Thursday, November 3, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Dante's Backstory

Most people in the literary community are familiar with Dante’s Inferno in some way. If you haven’t read this volume of The Divine Comedy, you may have seen the commercial for the video game Dante’s Inferno Divine Edition, which is based on the epic poem by Dante Alighieri. It is a story that describes the nine circles of Hell (limbo, lust, gluttony, avarice & prodigality, wrath & sullenness, heresy, violence, fraud, and betrayal), as conceived by the medieval age, beginning with the day before Good Friday in 1300 A.D.

Dante wrote The Divine Comedy during his exile from Florence. Until recently, no one knew for certain where he had been or what he had done during those years away from his home. However, author Kim Paffenroth (who also happens to be a professor of religious studies), wrote a book titled Valley of the Dead (The Truth Behind Dante’s Inferno) which tells the tale that inspired Dante to write his poem of horrors. In a captivating prologue, Paffenroth presents us with the story of how Dante survived a zombie plague, illuminating the lessons that the poet learned.

Don’t let the mention of zombies fool you into thinking this is just a gore novel with a twist. Unlike the spliced-together novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Paffenroth has written an original narrative with a style comparable to classical literature, bringing together historical fiction, drama and horror to chronicle Dante’s personal account of the pestilence and human suffering that inspired Inferno. Don’t expect the same zombies or character types that can be found in Paffenroth’s Dying to Live: Life Sentence, the second in his zombie series based on a group of people surviving an apocalypse in a museum.

In Valley of the Dead, Dante stumbles upon a village in the midst of an epidemic that is unknown to him. There he meets a pregnant woman named Bogdana, and together they travel west into a valley, attempting to escape an army that believes destroying all of the towns it finds is the only way to stop the spread of infection. Along the way, they are joined by an army deserter and a monk, and the four of them soon form the opinion that the survivors are the ones that are cursed, not the undead. Some of the most frightening and disheartening moments of the book are the exploits of the living, and not the zombies as one might think.

This novel digs deep into the human soul, and exposes all the nobility and ugliness that people are capable of. It goes beyond the bloodshed of most zombie literature, and provides some insight into the theology of Dante, one of the greatest literary icons of the Western world. Paffenroth is certain to grab the attention of the academic crowd with Valley of the Dead.

As always,

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