About two and a half years ago I started working on a megawad for ZDoom based on the Divine Comedy of Dante. I don't seem to really have the knack for "good" level design, but the draw of creating living, 3D worlds you could go out and walk around in and check out all the weird and cool stuff going on, coupled with my almost crippling attention to detail got me to figuring that as long as I made what was already there, reverse-engineering the layout of these areas for running around and shooting things would be considerably easier than doing so from scratch. There is also the non-insignificant point that in the year 2012 no one had created an Inferno - JUST the Inferno, mind you, we're not pressing our luck for the other two cantiches - adaptation in DOOM.
You know, the fps game about killing demons. And the most famous and influential piece of literature concerning hell ever written. No one ever thought "hey, why don't I stop dicking around with very 'loosely inspired' bullshit and actually just make a 9-map episode of the circles in Dante's Inferno?" I found the notion to be kind of alarming, especially since in my efforts to dig up just such a wad, I found plenty of discussion on the topic, including a few folks who were adamant that the sequels get adapted as well.
As I worked on and off on this project, my ideas about what it should be and how it should be presented changed radically. You have to understand that my previous mention of Dante's Inferno being the most influential work on the development of the underworld in mythology is not even a little bit of an exaggeration, and because of this there are whole oceans of sequels, adaptations, re-tellings, homages, parodies, satires, you name its been done a thousand plus times. On top of that, the Comedy itself is an enormous catalogue of references to historical and mythological stories, people, places, etc. ranging from ancient Greece to contemporary times. As such, I quickly began to understand, as I actually read the Comedy for the first time, that adapting the afterworlds of Dante wasn't as simple as just a literal reading of the text.
No, the mythology of the Divine Comedy isn't simply an outgrowth of the theological Christian mythos, it's an intricate web of ancient epics, religious "not-quite-canon," and even the earliest attempts at science fiction. In short, what happened is that as my natural need to draw connections followed this web further and further out, I began to lose track of exactly what it was I was trying to do in the first place, adapt Dante's worlds into a 33 (probably 34) level megawad for GZDoom, and NOT write my own meta-mythological cosmology.
But, that was then, this is now. With the news breaking that Godzilla, the greatest mythic hero (or was, I guess, since he's dead) of post-modern times, is going to make his own journey into the underworld, there's no more room for me to back out and hold onto a "purist" version. If I ever want to get this thing finished, I'm going to have to put all my demon ducks in a row right the heck now so I can get to the actual, you know, level-building part of the process. This, and perhaps further articles about this subject, will be essentially me trying to put all my thoughts together. My ideas are still likely to change, but I figure if there's a public record of it, it'll at least feel more "done" and give me less of an itch to go back and re-do everything again for like the sixth time.
1. DOOM, all the sequels taking place in the original timeline (including DOOM II, Final DOOM, and DOOM 64) are all real and literal as they are originally presented. Doomguy is a real person, from the future, who fought off an "alien" invasion, and yes, those really were demons, and they were literally from hell. Erm, "hell," but more on semantics in a second. In addition, any wad with a story that adds to but doesn't contradict the original events of the timeline, taking place at any time before DOOM 64, may be regarded as "canon" and therefore real as well.
2. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri is real. His skill set that eventually led his to create his epic poem in the way he did, with the nature of its story being what it is, is inconsequential to the absolute reality of what he experienced. The thing is, the Divine Comedy is written in that way because Dante made it that way, rather Dante was the sole poet in all of history who was granted this experience and vision by virtue of his upbringing, personal experience, taste in poetry, etc. Here we say that none of the Comedy was fabricated as total fiction, and if any part of it doesn't represent the literal truth of what Dante went through that fateful week in 1300, then something made him sincerely believe it was the case. Case in point: most, and probably all, of the account of his journey to Paradise have been completely fabricated based on thoughts inserted into his mind after witnessing the godhead in the Empyrean.
3. Silent Hill 2 is also real, but not in the same "literal" context of the other two works. I'm singling out Silent Hill 2 rather than any of the others because Silent Hill 2 is so far the only story that contains absolutely zero evidence of anything any of the characters experience is physically happening to them in objective reality. Because this was the first game in the series I played, it strongly colored my understanding of its brand of psychological horror as being literally that, the horror of the mind, not of the body. There are no monsters coming for you, there are no psychic witch children, there are no evil cultists summoning outer gods, there is no bullshit fantasy at all. All there is is a very upset individual who has convinced himself that his wife is not dead, and is so wrapped up in his blind faith, that his reality can't disagree with him. The monsters James saw were unique to him, and they obviously weren't "real." I should also mention that in addition to this being a part of my fictional cosmology, it is also real, there are people so tuned into their own blind faith for various reasons - mostly due to mental health issues, but indoctrination can do this to otherwise normal people as well - that they honestly do "see" gods and monsters walking among us. Whether they're the only sane ones and everyone else is crazy and you just need special glasses to see Jesus is a discussion for another time.
