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A few years ago, I started reading the Hellblazer comic-book series, and while I enjoyed it a lot, I felt that the concept of a human being tricking demons (something the character Constantine is quite good at) felt somehow familiar – but after a few years, I still can't find why.

I'm wondering if this concept of a human being tricking demons or evil spirits (instead of the traditional "demons tricking humans" concept) comes from folklore or from some particular story, or if Hellblazer is the first instance of this idea. (Which would surprise me, to be honest.)

I'm not looking for a character exactly like Constantine, e.g. the character who tricks demons doesn't have to have some sort of magic powers – just tricking evil spirits or demons with wit is enough.

I'm looking for the oldest instance(s) of this idea; if the idea has been developed independently in different cultures, I'm interested in that too.


For the definition of "demon", I simply refer to the definition of the Wikipedia article on it (but I don't have a very strict criteria, so if you have a different criteria than that, I'd be interested to hear about it):

A demon is a malevolent supernatural entity.

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    "The Devil and Daniel Webster" might serve as a starting point, either to set the goal or to understand why it doesn't count. Dec 27, 2023 at 20:17
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    @CristobolPolychronopolis which is based on an older Washington Irving story, "The Devil and Tom Walker". I wouldn't be surprised if something fitting the description is in The Odyssey or Gilgamesh...
    – Shawn
    Dec 28, 2023 at 0:03
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    tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DidYouJustScamCthulhu has a lot of examples.
    – Shawn
    Dec 28, 2023 at 0:08
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    Gawain tricks the other-worldly Green Knight.
    – JohnHunt
    Dec 28, 2023 at 4:00
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    @JohnHunt I didn't know the story before, After reading a bit about it, as far as I understand it, it turns out that eventually it's Gawain who's tricked (from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Gawain_and_the_Green_Knight : «He [The Green Knight] explains that the entire adventure was a trick of the unnamed "elderly lady" Gawain saw at the castle, who is the sorceress Morgan le Fay [...]»), but as the story contains the idea of tricking the Green Knight, I'd accept it if you post it as an answer (even if I find it debatable that Gawain was really successful at his attempt to trick).
    – J-J-J
    Dec 28, 2023 at 9:33

2 Answers 2

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Inspired by a comment from @shawn, I looked for references to tricking demons in the Ballad of Gilgamesh, and was able to find:

The lord to the Living One's Mountain and Ho, hurrah! correspond to the Cedar Forest episode (Standard Babylonian version tablets II–V). Gilgamesh and Enkidu travel with other men to the Forest of Cedar. There, trapped by Huwawa, (spoiler alert if you've been meaning to read it)

Gilgamesh tricks him (with Enkidu's assistance in one of the versions) into giving up his auras, thus losing his power.

Huwawa is another name for Humbaba, described as:

...a figure in Mesopotamian mythology. The origin and meaning of his name are unknown. He was portrayed as an anthropomorphic figure comparable to an ogre, giant or demon.

I dare anyone to beat that!

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  • Amazing, thanks! Next time I have a question like that, I'll check if it's in the epic of Gilgamesh before asking about it :)
    – J-J-J
    Dec 28, 2023 at 16:21
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Grimms Fairy Tales: 1812 - 1858

Der Bauer und der Teufel (The Peasant and the Devil)

In Germany there is a tale about a farmer, making a deal with the/a devil. The farmer will get everything growing above the soil, and the devil all within the soil. The farmer plants corn. The devil wants to do it again, but this time the devil wants to swap and the farmer plants beets…

So I assume the "tricking evil spirits" is a very old motive in human tales.

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    Rumpelstiltskin!
    – Lexible
    Dec 28, 2023 at 22:28
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    This one was simple very lonely ^^ and also so much sure of his own, that it gave the solution itself... Dec 29, 2023 at 8:44

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