content by

Philip Styrt

Trust Me, I’m a Time Lord: The Faustian Bargains of Doctor Who

“Ha! You think this is Hell.”
Doctor Who, “The God Complex”

If the Doctor showed up in your living room and offered you a lift in the TARDIS, would you go with her (or him, depending on which regeneration you encountered)? Leave everything behind for a chance to explore the past, the future, the distant galaxies of the universe?

I will go ahead and assume that at this point many of you are screaming “yes.” That certainly was my reaction to that question when I was introduced to the show (with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor, I’m afraid; being quite American, I wasn’t exposed to the classic show until later). A chance to find out all the secrets of the universe, with bonus adventuring? Sign me right up! But that same month that I first began watching Doctor Who, I read about another Doctor: Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (this is one of the perils of an English degree). And looking back on them both, I can’t help but notice some alarming similarities between what the Doctors offer their companions and what Faustus bargains for from the devil, and between the surprising difficulties both Faustus and those companions encounter in actually getting what they’re promised. And that all makes me wonder if maybe what the Doctor has on offer is quite so attractive after all…

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Always Read the Epigraph: A Lesson for Fantasy Readers

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

— Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


I see you there, with that novel in your hand. Turning to page 1 (or, given the vagaries of publishers, maybe page 3), are you? Starting with the prologue, or the preface, or good old Chapter 1? Well, I’m here to tell you to turn that page back in the other direction and take a look at what you might find lurking in the front matter of the book. No, I’m not talking about the publication information (though I’m sure the Library of Congress would love to feel appreciated) and not even the acknowledgements and the dedication (though while you’re here, why not find out who the author loves?). I’m talking about the epigraph. The little (often italicized) sayings or quotations nestled in the very beginning, right before the action starts: right ahead of that opening paragraph on page 1 you were about to read.

Read the epigraph. Yes, exactly like the one I put up at the top of this article, why do you ask?

Now, not every book—not even every fantasy novel—is going to have an epigraph. For example, I just checked the romance novel I was reading this afternoon and it doesn’t have one. But when a novel does have an epigraph—when the author has decided to start their book with a little bit of something else—it’s well worth your time to read it. In fact, reading those little italicized words can tell you an awful lot about the book you’re about to experience.

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