Friday 31 May 2013

The Geography of Hell: Merging Milton and Dante

Lindsay McCulloch's take
Can two very different visions of Hell be merged into one? With compromises, heck yeah! It's the Infernal Peanut Butter Cup.

The circles were the biggest obstacle. Much too constraining.

So what to do? Lop off half and turn them into semi-circles.

This solution allows for the great empty continents and wastelands that Milton described, filled with horrific creatures such as hydra, dragons, and basilisks, but keeps the structure of Dante, essentially, intact.

All the traditional layers remain, starting with the vestibule. Limbo, the lustful, the gluttonous, the hoarders and wasters, and so on follow.

Two of the four rivers Milton describes flow down the ledges, creating spectacular waterfalls, while the other two come in from the wastelands and pour into the central Lake of Fire. Lake Cocytus lies nearby, frozen by the constant beating of Satan's massive wings. Cataclysmic weather patterns would emanate from here into a great maelstrom of energy and lost souls that swirls endlessly above the Lake of Fire. Fun!

Camps for Infernal Legions and rehabilitation centres for heretics (Fountains of Illumination) ring the more civilized regions.
Auguste Rodin's Gates of Hell
The entrance I derived from Milton, which had Hell bordering on Night and Chaos, realms filled with all manner of bizarre creatures that pre-date the arrival of the Fallen Angels. But with Dante's gate inscription, natch. Abandon all hope, ye who loiter here...

Sean Meredith's film Dante's Inferno, based on the book by Marcus Sanders and illustrated by renowned artist and satirist Birk Sandow, depicts a contemporary version of Dore's Hell, filled with gritty urban landscapes and nightmarish denizens in casual garb. 

I opted to go for a society mired in the past, with hints of modernity and industrialization around the edges.

The result of my effort (below) shows a much richer environment than Milton's, with a more open layout than Dante's. Of course, the interests of cartographers and illustrators were not top of mind for either. But it gives me a nice backdrop upon which to set the book, and plenty of wiggle room. Not as fine or elegant as the earlier maps, but it'll do. The Hell Lost graphic novel plays out across the ledges, from The City of Dis to the rings of Malebolge.

Outside of Hell is Milton's Ocean of Chaos. Not literally beneath the earth, but able to enter it through the shadows and deep ocean, as angels enter through light.

I've added to Dante's urban centres (such as the Palace of Minos and The Castle). Hell is slowly moving from a rural, agriculture based economy to an urban, industrial one, and the time of the book depicts a crisis point between the two systems, albeit in a very light hearted manner. I don't get into it as much as I'd like in the first book; it will become more important in the next. 

Belphegor, a demon associated with technology, has his own factory fortress (Belphegoroth) from which he churns out all manner of infernal machine. Because infernal machines are fun to draw.

The Palace of Light and Lucent Palace house the Lightbringers, Satan's proselytizers, who ensure theological purity in Hell.

Wood of Suicides

Watchtowers have been built to watch over the surly Demon shepherds who tend The Damned and rebel every now and then from their tedious task. Think about it: their job is to tend assholes for all eternity. Not a formula for a happy workplace.

I played fast and loose with the depiction of punishments; The Damned are peripheral to the story at this point. Other than the Wood of Suicides and the tombs on page 49, most are shown being tortured in stereotypical fashion, if at all. I put this down to budget cuts, overcrowding, and urbanization. Souls are tortured in ad hoc manner until space on the proper ledge can be secured. I also (Mea Culpa!) put them before the Walls of Dis, rather than after. 

The Pit of Abaddon houses the great beast and his swarm until Judgement Day arrives.

Mount Gehenna rises out of the Fields of Filth, Hell's great garbage dump, domain of junk demons, spiritual waste, hoola hoop fads, and maggot hordes. Yum!

Stretching out into the wastes of Sobor are legion camps that guard against incursions by Hell's monstrous native inhabitants, as well as Furnaces of Illumination, where faith criminals are 'rehabilitated'. The Angel Gulag.

Rebel demon princes too powerful to destroy are imprisoned in the Eternity Prison Pyramids.

Dante's great giants have petrified, save for one or two (Nimrod perhaps). Because, let's face it, giants are cool.

Hoarders and Wasters spend their time building and dismantling two towers of Babel.

I wanted the big, obese Satan to have some wiggle room at the bottom. Dore depicts him in a vast, icy cavern, and I took my inspiration from his vision.

You can't go wrong with Gustave Dore.

Next up: Inspired Demon Designs. Who created the best?

Dore's magnificent depiction of Satan brooding while embedded in the Cocytus
1911 Italian Film L'Inferno's version of the scene