Dimensions to Hell
The Hellscapes collections of short stories are very aptly named, as they involve various conceptions of Hell and the experience of it. I’ve always found the ideas of Hell found in all kinds of religions to be very fascinating, ranging from the more uniform kinds of Hell found in Judeo-Christian faiths to the more individualized ones found in many Eastern faith traditions (and a more Eastern concept of Hell is shown vividly in my Rising Dawn Saga, in the 4th book, The Undying Light).
I’ve always gravitated toward the idea of a more personalized, or customized Hell, where the punishment fits the crime, so to speak. This notion is not just relegated to religions, as it also has a powerful foundation in literature with Dante’s Inferno and the nine rings of Hell, where the condemned souls are assigned to places and torments that relate to the kinds of sins they committed in their lives.
The idea of a Hell being designed from the ground up in a personalized way is not absent from John Milton’s Paradise Lost either. Satan gathers the fallen angels within what is essentially an infernal wilderness and sets about building up a new kingdom shaped directly to his will.
Writers in the modern age have definitely explored these kinds of concepts, whether it be a novel like God’s Demon, by Wayne Barlowe, which I found to be truly amazing and very visual/cinematic in its conception of Hell, or the time-honored Heroes in Hell anthology series spearheaded by Janet Morris. So, the idea of a personalized hell for those who dwell in it is certainly is not new and has a history from past to present.
For me, as a storyteller, working with a range of visions of hell, or levels of hell, gives me the ability to construct a story that is visceral and macabre, yet still has purpose. The characters reap what they have sown in life, in an even more individualized way than you find in Dante’s Inferno. Monstrous creatures might be spawned from the actions of the condemned character, and sometimes there are figures, who are given names like the Stranger (in Hellscapes Volume I, in “The Smallest Fish”), or the Hustler (from “The Club” in Volume II), who play the roles of guides in bringing the characters closer to the horrific realization of their situation and fate.
The personalization of the experiences, situations, and environments allows for a limitless scope in the kinds of stories and depictions included in these collections. Like Dante’s Inferno and the various circles of Hell, it also allows for a variance in the intensity of the characters’ experiences. Some face very brutal violent fates, while others face an unrelenting torment that is more psychological in nature than it is physical pain.
In a given volume like the first or second, that variance among stories allows for a range so that the reader is taken through and ebb and flow rather than keeping everything at the same intensity level all throughout. These kinds of dynamics make the harder-hitting moments hit harder, and the more reflective moments sink deeper, in my view.
Therefore, the levels, or variations, in the depictions of Hell serve a dual purpose. Within the story they provide personalization to the particular characters. In the creation of each tale, they become a powerful asset for the art of telling the story itself.
The personalization of the various visions of Hells suits both character and plot in a much more organic way, and in the end I think results in a better story overall. I invite new readers to adventure in the Hellscapes and see if they enjoy reading these various depictions as much as I enjoy bringing each and every infernal variation to life in writing them.