Reviewing Hell: Strategy and Structure

In honor of my Hell Mythos series of stories (“The Kraken” is now available at Amazon), I’m going to be reviewing the major works of fiction, poetry, and movies that depict Hell and the afterlife. This is going to be a lengthy project, and I want to cover everything from the earliest Hell depictions (Homer, Virgil, Dante) all the way to modern underworld and angel/demon based books like Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels or The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard.

My current plan is to score each book in five different categories:

The Set-Up: You’ve got to get us to Hell, or you’ve got to get your angels and demons to Earth in a sensible manner. We need a plot that moves us along, and we need good writing and good characters. Otherwise, underworld literature can just become a travelogue without a real point.

Scope: If you’re going to write about Hell, Heaven, angels, and demons, you better go big! Underworld literature should be about vast landscapes, huge devils, and epic conflicts—none of the small stuff here.

Horror: I’m a big believer that Hell literature is horror literature—we’re playing in the sandbox of Horror and Weird Fiction, not in the realm of Fantasy or Science Fiction. H.P. Lovecraft, in his Cthulhu Mythos, utilizes a technique called “cosmic horror,” that of evoking the sense of terror about when humans are exposed to their own insignificance in the universe. That’s also what good underworld literature can do. Hell reveals to us the smallness of our own being, the terror of our lives in the face of eternity.

Originality: Books can fall into Hell-cliches quickly. Lake of Fire, pitchforks, scales and horns. What has the author done with this material? Have they added a new spin, a new perspective, that makes things worth reading?

Enjoyability: None of that matters if the novel isn’t fun and exciting to read. Subjective, I know, but all reading is subjective.

I’m going to score each book on a scale of 1-10, giving us 50 points for each book. That should allow for some good comparisons. I think I’m going to break up the “classics” and the “modern” books; you can’t really compare Dante to Tad Williams, for instance.


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