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[GUEST POST] Jill Archer Asks: What Is It With The Devil And Violins?

Jill Archer is the author of the Noon Onyx series, genre-bending fantasy novels about a post grad magic user and her off-campus adventures. DARK LIGHT OF DAY and FIERY EDGE OF STEEL, the first two books in the series are available now from Ace. The third book, WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE, will be released May 27, 2014. Jill lives in Maryland with her husband and two children. She can be found online at

What Is It With The Devil And Violins?

by Jill Archer

Originally, the titles for my books were riffs on common sayings associated with the devil. Dark Light of Day was “The Demon’s Advocate.” Fiery Edge of Steel was “The Demon You Know.” And White Heart of Justice was “The Demon Went Down to Jorja.” Yeah, I know. I’m pretty sure my editor groaned the loudest about that last one. In any case, its original working title isn’t the only violin or fiddle reference that White Heart of Justice has and there’s a reason for it. Being a former fiddler myself, I’ve always been fascinated by the association between the devil and the violin.

I was ten years old when the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” was released by the Charlie Daniels Band. It has a certain notoriety now that it didn’t have (obviously) when it was first released. Even then, I was fascinated by tales of arguable sinners battling baddies bigger than they and winning. Johnny’s bet was jaw-droppingly audacious and his fiddle playing was grinningly addictive. When the time came round for the kids in my class to select the musical instrument they would learn in 6th grade, my choice was clear – the violin.

I wish I could segue into the next part of this post by claiming I mastered the instrument and that it served as inspiration for all sorts of later creative endeavors, including some of the research I did for White Heart of Justice, but I can’t. Truth is, I wasn’t very good – because playing the violin is hard. And playing the fiddle is harder. And playing the fiddle well…well, that’s harder still.

Still…I remain fascinated.

A deal with the devil is an old story motif. Some of those stories involve musicians and some don’t. Why? What’s up with the violin and its association with the devil? Where did that even start?

I’m not sure, although cultural clues abound. In 1902, John Philip Sousa (of “Stars and Stripes Forever” fame) wrote a novel called The Fifth String involving Satan, the Prince of Darkness, a man named Diotti, and a violin strung with – yep, you guessed it – five strings: the string of pity, the string of hope, the string of joy, the string of love, and another I won’t name for fear of spoiling the story. I’ve read it. You should too. It’s short. Doesn’t take too long, but if you just want the gist of it, it’s summed up nicely here.

Going further back, the Norwegians have the myth of their fossegrimen – a male water nymph who lurks beneath waterfalls and plays a fiddle. According to legend, he can be bargained with similar to the devil. If folks want to learn to play, they can offer a minor sacrifice (meat works) or work out a riddle (choosing their own violin from two look alikes). If the players try to fool the fossegrimen, however, it’s everlasting silence or death by drowning for them.

And then there’s Fiddler’s Green, the eternal resting place halfway to Hell that cavalrymen memorialized with their eponymous poem. The idea of it – a place for people who deserve Heaven but may not pass its exacting entrance requirements; a place where merriment and fiddle playing is the order of every day – is also something that Irish sailors believed in.

All of this – my fascination with the violin and its many associations with magic, the devil, and an afterlife – served as loose inspiration for some of the scenes, characters, and settings I created for White Heart of Justice. Like the original title, some of the scenes (those which were written from the point of view of a different character than my main character, Noon Onyx) were cut during edits. But echoes of them, and their inspirational sources, remain in the novel like ghostly notes carried on the wind.

In this third book, Noon is hunting down a sword instead of demons. She’s searching for Album Cor Iustitiae – the White Heart of Justice, a mythical sword that was stolen centuries before the book opens and supposedly hidden in a place more like Hell than Fiddler’s Green.

One obvious violin reference that readers will notice is the name of one of the areas that Noon travels through during her hunt. It’s called “the Fiddleback.” It’s a flat, low-lying cove in between two mountains. Wanna guess what it’s shaped like? Uh-huh. Wanna know the other reason why I liked the name (besides its association with violins)? Loxosceles reclusa. It’s random, but I liked the fact that there’s also a venomous spider called the fiddleback, which most of you know better as the brown recluse.

So what’s the deal with the devil and his violin? You know the saying damned if I know, right?

I think I’m going to stick to my cultural clues, legends, and myths. This is one subject where I’d really rather not have firsthand information.

4 Comments on [GUEST POST] Jill Archer Asks: What Is It With The Devil And Violins?

  1. …and now I am earwormed. Well played, Ms. Archer.

    I had no idea Sousa wrote fiction of any stripe, though. Wow.

    I do like the idea of a “Mittlemarch” (a la Moorcock) with realms of all sorts hanging between Heaven, Hell and Earth. Fiddler’s Green is but one of them. I believe Mur Lafferty in her Afterlife series has used this idea, too.

  2. Ha! I think it’s impossible not to be earwormed. I didn’t know Sousa wrote fiction either until I did the research.

    It’s interesting to think that there may be as many versions of death as there are life.

    I appreciate the comment. Haven’t yet read Moorcock’s The City in The Autumn Stars or Mur Lafferty’s work. Will have to add them to my list.

    Thanks to John and SFSignal for the guest post opportunity. I’ll check back in later.

    In the meantime, have a great morning, all!

    • The roleplaying games Nobilis and In Nomine (since everyone here knows I’m all about the roleplaying) also have a cosmology of a Heaven, Hell and lots in between–including Earth.

      • Looked them up. Very interesting. Would have ordered Nobilis just to take a look at the book (getting a game of cards going where I live is challenging) but it was expensive.

        ‘Night, Paul & SF Signal!

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