Monday, October 24, 2011

Musings on Hell

L.G.C. Smith

When I was a little kid, I totally bought the Santa thing. Completely. Never questioned it until the boy who sat behind me in second grade sneeringly informed me of the truth. Even then I didn’t believe him. But I asked my mom. And she told me the Truth. That was hell. However, I never for one second bought the Easter Bunny. That was clearly a crock, and while I was happy to go along with it because egg hunts and candy were part of the deal, I was nobody’s fool.

I had something of the same selective cognitive malfunction with respect to heaven and hell. Heaven? Okay. Sounds good. Kind of boring, but I’m on board. Hell? Are you kidding me? That’s obviously a story designed to manipulate the gullible into behaving in the here and now. I couldn’t believe that whole swaths of my own religion had a much more detailed and personal relationship with the torments of hell than the gauzy, vague-but-pleasant heaven. How screwy was that? (First person to reference that pun gets a free copy of one of my estimable and long out of print books.)

So now, with all these demons and angels in popular fiction, does it strike anyone else that these books are usually completely devoid of religious affiliation of any sort? I find that interesting. We get demons and some sort of spruced-up and/or reimagined Hell. Maybe it’s an alternate reality or another dimension. Sometimes Hell and various demons and angels are engaged in a nebulous war with Heaven, but Heaven is rarely well defined.

That seems to be a recurring fate for conceptions of Heaven. It’s like the very notion of a place where everything is good and true and pure is too alien for our minds to grasp. Hell is far more accessible. We all get Hell. And it’s interesting. Full of the stuff we need in fiction. Lies. Sin. Vice. Popular fiction prefers a fallen angel to a righteous one every time.

This may be a failure of imagination to some extent. Hell is, as one or two folks have pointed out over the centuries, probably the easier path. It certainly lends itself more readily to popular fiction. And, contrary to my youthful religious thinking, it’s far more real to most people than heaven.

9 comments:

Sophie Littlefield said...

i actually think that a contemplation of hell might be one of the places where a more ponderous, dare i say literary, voice might serve well. but only if there's some gruesomeness mixed in - skin crisping for eternity, for example.

Adrienne Miller said...

It makes me think of Dante's Divine Comedy. I liked the inferno, but once they got to purgatory, it was losing steam. By the time we reached heaven, I was out of there. There was only so many glittering rings of goodness I could look at before losing interest. It was like celestial version of 'but wait, there's more!'

17th stitch said...

Is the pun something to do with The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis? (Best book I read in high school English!)

L.G.C. Smith said...

That's the pun, weak as it is, 17th stitch. Send me your email address so I can get your particulars and I'll send you one of the best Silhouette Special Editions ever set in South Dakota. I hope you like either cowboys or Indians, because that's what I've got. :)

17th stitch said...

I can't wait! Cowboy romances are a special fave of mine..

Allison dot Henle at gmail dot com

17th stitch said...

The books arrived! They look great and I can't wait to read them!

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