Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

The Divine Comedy

Let me tell you about a project I once did. I funded it with grant money, which means it must be good, right?

The original concept was grand and sweeping: A three-part graphic novel script based on Dante’s Divine Comedy (in my head I imagined all of the issues, bound together as one large and epic trade paperback with all three stories running parallel to each other). In reality I finished part one (Inferno) and drew out the first issue.¬†Still! It’s a great concept, and I enjoy playing with it from time to time.

In the original Divine Comedy, Dante* writes himself walking through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, guided by various supernatural entities. The Dante character is quite fallible and affected by his spiritual journey and surroundings. For example, he becomes a total jerk as he descends farther into Hell, and saves face as he ascends the mountain of Purgatory.

In my version, I have a character called Annie, like to me in personality and hometown, but unlike me in family circumstance. (Somehow she sprouted a three-child catholic family. Her siblings are kind of like Jungian personality aspects of her. Don’t ask me, I just wrote it down.) I’m not the first one to think of a modernized Dante story. The illustration at the top is from¬†a series by Sandow Birk, a radically modern translation with amazing illustrations that parody some of the original woodcuts.

The overall structure of my tale goes like this: Hell is childhood. Purgatory is young/middle adulthood. Paradise is age. Certainly as a young adult about to graduate college, I felt like I was standing at the base of Mt. Purgatory, getting ready to climb.

So I wrote what I knew: Conifer, Colorado. Childhood. Hell. I have a script for all of my version of Inferno. Who knows, I may get ’round to drawing the rest of it. I am afraid I’ll have to start over: I have the script but the drawings are in an archive in Colorado and I believe the original scans of the drawings disappeared in the Great Computer Theft of ’07. Serves me right for not backing them up, eh?

But in the meantime, I wanted to share excerpts of the research I did on Paradiso. What research, you ask? I interviewed various people over 50 about their take on the nature of Paradise, not the heavenly concept so much as the earthly one. I also asked them how their definition of success had changed since they were 20…that was a healthy thing for a 20 year old to be asking when she’d be plunged into the “real world” the next year…

So, over the rest of January, I am going to listen to and blog about these interviews. I will post selected edited transcripts as well; clearly, I’m not going to use the names of the people I interviewed, as my permission does not extend that far. Perhaps they can get names from Paradiso instead.

Until the next interview from Paradise….

*Note: Dante is one of the only literary figures who had a first and a last name, but GOES BY HIS FIRST NAME. We don’t even call Shakespeare “William”. But Dante is not “Alighieri”, he’s “Dante.” How cool is that? He’s like the Madonna of the 1300s.

2 Comments

  1. I think I remember that project, and what a cool idea I thought it was. I do hope it comes to fruition, and I’d love to read it at some point. I’m especially curious as to how you relate childhood to hell. I can sort of see parallels between the age breaks you mentioned and some aspects of hell, purgatory, and paradise, but it’s a vague thing in my mind, not terribly clear. Though, to be fair, I had a really hazy idea of what purgatory was until I talked to a nun friend of mine about specifically what the church teaches about it. Love to hear from you!

    • Anne Bean

      January 21, 2011 at 6:23 am

      I think Purgatory is in some ways more messed up than Hell, because at least in Dante’s version, there’s equally terrible things happening, but they’re inflicted by angels, not demons.

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