4. The real world is real. This might sound like an odd rule but when working from a mythology with a religious interpretation of reality, it's important to put a stake in the ground to hold you to Earth. In this world, it isn't some sort of topsy turvy nonsense where religious nut-jobs were right the whole time and gay people really are keying your car, rather something far more horrifying is true. Science isn't a lie, physics aren't wrong, testable observations haven't suddenly changed overnight since the demonic invasion and despite all the best efforts of "top men" no one who is familiar with the literature has any reason to believe that "souls" are being transferred to this other universe upon death. Publically, these studies bring solace to few. Privately, the "top men" doing this research are scared, and are praying.
But here's the thing: Doomguy, in his umpteen travels to hell to kick some Cybderdemon ass (he has really huge guts, guys) has seen any ancient Greek poets with rocket launchers, any infamous tyrants with spider legs, and that homosexual professor you looked up to in college has never been found in the hellish wastes among the knee-deep demon corpses. As terrified as everyone might be, the evidence really doesn't allow for Dante's hell and DOOM's hell to be one in the same. Hence, because I have both being true, they are not.
quick glance at wikipedia reveals there's a "hell" of a lot of diversity going on. Even in Dante's essentially tri-fold universe, there are certain places, like Limbo and Eden, which really have nothing to do with Hell or Purgatory.
Certainly the second biggest influence the genre of hellish literature would be Paradise Lost, the infamous source of the Satan = Lucifer meme. Milton's universe differs from Dante's in one crucial regard, that Hell is not just outside of Earth, but is a counterpoint to the Empyrean, an opposite land as dark as the 10th heaven is bright. This, in the poem, is Milton's version of Hell, but a Dantean easily recognizes this is an entirely separate concept from Dante's literal underworld altogether.
In the bible itself, the exact nature and number of underworlds is sort of confused. We have a place of fire and torment and a place of fire which purges you of sin, both of which have been referred to as Gehenna, which is a name based on a real place on Earth, renowned for its trash-fires. You have "Sheol," which is not a place but rather the grave, used as an afterlife-esque place name to refer to where the physical body, as opposed to the spiritual one, ends up. You also have the Abyss, which, wouldn't you know it, is exactly the place where God casts Satan and his rebellious angels when they will have been (the tense is a little screwy, since this occurs in the future) cast out of Heaven. This is also where the souls of those damned will be sent after the final judgement. It is not, I need to make clear, necessarily where the damned are suffering now.
In Paradise Lost, the combined Satan/Lucifer character and his lackeys build the kingdom of Hell inside of this vast, cold, dark Abyss. This is the founding of Hell as we know it, and it is here where God sends the souls of anyone who doesn't kiss his ass hard enough. Barlowe's Inferno, a modern work by the suddenly pretty huge but always obscenely talented Wayne Barlowe, follows the Milton cosmology over the Dante one, with an elaboration on the differences between the pre-kingdom wildlife and natural state of the Abyss, and the artificially created cities and infrastructure that make up the actual kingdom of the dead, Hell, which it turns out is pretty obsessed with politics, appropriately enough.
So, my cosmology follows both, since they're not incompatible. The only change that needs to be made is the placement of the "entrance" or w/e to the Abyss. Because Hell is built inside the Abyss, and its entrance must be the polar opposite of the Empyrean's, which is of course outside the 9th crystalline sphere of the heavens, then it could only logically be located at the very core or center of the universe. Piercing the membrane of the heavenly firmament takes you to the light, but going into the black hole at the center of the universe has the opposite effect. In this way we can instantly transport those who travel underground into the inferno to a place technically inside the Abyss, and, likewise, traveling down to the core of Hell and going through it will take you back out.
So, we have a very real, physical universe with demonic creatures with slightly different physical laws who eat very live people, a Hell for dead souls which is built inside of, but separate from it, and the whole universe itself, which is built inside... the Empyrean... but... wait a minute. This is where the Silent Hill 2 stuff comes in.
It would have started as nothing more than tall tales, stories of strange creatures lurking on unknown islands, or conspicuous intervention at the utterance of prayers, the same way any legend today would have its beginning. The difference here is that belief = causation. You can sweep the area for prints all you want, but the subjective reality of these stories is, in this universe, the consequence of a real place where legends live which is occasionally capable of showing itself to anyone willing to click their heels three times and believe.
In this alternate universe populated by deified tulpas, there was a group of initial, primordial entities who shaped the world in the image of that of their creators. An alternate Earth, Antichthon, was born in the semblance of what early Mediterranean navigators thought the world looked like. Antichthon was also a primordial being in her own right, and gave birth to a host of chthonian monsters in her womb, the cavernous belly housing the entrance to the Abyss.
