The Anatomy of Hell in Dreamers Do Lie

The Anatomy of Hell in Dreamers Do Lie

A significant chunk of my early preparations for Dreamers Do Lie was devoted to designing the world in which the story took place and defining the rules by which it functioned. It was really the first time I ever did anything like that. The setting for Island of Lost Forevers revealed itself to me as I went and, for the most part, Eternity’s Empire has been the same.

But Dreamers Do Lie is a story that largely centers on a journey through a particular location. I knew from the start that meant having a solidly developed and strongly defined setting. In many ways, Hell is a character in the story. Its features and challenges often define how the other characters interact with it and certainly determine how their quest proceeds.

While lots of fantasy settings involve simply making things up, I had specific inspiration for this tale. I turned to the source material as a foundation upon which to build my version of Hell. This involved reading Dante’s Inferno many, many times. (At one point, I could pretty much rattle off Dante’s rings of hell off the top of my head!) It also involved a lot of deep diving into Greek Mythology.

The Divine Comedy

For those unfamiliar with the Divine Comedy, it is a poem in three parts written by Italian writer Dante Alighieri. As a whole, it represents the spiritual journey from Earth to God. Each portion of the story covers a different part of the world’s spiritual cosmology. The first – Inferno – covers the layout of Hell. The second – Purgitorio – covers Purgatory, and the final installment – Paridiso – covers Heaven.

Inferno turns out to be both the most interesting and most popular of the poem’s three parts.

The story starts with Dante midway through the road of life and lost in terms of spiritual salvation. One night, while wandering in the forest, he encounters the soul of his favorite historical poet, Virgil, who takes him on a guided journey through the spiritual cosmos. They begin on the banks of the River Acheron where the souls of the ‘undecided’ wallow in misery – not actually damned but unable to pass into the spiritual realm for judgment. On the other side of the Acheron lies the first actual circle of Dante’s Hell.

Dante’s Hell famously consists of nine concentric circles. Each circle punishes a different type of sin. As they pass through each layer of Hell, Virgil notes to Dante which historical figures occupy it, and sometimes Dante is able to speak with them.

The first ring of Hell is labeled “Limbo” and devoted to the unbaptized. Basically, no matter how awesome or virtuous you were in life, you can’t get into Heaven (or even Purgatory) if you didn’t believe in Christ as the savior. The inhabitants of Limbo largely consist of “Virtuous Pagans” and ancient philosophers (go figure).

Dante’s Hell

Hell’s punishments don’t actually start until the second ring. The people in Limbo might not be happy, but they aren’t exactly miserable. The second ring of Hell is devoted to the Lustful. Here, those damned for carnal sins are buffeted by an endless storm which allows them no rest.

Remember the seven deadly sins? Dante’s Inferno features them heavily. Hell’s third ring punishes the sin of Gluttony. Here, the gluttonous are forced to wallow in putrid filth and endure endless, icy rain.

Dante’s fourth circle punishes Greed. And not just those who hoarded possessions, but the miserly and those who squandered what they owned.

The fifth circle is devoted Wrath. Here, hateful souls inhabit the swampy waters of the River Styx. The actively wrathful fight each other on the surface of the water while the passively wrathful sink into the depths of the putrid water.

Doesn’t Hell sound like a lovely place?

Dante’s Fifth circle also contains the city of Dis which is guarded by fallen angels and contains the “lower hells” within its walls.

The sixth circle of Hell punishes Heresy. Here, heretics are confined to burning tombs for all eternity. (Ouch!)

The seventh circle Violence and actually contains three sub-rings. The first punishes those who committed violence against their neighbors. (So be good to people, yo.) The second punishes those who did harm against themselves and is home to those who committed suicide. And the final ring is for those who committed violence against God, Art or Nature.

Here Dante and Virgil plunge over the side of a waterfall into the eight circle of Hell, which punishes Fraud.

The Devil’s Abode

The eight circle of Hell is Dante’s most elaborate. It’s shaped like a large funnel around which can be found a series of ten deep pits. Each of these pits punishes a different type of fraud, ranging from the selling of ecclesiastic favors to the sewing of discord among others. Here you can find hypocrites, thieves and even “sorcerers.”

