The basic theme of the Faust legends is that of a man striking a deal with the devil to gain unlimited pleasure and knowledge. The original legend implied that forsaking spiritual knowledge for that of worldly things was the cause of Faust's downfall.
The first known printed version of the Faust legend is a chapbook entitled "Historia von D. Johann Fausten" published in 1587. Faust, the central figure of the story, is a scholar who is successful and comfortable in life but nevertheless becomes bored and depressed. After an unsuccessful suicide attempt, he makes a deal with the devil through his representative Mephistopheles. Faust gains magical powers and knowledge beyond that of any other person for 24 years, but the devil owns Faust's soul. Faust goes on to use Mephistopheles to commit various evil acts, including seducing an innocent young girl.
In the original versions, Faust is condemned to hell at the end of the story. The story was retold by many different authors over the years, however, and in some versions, Faust is redeemed at the end by his efforts to return to God and by the pleas of the girl, named Gretchen in many versions of the story.