A Literary Depiction of Hell (Or Hades if You’d Prefer)
Now, let’s take a look at the setting of Hades. Granted, it starts in a normal town, but soon the main character, an angel named Bethany, falls prey to a demon named Jake and is dragged down to the underworld as his prisoner. Jake calls it Hades but grants that angels like her probably know it as Hell.
Our first glimpse of it is pretty bleak in the sense that there’s not much there. Basically darkness and graffiti-covered walls, if I remember correctly. The air is hot and dry, which hurts Beth’s throat, but other than that, being in Hell seems to have little effect on her. True, there’s something thrown in later about the slow sapping away of angelic powers, but honestly I was expecting a little more. Call me crazy, but I thought that Hell was supposed to be… you know, unpleasant.
I was taught that Hell is the only place in the universe where you are totally separated from God, and the true pain comes not from any actual physical torture but from the terrible fact of that separation. After all, when you’re dead your soul is separated from your body, so it makes perfect sense to me that any pain you experience is spiritual.
In that scenario, Beth should have felt the pain immediately, assuming that it was possible for an angel to be dragged down there in the first place without having fallen, which I seriously doubt. Of course, I do readily grant that the story wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting if she hadn’t been dragged down, so I’ll willingly suspend disbelief for the purpose of having a plot.
Continuing then, Jake and Beth go deeper into Hell by gaining admittance at the door. Just as in Harry Potter The Leaky Cauldron serves as an entrance to Diagon Alley, apparently to get into Hell you have to pass through a club called Pride. Perhaps it’s a hat-tip to the saying “Pride goeth before the fall.” And yes, it’s an actual club, the kind with music and dancing and alcohol. Apparently the people there are doomed to dance for all eternity. I wonder what they did to receive that as their punishment.
As Beth sees more of “Hades”, it becomes apparent that this book’s depiction of Hell is a strange crossing of Dante’s Inferno and Sin City. One minute the characters are talking about the nine circles and the next they’re heading back to their fancy hotel penthouse.
For those unfamiliar with Dante’s Inferno, I’ll try to briefly sum it up. The basic idea is that there are different levels of punishment for different types of crimes. The worse you acted while alive the worse your sentence. Below I’ve provided a diagram of the nine circles. The innermost is the worst place to be while the outermost is the best (although it’s still Hell).
Dante’s influence in this book can be seen most clearly in the place known as “the pit” where horrible tortures of all kinds are carried out and in the fact that the devil is said to live in the ninth circle.
The parts that are clearly not from Dante’s Inferno include those graffitied walls I mentioned earlier, the various clubs, the abundance of shady or threatening characters who frequent these places at their leisure (of which the women all seem to wear racy clothing), widespread alcohol and drug abuse, the existence of some form of gambling with stakes that I never quite picked up on (was it for their souls? How would that work anyway?), and basically the entire fancy part of town.
In my opinion, these two views don’t quite mix. For example, one thing that I took issue with was the fact that if any souls in the outer circles did something the demons didn’t like, they could get sent farther in as punishment. Dante’s idea of punishments suiting the crimes you committed in life goes out the window if demons are allowed to shove a “virtuous pagan” down into circle seven or eight because they do a good deed. (Because apparently when you’re in Hell, the cardinal virtues become cardinal sins.) Dante’s system is all about what he imagines to be divine justice, and I’m sure a scenario like the one above would not fly with him because it is entirely unjust. Either Hell is a place where punishment is meted out according to God’s judgment or it’s a place where the punishment is just being there and everyone can have a free-for-all. Not a little bit of both.
So, having set forward my issues with the setting, tomorrow I’ll move forward to discussing the characters. If you made it all the way through this post, though, I’m curious to know: if you believe in Hell, what do you think it’s like? I’d also like to hear your thoughts on its depiction in this book, especially if you’ve read it. Leave your reactions, ideas, whatever in the comments section, and stay tuned for the next segment!