I read this book not so very long ago (just a few years, I believe) but it is probably much, much older than that. I read it in French but I'm almost sure it was a translation, but probably not from English.

It is a kind of Faustian deal, but instead of his soul the Devil asked the protagonist for his shadow. There is a pseudo-scientific explanation at some point, doctorally stating that a shadow is not the two-dimensional dark area at one's feet but the entire volume comprised between that two-dimensional area and the body itself.

In exchange for this three-dimensional volume of apparent air, the Devil offers the protagonist a choice between various magical objects. One is a purse which, whatever amount you have already extracted, is always full of gold coins; another is a pair of seven-leagues boots. There were more to choose from, but I forgot their properties.

I'm not sure whether the protagonist was allowed two objects at the same time (I think not) or rather was allowed at some point to exchange the purse for the boots. I definitely remember that just after the deal, he became very rich, but he rapidly found out that people were very very wary of men without a shadow and his life was very painful despite all his gold. He kept staying out of the sun to hide his shame. Later, with his boots, he visited the whole world, and though not really happy to live away from humans, at least he had the joys of discovering many places.

The end was rather bitter, it seems to me, but I don't remember the details.

Ah, an amusing detail which I remember though I forgot almost everything else : when he did not want to go to fast, with his seven-leagues boots, he put slippers over them to slow down.


1 Answer 1


This is Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte (Peter Schlemihl's Miraculous Story) (1814).

It was originally written in German by a French aristocrat, Adelbert von Chamisso, also known as Louis Charles Adélaïde de Chamissot.

In the story, Schlemihl sells his shadow to the Devil for a bottomless wallet (the gold sack of Fortunatus), only to find that a man without a shadow is shunned by human societies. The woman he loves rejects him, and he himself becomes consumed with guilt. Yet when the devil wants to return his shadow to him in exchange for his soul, Schlemihl, as the friend of God, rejects the proposal and throws away the bottomless wallet besides. He seeks refuge in nature and travels around the world in scientific exploration, with the aid of seven-league boots. When overtaken with sickness, he is reconciled with his fellow men, who take care of him, and in regard for his sickness do not look for his shadow. Finally, however, he returns to his studies of nature and finds his deepest satisfaction in communion with nature and his own better self.

enter image description here

A translated version is available to read online here.

First, stop-shoes; for I had discovered that, however inconvenient it might be, there was no way of shortening my pace in order to move conveniently in my immediate neighbourhood, except by drawing off my boots. A pair of slippers, however, produced the wished-for effect...

  • 1
    That was fast. You found it in just a few minutes, and your answer checks all my memories. The slippers were fun !
    – Alfred
    Aug 28, 2023 at 14:13
  • @Alfred - You're very welcome
    – Valorum
    Aug 28, 2023 at 14:22
  • 1
    I'm glad you identified this story before I saw the question, so I didn't have to wrack my brain over it. I read it in German in a university class several ages ago.
    – user14111
    Aug 28, 2023 at 23:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.