Craig Johnson, “Hell is Empty” (2011)

craig-johnson-hell-is-empty-2011“. . . And then there is this: ‘Hell Is Empty’ is a homage to Dante’s Inferno. Johnson has taken images and allusions from that great work about hell, written in the 14th century, and plugged them into his narrative, weaving added meaning into the book and an extra challenge for those readers wishing to search them out.
Early on, readers see that Longmire’s deputy, Santiago ‘Sancho’ Saizarbitoria, is carrying with him a copy of Dante’s Inferno. Johnson mentions it several times – pointing to its hidden role in the book – and Walt later takes a look into Sancho’s copy and stumbles across the opening:
‘At one point midway on our path in life, I found myself searching through a dark wood, the right way blurred and lost.’
Walt’s response? ‘Boy howdy.’
Boy howdy, indeed. And so it begins, Walt’s plunge into his own personal hell – both literally and figuratively – filled with allusions to Inferno. Just a few: Walt travels up a mountain – as did Dante. He walks across a frozen lake – as did Dante. He is greeted by a lion – yes, it’s a mountain lion, but so what? And Walt nearly is consumed in a fire.
There are many others. It will be interesting to see Johnson’s fans put together lists and post them on the Internet.
I can tell you that ‘Hell’ sent me scuttling to my bookshelf for a copy of Inferno to see what I could reference. (I also spent a weekend reviewing a SparksNotes synopsis of the great poem in preparation for this review. Please don’t tell my high school English teacher.)
Perhaps the greatest allusion, and another level of the book, is pointed to by Walt’s guide, a Crow Indian named Virgil who first appeared in Johnson’s fourth novel, ‘Another Man’s Moccasins.’
It is no coincidence that the guide’s name is Virgil – Dante was led through hell by the Roman poet of that name. But what comes in doubt as ‘Hell Is Empty’ proceeds is whether Virgil really exists at all. Is he alive? A dream figure? A hallucination? A ghost? The reader must decide that for him or herself – as does Walt.
But Virgil is not just a mountain guide. He also becomes a spiritual guide for Longmire. This book is about a lot more than just a chase in the mountains. Rather, it digs deep into questions of life and death and afterlife. No small task for a 320-page thriller.” [. . .]    –D. Reed Eckhardt, Wyoming News, 26 June 2011

Loreena McKennitt, “Dante’s Prayer” (Book of Secrets, 1997)

loreena-mckennitt-dantes-prayer-book-of-secrets-1997.jpg
When the dark wood fell before me
And all the paths were overgrown
When the priests of pride say there is no other way
I tilled the sorrows of stone
I did not believe because I could not see
Though you came to me in the night
When the dawn seemed forever lost
You showed me your love in the light of the stars
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
Then the mountain rose before me
By the deep well of desire
From the fountain of forgiveness
Beyond the ice and the fire
Though we share this humble path, alone
How fragile is the heart
Oh give these clay feet wings to fly
To touch the face of the stars
Breathe life into this feeble heart
Lift this mortal veil of fear
Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
We’ll rise above these earthly cares
Please remember me

(from AZ Lyrics)

Caroline Bergvall, Dante Variations

caroline-bergvall-dante-variations“As of May, 2000 the British Library housed 48 different translations of Dante’s Inferno into English.

“Poet and sound artist Caroline Bergvall gathers the opening lines of each translation in her sound piece VIA (48 Dante Variations).

“Bergvall reads the opening of each translation then names the translator and the date of the publication. The result is powerful. The overarching monotony sprinkled with the subtlety of each translation and the hypnotic drone of Bergvall’s voice leaves the listener transfixed as they await the next rendering of Dante’s lines. The piece conveys the inherent complexity of the art of translation and illuminates the uniqueness of each translator’s work.”    –Michael Lieberman, Book Patrol, December 15, 2009

Read Bergvall’s piece at poetryfoundation.org.

Listen to the performance

      here
.

Contributed by Patrick Molloy

Elisabeth Tonnard, “In This Dark Wood” (2008)

elisabeth-tonnard-in-this-dark-wood-2008
“This book is a modern gothic. It pairs images of people walking alone in nighttime city streets with 90 different English translations I collected of the first lines of Dante’s Inferno. The images, showing a crowd of solitary figures, are selected from the same archive as used for Two of Us (the extraordinary Joseph Selle collection at the Visual Studies Workshop which contains over a million negatives from a company of street photographers working in San Francisco from the 40’s to the 70’s).
The book is set up in a repetitious way, to stress a sense of similarity, endlessness and interchangeability. The images are re-expressions of each other, and so are the texts.”    —Elisabeth Tonnard

Contributed by Guy Raffa (University of Texas – Austin)

“Men Behaving Oddly”

amateur-barbarians-robert-cohen“Robert Cohen’s Amateur Barbarians raises the question of whether the novel of male midlife crisis is suffering a midlife crisis of its own. . .
If we exempt from consideration the Dante of The Divine Comedy, who finds himself lost in dark woods and shortly thereafter enters the Inferno (this remains preferable to joining a men’s group), writers have been making narratives of midlife crisis since the ’60s, when an increasing level of economic prosperity and a loosening level of morality freed men to stare rapturously into their navels.” [. . .]    –Will Blythe, The New York Times, July 16, 2009

Ruth Virkus and Brenna Jones, “Dawn’s Inferno — A Divine Comedy” (2009)

ruth-virkus-and-brenna-jones-dawns-inferno-a-divine-comedy-2009
“Midway through her life’s journey, Dawn Ahlgren finds herself in a dark wood… Darkwood, Minnesota. Returning to her hometown for her 10 year high school reunion, Dawn finds herself trapped in the Inferno Bar and Grill, surrounded by classmates determined to prove that hell is indeed other people.
The Flowershop Project, a new theater company based in Minneapolis, is excited to be premiering this original script by company members Brenna Jones and Ruth Virkus. Featuring an original soundtrack by SvenErik Olsen, and based on The Inferno by Dante Alighieri, Dawn’s Inferno is an innovative and hilarious update of Dante’s classic trip through Hell, re-invented as another kind of divine comedy.”    —The Flower Shop Project

Francine Rivers, “Redeeming Love” (2007)

francine-rivers-redeeming-love-2007The beginning of Chapter 11 begins, “In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself in a dark wood.”

Contributed by Mary Scott George