I absolutely love Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, since after reading this book for the first time, I felt encouraged to try out the original source for their story, Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, surely one of greatest works of literature ever. While Niven and Pournelle’s Inferno doesn’t quite rank with Dante it is still an update of Dante that is wonderfully fun to read with a serious exploration of why Hell might exist.
Allen Carpentier is a science fiction writer who falls out of a window during a convention. Since Carpentier is an agnostic, he is astonished to wake up in Hell where he meets a man named Benito who assures him that Hell is arranged just as Dante described it in the Inferno and that He knows the way out of Hell. Carpentier cannot believe that he is in Hell at first, he believes it to be an artifact created by advanced aliens for their amusement, but as he and Benito make their way through Hell and observe the punishments meted out to sinners, Carpentier has no choice but to concede that he is, indeed in Hell. Then he must wrestle with the problem of why God would create Hell. The punishments seem to be just, but far out of proportion. No sin however great could be worth eternal agony. In the end, he learns who Benito really is and begins to have some idea why Hell might be necessary.
The authors largely followed the path described by Dante updating the sins and punishments when it seemed advisable. Thus, polluters are found among the hoarders and wasters, politicians voting along party lines rather than what they believed good for the country among the traitors etc. Like Dante, Niven and Pournelle included their personal causes and pet peeves in the story, damning to Hell the people they seemed to particularly dislike, but then that is part of the fun.
Inferno is a great science fiction/fantasy novel, worth reading. After you are done with it, see if you can’t tackle Dante too.
A new Dan Brown novel is coming in May, and the subject is Dante.
Doubleday announced Tuesday that Brown’s book is called Inferno, named for Dante’s epic journey in verse. Brown again will feature Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, the protagonist for his blockbuster The Da Vinci Code and for the million-selling follow-up The Lost Symbol. The book might seem familiar in other ways, as Brown again takes on a masterpiece of Western civilization: The Da Vinci Code centred on an iconic painting, the Mona Lisa.
“Although I studied Dante’s Inferno as a student, it wasn’t until recently,while researching in Florence, that I came to appreciate the enduring influence of Dante’s work on the modern world,” Brown said in a statement. “With this new novel, I am excited to take readers on a journey deep into this mysterious realm, a landscape of codes, symbols, and more than a few secret passageways.”
Brown may also be returning to the religious controversies of The Da Vinci Code, when he infuriated some Catholics by suggesting that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had children. Dante himself was a Catholic who was critical of church leaders.
Wonderful. I can’t wait for Brown to distort the history of Dante as he has Leonardo Da Vinci and early Christianity. I suppose it goes without saying that very little of this upcoming novel will be based on any facts about Dante’s life, though I am sure Dante will uncover the great conspiracy that the Catholic Church has been hiding for centuries. Its too bad really. Dante lived an interesting life and I wish that someone other than Dan Brown would write a book about him.
Dante Alghieri’sDivine Comedy is one of the great classics of world literature, and a personal favorite of mine. Unfortunately, unless the reader is familiar with the Bible, Christian theology, classical mythology, and medieval Italian politics, he is going to miss many of the allusions in this great poem. Of course, it is possible to enjoy reading the Divine Comedy without knowing very much about all the people Dante encounters but it is so much better if you have a guide with you, as Dante had Virgil.
The Complete DanteWorlds by Guy P. Raffa is the perfect guide to the Divine Comedy. In this adaptation of his website, Raffa takes the reader through each section of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, explaining who every person or creature Dante encounters is and every allusion made in his poem. He clarifies some of the more obscure points in the poem and generally greatly enriches the experience of reading Dante. Don’t go to Hell without it!