Infernally good reading.
By Chuck Palahniuk
An overdose delivers the 13-year-old narrator of Palahniuk’s latest novel straight to perdition, where she finds a veritable Breakfast Club of cohorts (cheerleader, jock, nerd, punk rocker) to cavort with in the maze of eternity, making prank calls and avoiding demons while searching for an exit. By turns hilarious and disturbing, Palahniuk’s vision of Hell isn’t filled with flames and brimstone so much as dandruff and toenail clippings — and the nature and meaning of his heroine’s journey takes its cues from the distinctly impious attitudes of the author.
By C. S. Lewis
Inspired by Dante’s Inferno and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Lewis’s novella follows the path of a few of Hell’s curious residents as they take an eye-opening bus ride to Heaven to see how the other half lives. Most of them don’t find it particularly appealing — an attitude that captures Lewis’ unique perspective on the nature of evil. The author wrestled with metaphysical questions of faith throughout his life, and here he illustrates what makes sin so seductive and salvation uninteresting by comparison.
By Stanley Elkin
When Elkin’s protagonist, Ellerbee, gets killed in his Minneapolis liquor store at the start of this 1979 comic novel her finds himself in heaven. But it’s not long before he’s sent down to the other place, where a whole new lifetime awaits. While Ellerbee’s quest says something about human fortitude (and folly), the author uses this sly fantasia to open up even bigger questions about our conception of divinity, humanity, and meaning.
By Miriam Van Scott
Nearly every diabolical figure — from supreme demon to junior assistant goblin-in-training — that has ever appeared in mythology, folklore, religion, opera, literature, theater, music, film, art, or Saturday morning cartoons can be found in these pages. Treating the underworld like a menagerie of intriguing beasts and beings, Van Scott provides background information culled from history and folklore to present the most in-depth and comprehensive examination of Hell’s multitudinous horde to date.
By Dante Aligheri
One of literature’s great works and a landmark of epic poetry — the first Western epic composed in a vernacular language — the Divine Comedy follows a Florentine writer of the Middle Ages in his quest for salvation. His journey takes him first through the “Inferno” of Hell, and his guide through this awful scene, populated with suffering souls Dante drew from life and literature, is the ghost of the Roman poet Virgil. This is medieval allegory at its most vivid and spellbinding, for though Dante’s journey is meant to illustrate a passage from sin into repentance and grace, his dream of the afterlife is one of the most gripping tales in literature, and unfolds in interlocking terza rima, brilliantly translated here by Robert Pinsky.