It’s a little unsettling when you discover you are looking at the house where a fictional character died. Fictional characters aren’t supposed to have lived, let alone died. Especially not gruesome deaths and a whispered deal with the Devil.
In the German town of Staufen, at the edge of the Black Forest, not far from the Swiss border sits the Hotel zum Lowen. There, in 1540, Johann Georg Faust died while conducting an alchemical experiment.
I’ve never read Christopher Marlowe or Johannes Goethe’s works (I know, I’m cultural ignorant), but I have heard of them of course. And the tale of a man making a deal with the Devil has become fairly common in literature. But I had assumed that the Dr. Faustus character they both used was fiction. Bad assumption as it turns out. There really was a Dr. Faust.
I won’t give you the details of his career. They seem to be a little murky anyway. I gather a lot of records were destroyed in the 17th century. I suppose I could make something up – you wouldn’t be able to prove I was wrong. But I won’t do that.
Discovering Faust was real though got me to thinking about how often the lines blur between reality and fiction. I don’t normally think of it in terms of historical works (though their accuracy might be a little questionable at times), but I do see it on a regular basis as an observer of political life.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was labeled “Lyin’ Brian” during his term of office because of his seemingly casual relationship with the truth. I don’t think Mulroney ever understood why he was given that nickname – in his mind he scrupulously adhered to the truth. The problem was, the reality of his mind was not the reality the rest of the world experienced. More than 20 years after Mulroney left office, nothing much has changed. Canadian politicians today offer mutual exclusive competing realities. Perhaps all of those are fiction.
Did Faust really make a deal with the Devil? I guess there are no records to show one way or the other. Local tradition seems to indicate that if he didn’t make one, he certainly tried. By all accounts he came to a horrible end. That is a warning to us all in our dealings with the supernatural.