The Daemon Lover

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


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.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.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:

Variants and derivatives

Many American versions use the title "The House Carpenter".

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

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

  • Alasdair Roberts
  • Andy Irvine
  • Augie March - re-written as "Men Who Follow Spring The Planet 'Round"
  • Bob Dylan recorded the version "House Carpenter" in 1961. Bob was born Robert Zimmerman, a name that means carpenter.
  • Bröselmaschine
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie
  • Clarence Ashley
  • Custer Larue
  • Daithi Sproule
  • Damien Jurado
  • Dave Van Ronk
  • David Grisman
  • Dervish (as "Sweet Viledee")
  • Doc Watson
  • Ewan MacColl
  • Eleanor Tomlinson
  • Faun Fables
  • The Handsome Family
  • Hurt
  • Jean Ritchie
  • Jeff Lang
  • Joan Baez
  • Kelly Joe Phelps
  • Kim Larsen - re-written as "Byens Hotel" in 1973
  • Lisa Moscatiello
  • Martin Simpson
  • Mr Fox
  • Myrkur
  • Natalie Merchant
  • Nephew
  • Nic Jones
  • Nickel Creek
  • Oakley Hall
  • Paul Simon
  • Pentangle
  • Peter Bellamy
  • Peggy Seeger
  • Pete Seeger
  • Steeleye Span
  • Superwolf
  • Sweeney's Men
  • Texas Gladden
  • The Baltimore Consort
  • The Carolina Tar Heels
  • The Ex
  • The Mammals
  • Tim O'Brien
  • Tony Rice
  • Cornelis Vreeswijk