The Daemon Lover

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"The Daemon Lover", also known as "James Harris", "James Herries", or "The House Carpenter" (Roud 14, Child 243) is a popular Scottish ballad.[1]


A man (usually the Devil) returns to his former lover after a very long absence, and finds her with a husband (usually a carpenter) and a baby. He entices her to leave both behind and come with him, luring her with many ships laden with treasure. They board one of his ships (which in many versions she is surprised to find does not have a crew) and put to sea.[2]

But if I should leave my husband dear,
Likewise my little son also,
What have you to maintain me withal,
If I along with you should go?"

"I have seven ships upon the seas,
And one of them brought me to land,
And seventeen mariners to wait on thee,
For to be love at your command.

She soon begins to lament leaving her child, but is heartened by spying a bright hill in the distance. Her lover informs her that the hill is heaven, where they are not bound. Instead he indicates a much darker coast, which he tells her is hell, their destination. He then breaks the ship in half with his bare hands and feet, drowning them both. In other versions, the ship is wrecked by a storm at sea, springing a leak, causing the ship to spin three times and then sink into the cold sea.[3]

O what a bright, bright hill is yon,
That shines so clear to see?"
"O it is the hill of heaven," he said,
"Where you shall never be."

"O what a black, dark hill is yon,
"That looks so dark to me?"
"O it is the hill of hell," he said,
"Where you and I shall be.

This ballad was one of 25 traditional works included in Ballads Weird and Wonderful (1912), edited by R. Pearse Chope and illustrated by Vernon Hill. The New York Times review of Hill's illustrations noted those accompanying this ballad as a particular highlight:

... the design of Satan rushing down through the waves with the boat containing the faithless wife, is tremendous. Satan himself has one of the most graceful and beautiful human bodies ever drawn; the rhythm of the whole is thrilling, and the conventionalized waves are splendid.

Variants and derivatives[edit]

Many American versions use the title "The House Carpenter".[4][better source needed]

Elizabeth Bowen's 1945 short story "The Demon Lover" uses the ballad's central conceit for a narrative of ghostly return in wartime London.

Shirley Jackson's collection The Lottery and Other Stories includes "The Daemon Lover", a story about a woman searching for her mysterious fiancé named James Harris.

Recordings by notable artists[edit]

Versions of the song, under its several titles, have been recorded by:


  1. ^ Lloyd, A.L. The Demon Lover, Mainly Norfolk
  2. ^ Lyle, Emily (ed.), Scottish Ballads Canongate: Edinburgh (1994)
  3. ^ Carruthers, Gerard. The Devil in Scotland The Bottle Imp, Issue 3
  4. ^ "Songs | The Official Bob Dylan Site". Retrieved 2015-04-06.
  5. ^ Solo album: Abocurragh, Andy Irvine AK-3, 2010.
  6. ^;
  7. ^ Combined from several sources including: Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1996 by Barnes & Noble Books, and Concise Oxford Dictionary - 10th Edition by Oxford University Press.

External links[edit]