The underworld, or hell, and damnation in the afterlife are sometimes delicate subjects for children, especially for younger ones. Such topics to various individuals are too dark or nightmarish for their offspring. While Netherworld Dreams: Little Dante’s Journey to the Underworld is originally intended for a young audience, older audiences may find an interest in it. Yet, its obvious parody of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy or Inferno begs the question as to the modern day mindset toward hell. Many today may avoid a discourse with children concerning eternal suffering after death. One reason is there are many more in this century that do not believe in hell – and so they raise their children teaching them not to worry about what the others believe, as hell is primarily a Western religious belief. But in Dante’s day, hell, demons, Satan, and anything related were a part of the medieval mindset as well as the “standard curriculum” for the youth and just about everyone else. Naturally, we have come a long way since the middle-ages. One should hope our standards today have progressed, in terms of our humanity.
Dante’s masterful piece was written around 1308 – 1321 A.D. The work is an allegorical tale of the afterlife: hell, purgatory, and heaven. The part regarding hell, The Inferno, has much significance in terms of common everyday visualizations and understandings of where people go to suffer after they die. The work is one of the most important pieces of literature in the Italian language and in Western writing, and Dante is attributed for being one of the “fathers of the Italian vernacular” which is spoken today.
Back in high school, I read an English translation of The Inferno, and I was both entertained and deeply influenced by the book. Because I was raised Roman Catholic Dante’s depiction of hell fit neatly into the world-view surrounding me as a child. And for the uninitiated, allow me to explain that my edification as a young boy was not too far off from that of medieval children when it came to hell and so on.
There were nights when I was a kid when my paternal grandmother, a staunch Roman Catholic herself who just so happens to be from Italy, would tell me horrific stories of Satan and hell. This was usually after our nightly prayer ritual. She, in fact, had illustrated bibles showing me what I remember to be quite graphic depictions of demons, not to mention angels, fighting over human souls. Her intentions were to scare me into not sinning for fear of ending up in a place of ultimate suffering forever. Needless to say, it worked for a time until I entered into college; and well, as for most, things kind of get debased for me to an extent during those years of great freedom.
Changing the subject to Netherworld Dreams, I wrote this work after having children of my own. I find it ironic that I happened to complete my short work, in many ways as a tribute to The Inferno, while I was 35 years of age, in my “middle years.” Dante completed his work, as far as we know, during the same point in his life.
While allegorically composed, Dante’s poetic take on hell includes many allusions to various figures well known to those in his days as well as references to noted persons from the history that was recorded at his time. Of the lead characters, for instance, Virgil was a notable Roman poet who lived between 70 – 19 B.C. If you read The Inferno, you will find Dante’s hell is filled with people who fit into his vision. Everything he writes has deliberation, as with any great poetry.
One thing that has not changed since Dante’s day is that people still enjoy both comedic and dark subject matter. Today there are volumes of works that relate to the same. Zombies, vampires, demons, etc. seem to be all over pop-culture in literature and in media entertainment. Some content is just dark and some has a comedic twist. By reading Netherworld Dreams I hope readers are entertained but also inspired to read the wonderful work from which this one is derived.