The Man in the Black Suit

By: Madhav Kapila (Horror alum, Winter 2013)

It was during the winter semester of my freshman year that I first heard the story “The Man in the Black Suit” by Stephen King. It was an assigned reading in my English 124 class and I thought that it would be boring like the other stories that we had read so far. However, it was the complete opposite of what I had expected.

I had always been a fan of horror films, but I never read any horror stories before. “The Man in the Black Suit” was one of the first that I read and it was my inspiration for taking this course.

The story is told from the view of Gary, who is now an old man near death. In it, he reflects on his encounter with the devil as a child. He is seeking “freedom” by revealing that he was attacked by the devil one day while fishing alone in the woods. The thing that makes this story so horrifying is that it is actually “inspired” by a true story. Stephen King wrote it after someone had told him that his grandfather believed that he had actually encountered the devil in the woods one day. This makes the story much scarier because it makes you wonder whether something like this actually happened.

The thing that makes this story different than the others is the way that the devil acts. As you’ll see in this class, the devil’s goal is usually to make some sort of deal with his victims so that he will get their soul. He convinces his victims to do something using trickery and by telling lies. However, in this story, the devil is only interested in killing Gary and then eating him. It provides a striking difference to what many people believe that the devil actually does.

Artist: Barfly1976 (deviantart.com)

Artist: Barfly1976 (deviantart.com)

Although you may not find the story to be that scary, the idea that the devil is capable of doing such things is. Stephen King portrays the devil as a man with terrifying characteristics. His eyes appear to be on fire and the grass that his shadow goes over shrivels up and dies. “The Man in the Black Suit” is an example of a horror story that contributes a unique perspective of the devil. Hopefully you’ll enjoy this story as much as I did and never forget the man in the black suit.

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11 thoughts on “The Man in the Black Suit

  1. That story spooked me because I always comfort myself with the idea that the devil can’t “get me” unless I make a deal with him. The idea of the devil going hunting/fishing for souls eliminates my role in the preservation of my soul and puts me forever vulnerable to and at the mercy of the devil.

  2. I definitely don’t plan on making any deals with the devil any time soon, but yes, the idea that he just walks around looking for souls is quite scary if it were true. I’d be even more afraid to just be near him. What if his shadow lands on you and you end up withering and dying? He’d never have to actually touch you.

  3. I always think the idea of making deals with the devil is highly interesting. First of all, I wonder where that idea first came about. Who decided to assign the devil the power to make deals with humans? Second, I always wondered how one initially came into contact with the devil. Does he approach people whom he feels would make a deal with him? Or do those people seek him? In “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” the devil seeks out the fiddle player, a seemingly kind and innocent person with little or no reason to provoke the devil. In another classic devil story, however, “The Devil and Tom Walker,” Tom, a greedy, wealth-obsessed old man, seeks out the devil. It is interesting to note the patterns that pop up in character personalities and how that corresponds to the method of communication with the devil.

    • Personally, I think that the idea originally comes from religion. There is nothing more horrific for anyone who has studied religion or is particularly religious than not finding salvation and succumbing to evil. This is especially true in the first book of the bible. Genesis begins with Adam and Eve making a deal with the devil and thus having ‘original sin.’ I thought it was incredibly interesting that in class, the first topic we discussed were human deals with the devil. I wonder if Gina was trying to make a link between original sin, in the first book of the bible, and in the first unit we covered.

      Personally, I’m not religious but I do think that Genesis (or actually any of the old testament) can be considered horror. True, we have free-will but to what extent? IF everything we do has a consequence then it is not actually free-will. Adam and Eve essentially made the first real deal with the devil.

  4. Everyone has a different idea of the devil, which is what’s interesting to me. Like Bailey said, who initially came up with this idea that the devil makes deals with humans? Also, this story haunted me because of the unknown. No one knew if it actually happened or if Gary was just imagining it, and no one knew if the devil was going to come back. All of these unknowns are what kept me scared throughout the story.

  5. It might just be me, probably not considering some of the things that have happened in our class, but the bees are still the most terrifying part of the story. That the Devil in the story can perhaps control the natural world and use animals as his minions makes me think his power is immense. In this story, he’s not confined by the terms of a contract, and just seems to wander the countryside, looking for someone to play with before he eats them.

  6. I don’t really know much about the Devil, just the stereotypical idea that the Devil can only get to you if you make a deal with him. Most of these deals require a person selling his or her soul in return for something the Devil can provide, like wealth or talent. I agree that what makes “The Man in the Black Suit” so scary is his ability to harm Gary without Gary breaking any kind of deal. I think it is really interesting that this story is supposedly based off of Stephen King’s grandfather’s experience. That definitely increases the horror of this story.

  7. Sorry in advance for bringing up Supernatural again, but once again, the description of the man in the black suit is depicted in two characters in Supernatural. For anyone that has seen it, the man looks like a cross between Death, and the Reapers. The first link below shows Death, while the second is of a reaper. Do they look like what you imagined? (minus the fiery eyes) I actually liked this story and felt like it belonged in a horror class. It was one of the first that made me somewhat scared and not just “oh, that action was a scary thing to do” but rather “oh my god! Where did he go, and what is happening?!” If you were the person that recommend this text, thank you, and if it was Gina, then thank you Gina! Overall, it was a really great story and I am currently scared because I thought that I saw the man in the black suit outside my window.

  8. Making deals with the devil is such a prevalent aspect of many movies, including my favorite one, Hercules. The idea that a deal with the devil leaves you forever in his debt is really scary, but not scarier than the fact that he goes around prying on souls weaker than his own to entrap people. And I agree that the devil is never confined by the rules of a contract, and eventually creates his own rules to forever entrap people.

  9. If this was a true story I’d have to see the devil myself to believe he actually existed. However, the concept is very scary. I believe in good vs. evil but not necessarily devil vs. God. I may believe in life after death or another plain of existence. Maybe the man in the woods came across as the devil when he was really a human monster, and we all know for a fact that there are thousands, if not millions of those on Earth. Maybe the devil controls this evil or maybe bad people are just that…bad, evil, and cannot comprehend the pain they cause in the world. I like to think Good people could beat the devil at his own game…..like Johnny with his fiddle!

  10. Its weird because this story definitely changed the picture that I have for the devil in my mind. I don’t see him as the typical red guy with horns coming out of his head with a pitch fork, I kind of believe him to be more of a dark/black figure, not really able to put an exact face with “him”. But I know its definitely a horrifying face. This story definitely painted a different picture for me. I personally thought that the devil chose his “victims” by choosing the most weak/innocent/naive/nice people (at least that is the impression I’ve gained off of the scary movies that involve the devil that I have actually watched) but the way that King sets his character up to be someone who makes deals with his victims and kind of teases them was definitely unexpected. Overall, I enjoyed reading this story.

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