Thursday, 10 April 2014

All We Need Of Hell

Hell is visited in:

Inferno by Dante Alighieri;
Paradise Lost by John Milton;
Heaven And Hell by Emanuel Swedenborg;
The Marriage of Heaven And Hell by William Blake;
The Great Divorce by CS Lewis; 
Magic Inc by Robert Heinlein;
Operation Chaos by Poul Anderson;
Black Easter and The Day After Judgment by James Blish;
Inferno and Escape From Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle;
Swamp Thing by Alan Moore and his successors;
John Constantine, Hellblazer by Jamie Delano and his successors;
The Sandman by Neil Gaiman;
Lucifer by Mike Carey.

Anderson's Hell is scientifically explained as a dark, chaotic, high entropy cosmos that his characters merely raid on a single occasion. A more sophisticated Hell, complete with feudalism and politics, is presented in Mike Carey's Lucifer: A Dalliance With The Damned, which I am currently rereading.

We contemplate Hell in poetry, prose and pictures.


  1. Hi, Paul!

    Of the works you listed, I've read eight of them. And I loved Dante's DIVINE COMEDY, have no less than three different translations of that epic (one of them being the version by Dorothy L. Sayers). And I liked Milton PARADISE LOST least of these eight. It was probably just me, but I found Milton's blank verse hard and ponderous to read. To say nothing of how, unlike Dante's grim and theologically accurate description of hell, I found Milton's view of it unconvincing.

    I suggest adding Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's sequel to their book about hell, ESCAPE FROM HELL, to this list.

    Truthfully, I thought Poul Anderson's description of hell as "a dark, chaotic, high entropy cosmos" in OPERATION CHAOS very plausible. Nor does Anderson glamorize hell, it's precisely the chaos and darkness, both literal and morally, which I find more plausible than what your summaizing of Mike Carey's leads me to think. If hell can be said to have politics, it will be more like what we see in Orwell's 1984.

    Contemplating hell should encourage us to AVOID hell.


  2. Sean,
    Thank you for this informed response. ESCAPE FROM HELL, which I have not yet read, has been added to the list. Yes, Carey's account is heretical because it assumes, like Eastern religions, that, if there is a spiritual realm called Hell, it (and every other realm) is subject to change. Also, as the setting of a story, it allows all sorts of events that would be impossible on a more literal understanding of Hell.

  3. Hi, Paul!

    I do recommend reading Niven/Pournelle's ESCAPE FROM HELL and I hope you find it interesting and entertaining.

    As far as I know, which is little, orthodox Buddhism does not believe in God/gods or the existence of an afterlife including anything like hell. So, again considering how little I know, do you have Taoism in mind as believing in a hell which "changes"? Most of what little I know about Taoism came from reading Robert van Gulik's THE HAUNTED MONASTERY, one of his Judge Dee stories set in the early T'ang Dynasty of China.

    What you've said about how Mike Carey used the theme of hell reminds me of another series of stories set in hell and narrating events quite impossible from the viewpoint of Christian orthodoxy: the HEROES IN HELL stories. Those books I do have and often found entertaining, being stories contributed by many authors. I am pretty sure Poul Anderson did not contribute to that series, however.


  4. Sean,
    I have ordered ESCAPE FROM HELL and two other Niven collaborations through the public library.
    Hindus and Buddhists envisage a multiplicity of hereafters, including Hells, where conscious entities can reside for a long time but not forever - so the Hells are more like Purgatories. I regard all this a mythological and as applying metaphorically to possible human experiences, e.g., the super rich are in a kind of "heaven" which shields them temporarily from suffering and from any perceived need for spiritual practice.
    I think that the Christian Hell would be not a place but a state of isolated discarnate consciousnesses.

  5. Hi, Paul!

    I hope you enjoy Niven/Pournelle's ESCAPE FROM HELL. And I'm sure you will write about that book either here or in of your other forums.

    Yes, I was aware, probably from you, that Buddhist (and Hindus) believe in many merely temporary afterlifes. Whereas, of course, Catholics like me Heaven and Hell are for eternity, and Purgatory is only temporary. And my belief is, as Our Lord warned, that the "super rich" are esp. at risk of damnation, at least partly from forgetting God and becoming too attached to the things of this world.

    And your last sentence comes close to repeating what the Catholic Church teaches, that Hell is an eternal state of existence. And the bit about "isolated discarnate consciousnesses" reminded me of C.S. Lewis' suggestion in THE GREAT DIVORCE that one of the greatest pains of Hell is the self chosen isolation of the damned from all other beings (think of Napoleon's endless, solitary pacing in his room).

    And Poul Anderson wrote at least one other story set in Hell, "Pact," which can be found in the collection FANTASY. I enjoyed that sardonic inversion of the usual shop worn pact with the devil story. "Pact" shows a demon making a deal with a human astronomer both because he wanted to use the human and snare him into damnation. And, recall how the demon was outwitted by the human!


  6. Sean,
    (i) An isolated immaterial mental state would exclude spatial relationships and social interactions except in memory and imagination.
    (ii) Lewis describes such a state by telling a story in which two men walk for light years through the gray city to see Napoleon in his remote mansion. Thus, the story necessarily reintroduces space and society.
    (iii) Some writers address the question of what would follow if such stories about Hell as a place were literally true. Thus, what are the landscape, government, economy etc like.

    1. Hi, Paul!

      Your point 1: actually, this kind of isolation might be one of the worse pains of hell. It makes theological sense to me.

      Your point 2: and, at the end of THE GREAT DIVORCE, we find out the huge vastness of Hell is actually merely a tiny bit of the cosmos. Makes me think Lewis speculated that the damned chose, by isolating themselves to become more and more insignificant.

      Your point 3: I think most Catholic theologians think of hell as a state of existence, rather than a place. Therefore, stories of the kind you mentioned are not likely in a state of existence where the damned hate and loath themelves and all others.