One of the top questions I am asked—second only to “How the hell did you get into my living room!?”—is “How is your AMAZING book series for middle-readers—Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go—inspired by Dante’s epic poem, Inferno?”
Well let’s go back a bit…In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over…okay, maybe that’s too far back. I’ll skip a bit.
It was, like, 2005 or something. A filmmaker friend of mine wanted to collaborate on an animated short about the devil—sort of a VH1’s Behind the Brimstone sort of thing—so I got to thinking, which is what I tend to do when I want to avoid actual work.
One of the nuggets I came up with was a Hell for children (thank you, Pat Benatar) that—of course—just had to be called Heck. It was loosely based on the structure of Dante’s Inferno, and the story just sort of grew organically from there. Since the subject material was so potentially bleak (even eternal darnation can still be something of a bummer), I wanted it to strike the proper tone between funny, silly, exciting, and meaningful.
So let us analyze the differences between Dante’s Hell and Dale’s (my) Heck:
• Inferno (Italian for “Hell”) is the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy. It chronicles the journey of Dante through the medieval concept of Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil. In the poem, Hell is depicted as nine circles of suffering.
• Heck (not quite “Hell) is a series of books for pre-teens, teens, and anyone who likes the dark and goofy. It chronicles the journey of Milton and Marlo Fauster through an underworld middle school. There is a character named Virgil. In Heck, there are nine circles of supreme irritation based on childish “sins.”
And, since we live in a distracted age and need simple things to hold our attention…what is that spot on my wall? Is it a spider? Oh…it’s just a squooshed spider. So I guess it was a spider but now…anyway, I made the following chart to illustrate the key differences between Dante’s Inferno and Heck:
Now let’s dig deeper: in fact, all the way to the underworld! All aboard…
Limbo: The First Circle of Hell
You are in Limbo, a place of sorrow without torment. Here, there are the virtuous pagans, the great philosophers and authors, un-baptized children, and others unfit to enter the kingdom of heaven. The atmosphere is peaceful, yet sad.
Limbo: The First Circle of Heck
Welcome to the most boring, dull, drab, awful, endless, monotonous place where you ever twiddled your thumbs and stared off into space. Limbo is like having a Time Out…forever. Everything moves soooooooo tortuously slow. But hey: at least the broken clocks are right twice a day. Now go wait in the corner and think about what you’ve done—for all eternity.
Lust: The Second Circle of Hell
Here, sinners are blown around endlessly by the unforgiving winds of unquenchable desire as punishment for their transgressions. The infernal hurricane that never rests hurtles the spirits onward. You have betrayed reason at the behest of your appetite for pleasure, and so here you are doomed to remain.
Rapacia: The Second Circle of Heck
Gimme gimme gimme! Didn’t anybody ever tell you that greed would get you nowhere? Well…nowhere good at least. Welcome to Rapacia: Where you could never get enough, and what you did get is now completely worthless. Remember how you swore you’d die if you didn’t get it all? Well, be prepared to hand over all the pretty, shiny, glittery things you had to possess and obsess over. It’s the price you have to pay. Greed it and weep!
Gluttony: The Third Circle of Hell
The gluttons are punished here, lying in the filthy mixture of shadows and of putrid water. Because you consumed in excess, you meet your fate beneath the cold, dirty rain, amidst the other souls that there lay unhappily in the stinking mud.
Blimpo: The Third Circle of Heck
You are what you eat…so you must be one sugary, salty mess of fudge, milkshakes, and curly chili fries with cheese! Welcome to Blimpo: Where your best friend is food and your gross lack of willpower is your worst enemy. You are all urge, and no purge. Never feel full? Get used to it—because this is one mess you can’t eat your way out of.
Greed: The Fourth Circle of Hell
Here, the prodigal and the avaricious suffer their punishment, as they roll weights back and forth against one another. You will share eternal damnation with others who either wasted and lived greedily and insatiably, or who stockpiled their fortunes, hoarding everything and sharing nothing.
Fibble: The Fourth Circle of Heck
White lies, whopping lies and everything in between makes you a liar, liar, pants on fire! You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! Welcome to Fibble: Where believing your lies makes you the best liar of all. So go ahead: lie through your smiling teeth. Lie in wait. But, above all, lie low. You’ll be here awhile. Honest.
Anger: The Fifth Circle of Hell
Here are the wrathful and the gloomy. The former are forever lashing out at each other in anger, tearing each other piecemeal with their teeth. The latter are gurgling in the black mud, slothful and sullen. Their lamentations bubble to the surface as they try to repeat a doleful hymn.
Snivel: The Fifth Circle of Heck
Boo hoo. Who? You. Forever! Welcome to Snivel, where spilled milk is just one of the many things you’ll be crying about. It’s a place where the whining flows freely, and no one cares about your moaning because they’re too busy groaning themselves. Now you’re really down in the dumps: way, way down!
Heresy: The Sixth Circle of Hell
Burning tombs are littered about the landscape. Inside these flaming sepulchers suffer the heretics, failing to believe in God and the afterlife, who make themselves audible by doleful sighs. You will join the wicked that lie here, and will be offered no respite.
Precocia: The Sixth Circle of Heck
Your attempt to grow up too fast only made you go down, down, down way before your time. Welcome to Precocia, where the bad kids who don’t think they’re kids go. Every day is Freaky Friday where your salad days are served with a sneeze guard, meaning, no more kidding around. Ever.
Violence: The Seventh Circle of Hell
The violent, the assassins, the tyrants, and the war-mongers lament in the river, while centaurs armed with bows and arrows shoot those who try to escape their punishment. The stench here is overpowering.
Wise Acres: The Seventh Circle of Heck
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but down here, words hurt far, far more. Welcome to Wise Acres where those with sharp tongues can cut deep. It’s the place for kids who sass back with a vengeance. So, if this sounds like you, then get ready for the ultimate war of words, and pray that you never run out of ammunition.
Fraud: The Eighth Circle of Hell
Those guilty of fraudulence and malice are whipped by horned demons while the hypocrites struggle to walk in lead-lined cloaks. The magicians, diviners, fortune tellers, and panderers are all here, as are the thieves.
Sadia: The Eighth Circle of Heck
The foulest of the foul. The most brutal of the brutal. Welcome to Sadia, a place where the end always justifies the mean. Here, you’ve got to be cruel to be a kid, because the golden rule is an iron-fist. Think you can roll with the punches? Well, here’s hoping you don’t bruise easily.
Treachery: The Ninth Circle of Hell
This is the deepest level of hell, where the fallen angel Satan himself resides. His wings flap eternally, producing chilling cold winds. Sinners here are frozen deep in the ice, faces out, eyes and mouths frozen shut. Traitors against God, country, and family, lament their sins in this frigid pit of despair.
Dupli-City: The Ninth Circle of Heck
Friend or faux? Welcome to Dupli-City, where every kid puts their best face forward: both of them. Treachery, manipulation, and betrayal are always in fashion. It’s a place where you’ve always got to watch your back, becomes there’s always someone ready to stab you in it. And, after an eternity spent here, you may just find that your own worst frenemy is yourself.
So, the moral of all this is: ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT. In fact: read EVERYTHING! Be it the work of a long-dead Italian poet ruminating about a fantastical spiritual journey, or a middle-aged wise guy who likes his satire served with a side of groan-inducing puns. So read whatever you can get your hands on, even the bitter and dark because—without that—how would we truly appreciate sweetness and light?