Heaven or Hell: Two literary journeys in the afterlife

Early warning:

This is a post that analyses themes in two books – Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman and JM Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus. There will be reference to the plots, including the endings, of both books so beware of spoilers!

Hell has been imagined in many circumstances. Heaven, perhaps less often, has been used as a plot device or a theme for artistic creation. The dichotomy of “eternal suffering Vs eternal bliss”, in whatever form these two things take shape, is a common theme in religious teachings, and has also been used to form philosophical theory in literature. After recently reading JM Coetzee’s divine The Childhood of Jesus I was reminded of Flann O’Brien’s devilishly good satire The Third Policeman, and this post is an analysis of the concepts of heaven and hell through these two works of literature. Continue reading “Heaven or Hell: Two literary journeys in the afterlife”

To Hell With It – How we imagine the evil afterlife

Since reading Orwell’s 1984 I’ve often thought about the climax in Room 101 and the idea of somebody using my worst fear against me. The idea is fascinating, because a fear can manifest itself in so many forms, but can be so particular to the individual. In the novel the malevolently regulated Ministry of Love have stockpiled information on citizens of Orwell’s dystopic world and use this information to discover a person’s deepest fear. They then use that fear against the individual to finally make them submit.

A photograph of a dark grill with light coming through, representing a prison

This vision of unleashing a person’s deepest fear to take away their humanity reminds me a lot of hell. The idea of hell has been something of a fascination of mine for some time. It all started when watching Nick Cave live, where I swore that the ground was opening up beneath me (anyone who has seen Nick’s recent tour will probably understand). Hell and fire, eternal torture, and the underworld are all connected. But where did this notion of “underworld” come from, what form does it take, and why does it go down into the earth? Continue reading “To Hell With It – How we imagine the evil afterlife”