The physical nature of this place was a combination of influences from the Empyrean and the Abyss. Light and life giving milk leaked from the heavens, while fire and darkness flowed into the underworld. These rivers of creation are what the building blocks of creation drank from, perverting the natural elements that composed the world into infernal or virtuous equivalents, infrastructures of thought rather than substance. The schema works out something like this:
Natural - Infernal - Virtuous
Fire . . .Pain. . . .Courage
Water. . .Sorrow. . .Wisdom
Earth. . .Corruption.Temperance
Air. . . .Fear. . . .Justice
I've also been trying to figure out the relation to the three theological virtues and the three remaining circles of the Inferno that don't belong (sins based on Aristotle's divisions of evil), and the correlation between heresy and faith is obvious, but I'm not sure where these are supposed to figure in yet. Still, this serves to establish a physical world whose material elements are the very substance of human thought, while at the same time making sense of the very cool monster name "Pain Elemental."
Of course, the old gods are overthrown by their hot headed offspring, as is so often the case, and their bodies were used to construct some of the outer spheres, Saturn, for instance. This may have happened up to three times. Emissaries from the two opposite universes which this odd little place found itself growing between would investigate these chthonian gods to various consequences. By and large, visiting entities from the Abyss were tolerated and even became allies, being given plots of land in Antichthon to rule, thanks to their respect for individual freedom and personal space. On the other hand visiting angels were usually not so well received, as the community of deities wasn't really interested in bowing to one single ruler from another dimension who they'd never even met.
Gradually the infrastructure of Antichthon began to emerge. The surface world was a wild, untamed land of chthonic beasts and demigod sprites, the same could be said of the waters. Across the vast ocean was a collection islands, known as the Hesperides, which was a paradisaical vacation spot for the gods, whose greatest treasure was the great tree Yggdrasil which bore the golden ambrosia, which when eaten imparted the forbidden knowledge of the gods. The Hesperides also contained a tunnel to the underworld, which opened to the surface in many places, which was a dark, gloomy realm where the more abstract gods and a few Abyssal powers divided up land into a sort of city-state system, each governing hordes of creatures born either of Antichthon herself, from the Abyss, or from a union of the two. High in the mountains sat the throne of the king of the gods, of the sky and thunder, in a brilliant city of marble and bronze.
No we come to the matter of Earthly souls. As people from the real world began to witness legendary creatures firsthand, presumably rubbed their eyes and muttered something like "I must be drinking too much," so to did some begin to discover that life... didn't necessarily end after death. Because the world between the physical universes of light and dark was primarily a manifestation of the beliefs of man, the very last bit of brain activity they had would sketch out a dream of what they had imagined the afterlife to be, and in their imagination, they would end up actually going there.
This is a pretty wild concept, so let me try and make it as clear as I can: reality is what we perceive it to be, as we have no other means besides perception with which to understand what is and isn't real. Objective reality, hard facts, scientifically testable ideas, is something we can compare to other people's experience and by investigating the discrepancies we can learn more about the manner that we perceive things, which in turn helps us uncover objective reality, etc. But what's happening here is that subjective reality isn't "wrong," and it, too, physically exists, even though not everyone can experience it. The mechanism through which this is possible is just that, seeing is believing, so if you see something, it must be true. Because these two ideas are incompatible, the result of the combined "imaginationland" manifests as something totally separate from our universe, yet because we can still see it, that means the power of human thought can open wormholes to other universes. Well... probably just the one.
But of course, that universe itself contains portals to two OTHER totally different universes.
Unlike the Antichthonian divisions, the difference between the Empyrean and the Abyss wasn't exactly moralistic, at least not in human morality. Instead they differed more along the axis of law and chaos. The denizens of the Abyss did as they wished whenever they wished, in a totally naturalistic and bestial manner, acting only on instinct and desire, while the godhead and the angelic host preferred order over all else, anything that could be done must be done in a specific way every time, or else there was no point in doing it. Anything that wasn't "just so" had to go. Another key difference between the two is the topic of individuality. The Abyss is by nature purely individualistic, as any form of community would require acknowledgement of the significance of others, and it's not in their nature to do so, as the only thing Abyssals respect is a display or power. When the gods of Antichthon made it clear that assaults on them were not wise, the visiting Abyssals backed off, and this mutual "respect" has allowed the two to co-exist in a loose union. But God does not negotiate, he is a conqueror, plain and simple. Laws are pointless if there is no one to force them upon, and God does not understand the concept of "enough." The revelation that there was a world outside of his control elicited shock and horror, and when the chthonic gods failed to bow before him, it was only a matter of time before a violent takeover would begin.
So, what happens why a violent extra-cosmic megalomaniacal entity of cast power forcefully conquers a world which just so happens to contain the lingering thought-ghosts of people who died in the real world? Well... that sounds like a good break point to me.