This short story appears in the second volume of the book Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka. Don't let the name fool you, it is not the typical Christmas tale, it is just as weird as another one I recently read, The Christmas Tree and the Wedding. It starts so peacefully, a perfect Christmas depiction. And suddenly, a witch. And then, the Devil, looking for good people to teach them to sin. If it weren't for Gogol's brilliant writing and detailed descriptions that let you enjoy this even more, I'd be bored to death.
The way Gogol described the Devil reminded me of a Disney's devil, you know, the one that appears in the movie Fantasia. I loved that film until the last part, “Night on Bald Mountain”. Oh my, that image freaked me out so bad. But even as a kid, I loved animated films with classical background music. (Yup, I was a very popular kid at school...).
Anyway, this devil hated a blacksmith/artist that painted a well-known picture of Saint Peter and a defeated evil spirit, so he sworn vengeance on this handsome fellow that was in love with a beautiful girl (one of those conceited girls that know they're beautiful but deny their beauty so other people tell them that they are indeed beautiful; a quite annoying habit). Therefore, his evil plan was to steal the moon! And the reason is explained by Gogol in such a funny and delicate manner. And that might be his trademark: being able to write about kind people or bad people with no morals committing questionable or despicable acts but without losing humor nor subtlety.
Just a sample:
The witch, seeing herself suddenly in the dark, cried out. Here the devil, sidling up to her, took her under the arm and started whispering in her ear what is usually whispered to the whole of womankind. Wondrous is the working of the world! All who live in it try to mimic and mock one another. (…) In short, everything tries to get ahead! When will these people cease their vanity! I'll bet many would be surprised to see the devil getting up to it as well. What's most vexing is that he must fancy he's a handsome fellow, whereas—it's shameful to look him in the face. A mug, as Foma Grigorievich says, that's the vilest of the vile, and yet he, too, goes philandering! But it got so dark in the sky, and under the sky, that it was no longer possible to see what went on further between them.
An incisive yet funny portrayal of human behavior; no doubt.
Again, not the typical Christmas tale, and I love Gogol for that.