Young Goodman Brown
Sometimes stories themselves have stories. Suppose you were to see a movie or read a book about a group of Satanists or a coven of witches that look and act just like us, who seem perfectly normal, and yet beneath the thin veneer of normalcy they are secretly cavorting with and in the service of pure evil.Ah, you'd say, that sounds just like Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby. And Rosemary's Baby in its turn was much like Val Lewton's The Seventh Victim. And Val Lewton's story was not un-influenced by Universal's The Black Cat. And before The Black Cat there was another story, and another.
Young Goodman Brown, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is perhaps the ur-daddy of the modern Satanic Cult genre. And make no mistake, despite the cod-Puritan English and the early date of its publication (1835), this is decidedly modern work. In its bleak cynicism about society's institutions, in the juxtaposition of horror and the sunshine world of everyday life, and in its nearly cinematic description of a Witch's Sabbath, this story feels much more familiar than many of the works of Hawthorne's contemporary Edgar Allan Poe.
And it's short -- you can easily read the whole thing tonight before you go to bed.
(Oh, and if, after reading the story, you find that sleep eludes you, you might care to check out this beautiful Flash-based online exhibition about Nathaniel Hawthorne, courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum.)