behmel; it is a modernist take on the medieval German drama about a scholar who promised and sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for wisdom, lust and power. The novel picks up some central plot points and elements from Goethe e.g. the feast at Mt. Blocksberg and the Grete character but differs from this 1808 play in that it has a happy ending.
Doctor Heinrich Faust is a confused and frustrated professor and alchemist at the University of Heidelberg in the year 1508. Mephistopheles, a smart, cynical but bonvivant devil, sent by the Good Lord himself, shows up and offers Faust a wager: happiness, power and love in exchange for his soul. Faust, a bachelor and, in fact, a virgin agrees. Due to an accident caused by Faust's clumsy assistant Famulus Wagner, the contract does not get signed in blood as is customary with devil's pacts but in fresh strawberry jam. For that reason Mephisto's magic cannot work properly. The two set out on a medieval road trip through Germany to Leipzig and famously Auerbachs Keller where Mephisto attempts to instruct Faust on how to consume alcohol like a proper medieval gentleman – all goes well until the local regulars show up. Next day, Faust und Mephisto travel to a mythical forest to consult an old witch about women and love potions. Sceptical Faust, still suffering from a severe hangover swallows the love potion, which was meant for external use only and consequently falls in love with himself – which is the requirement for true love. After that, Faust meets Margarete, aka Grete, the "most beautiful virgin in all the world" who happens to live in the world's dullest village. Before the two can fall in love however, Mephisto's dysfunctional magic causes a major embarrassment for Faust during a hedonistic picnic involving the love potion, torches and Grete's dachshund. Hurting, Faust flees to Mt. Brocken never wanting to return and see Grete again. Yet, during the ensuing orgies Faust realizes that he is actually in love with her. Therefore, he makes Mephisto take him back to Margarete who, because of her association with Faust, has been wrongly accused of witchcraft and got thrown into jail by her self-righteous neighbors and relatives. Now, Faust and Mephisto hasten to the rescue using tremendously speedy horses from hell. Margarete's best friend, a cougar named Frau Marte, also incarcerated, throws an eye on Mephisto and comes up with a surprisingly logical solution for the problem of the soul-contract that sends the devil back to hell – as her own beloved husband and, more importantly, servant. With Mephisto gone, Faust is free to marry beautiful Grete.
Diversions from historical facts
In the novel Faust's name is Heinrich as opposed to the historical Johann Georg Faust who reportedly lived and died in Staufen, not in Heidelberg. Yet historical Faust appears in the University's chronicles as a student and scholar but not as a member of the faculty. In the novel, Doctor Heinrich Faust causes the destruction of the famous Heidelberg castle in his alchemistic quest for gold. 
Doktor Faust und Mephisto is both a parody of Goethe's 1808 poem and a stand-alone work of comedic, satirical fantasy-fiction. It could be also argued that it is a campus novel in the sense that it describes the pitfalls of academic careers in an ancient institution like Heidelberg University, the author's alma mater.
The book is set in the early years of the 16th century in southern and eastern Germany, then known as the Holy Roman Empire. Heidelberg, Leipzig and Mt. Brocken also known as Blocksberg are the only non-fictional locations. Other regions however are mentioned, e.g. Austria, the river Rhine, Berlin or the North Sea.
The novel features some of the better known characters from Goethe's poem but adds many new ones, like Faust's pessimistic mother, greedy minor royalty and magical folk.
- Heinrich Faust, a naive and somewhat morose scholar who knows little about the real world. His unhappiness makes him ready for a contract with the devil.
- Mephisto is a lesser devil or perhaps a harmless manifestation of evil who has access to Heaven and the Lord. A gambler and womanizer by nature he makes a perfect counterpart for inexperienced Faust.
- Famulus Wagner, Faust's lazy and incompetent but down to earth assistant at the University.
- Margarete, the most beautiful girl in the world according to an old witch in the magic forest. She still lives with her mother, a bigot.
- Marte Schwerdtlein, Margarete's middle-aged best friend who falls for Mephisto who had previously had her husband killed.
- Faust's nagging mother
- Margarete's mother
- Giant Gottlieb, a hellish butler
- The kind-hearted Gaoler
- Susie, a feline witch of witch mountain
- Helen of Troy summoned by Mephisto
- The Good Lord in Heaven
- Archangelina Michaela, his best student
Genesis and composition
Behmel started working on the manuscript during the last months of his studies at Heidelberg University in 1996 as a short story university satire and a fantasy comedy but abandoned the project when he left Heidelberg. In 2003 he finished it but it was rejected by several major German publishing houses until it was finally released, now a full novel, by German publisher Satzweiss in 2013. 
Language and style
Some of the major German dialects are portrayed in idiosyncratic transcription resulting in puns, oblique grammar, spoonerisms and malapropisms. The narration establishes a mix of academic slang, 19th century High German, fantasy jargon, romance parlance and various kinds of assorted modern German street-slangs. The author uses special characters and fonts to craft a character's way of talking. Linguistically, the novel draws from a plethora of dialects and slangs, both modern and medieval. While all major characters express themselves in standard High-German most of the time, most of the minor characters were given a distinctive regional twang. In the novel, altered states of consciousness like being drunk in love or bewitched are expressed by altered states of spelling, formatting and punctuation. Mock-Latin and Greek phrases and words appear in descriptions of academic life and traditions.
Allusions within the book
The novel offers numerous quotes and intentional misquotes and typos by Goethe not exclusively from Faust: First Part of the Tragedy. For example: "Mehr Licht!" ("more light!") a phrase Goethe is reported to have uttered on his death-bed. Other adaptations of Faust like the 1926 film by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau or Klaus Mann's Mephisto and Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus or Marlowe's are irreverently referred to as well.
The book's cover and inside illustrations were provided by German designer Christoph Tänzer. The illustrations show Faust, Grete and Mephisto but also some of the minor characters like Grete's dachshund and Wagner and Susie the promiscuous witch. The illustrations appear at random intervals throughout the book.
- Deal with the Devil
- Works based on Faust
- Pan Twardowski
- Eric, parody novel by Terry Pratchett
- Jonathan Moulton, the "Yankee Faust"
- "The Faustian Century: German Literature and Culture in the Age of Luther and Faustus." Ed. J.M. van der Laan and Andrew Weeks. Camden House, 2013. ISBN 1-57113-552-9, ISBN 978-1-57113-552-0.
- Faust on In Our Time at the BBC. (listen now)
- Doktor Faust und Mephisto at DMOZ
- Faust Study Guide
- The Faust Tradition from Marlowe to Mann, California State University, Chico
- Pacts with the Devil: Faust and Precursors
- Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe at Project Gutenberg
- Tragical History of Dr. Faustus at Project Gutenberg (Quarto of 1604)
- Tragical History of Dr. Faustus at Project Gutenberg (Quarto of 1616)
- Geiges, Leif (1981), Faust's Tod in Staufen: Sage – Dokumente. Freiburg im Breisgau: Kehrer Verlag KG
- Author's Blog