The ninth and deepest circle of Hell punishes the ultimate sin – that of Treachery. This ring is occupied by the frozen waters of the Cocytus and the damned frozen within the lake in some form or fashion.

In the very center of Hell, Dante finds Lucifer – the ultimate traitor – frozen waist deep in the frozen lake. He and his guide climb down the massive beast and pass through the center of the universe into Purgatory, where begins the second part of Dante’s journey and where ends my research.

This is just a very brief summary of the information provided by Dante’s cosmology but, as you can see, it provides a lot to work with.

Of course, I didn’t want to copy Dante’s Hell. I wanted to adapt aspects of it for my fantasy setting. My biggest takeaway from Dante’s Inferno is that Hell is a generally unpleasant place. I took out the grime and gross aspects because they’re just not my style. But I kept a lot of the other aspects; the desolation, the lack, the general misery and the steady increase in active punishment as one travels deeper into the damned realm.

Creating my own version of Hell

My hell isn’t nearly as complex as Dante’s. It consists of a mere seven rings. Like Dante’s Hell, Lucifer’s abode can be found in the dead center. But unlike Dante’s Lucifer, mine doesn’t necessarily suffer in the heart of his prison. He shapes the reality of his home into a rich and luxurious manner where he dwells surrounded by his demon servants.

Like Dante, I decided to devote the outermost circle of my Hell to those who are damned by circumstance. They aren’t necessarily bad people, but they have broken the rules. This assumes that divine rules are absolute; so stealing to prevent someone from starving is still bad. Many of the people in Ethilirotha, as I called it, were poor or suffered hardship during their mortal lives.

These souls wander a barren wasteland for all eternity. They can find food, clothing, water and shelter, but the days are long and brutal, the nights harsh and icy, and resources rare and often fought over. So while it’s not exactly the most miserable place in the cosmos, it’s not exactly fun for its inhabitants.

By contrast, the second ring of Hell is devoted to ‘true sinners.’ These were people who committed crime because they enjoyed it. People who stole in the name of greed or used and abused others to further their positions.

These souls occupy Jhagjaw – the city of Discord. This is a massive city of strikingly modern-looking monoliths. None of these towers have windows or doors, however, so there is no way to block off what belongs to an individual. The streets are paved and lit at night by irregularly placed lanterns. But this ring of Hell is crowded and contains fewer resources than the outer ring, causing its inhabitants to fight for every tiny luxury.

Beyond the Wall

The next two rings of Hell are separated by a massive structure known as the Impassable wall. It is made of a metal not found in the mortal realm and patrolled by demons who sometimes drop into the second ring to torment its occupants.

On the far side of that wall lies Sammorc – the prisons. Here, new arrivals are hunted by demons and thrown into massive stone fortresses. They occupy cells during the night and perform pointless, backbreaking tasks during the day. These prisoners are the truly black of heart, who willingly committed violent crimes and enjoyed the suffering of others.

The fourth ring consists of two levels – Vangorin, the trapped lands, and Mavakorin, the pits. New arrivals find themselves in a mishmash of dangerous territory from marches to deserts. Driven by the terrible landscape, they eventually fall into the underground pits below where they are tormented by demons.

The fourth ring holds the truly evil, including mass murders, errant warlords, tyrant kings and corrupt priests. Ironically, many of these people were favored by Lucifer in life, only to find themselves eternally punished for their loyalty.

The fifth ring is called the Forbidding Forest and is home to suicides. Here grows a lush forest and thick foliage. But it is hot and humid by day and stalked by deadly shadow creatures by night.

Finally, the sixth circle, laying between the punished and the punisher, is Dulanthaglaia, the demon city, where dwell Lucifer’s servants. This is my nod to Dante’s city of Dis.

There are many reasons why I chose to reshape, rearrange and simplify my version of Hell. But this post is getting long, so I will save those for next time.

If you’re interested in learning more about my personal Hell – check out Dreamers Do Lie!

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