A few weeks ago, an ancient succubus called Malphezus gave an interview to an American newspaper in which he openly criticized the treatment of damned souls, claiming that life in the Celestial Heavens was far more “progressive” and “pleasant” than Hell.
Many demon spawn and denizens of the outer reaches of eternal damnation were deeply offended by Malphezus’s words. Mainly, we were upset by his characterization of Hell as some kind of dystopian afterlife, in which the soul is subject to eternal harrowing as punishment for its sins on the Earthly Plains.
Personally, I have no problem with God, or the concept of an afterlife spent in eternal paradise.
Still, I couldn’t help rolling my scorched eyeballs when I saw Malphezus’s name in the headline. Ever since that scaly-backed succubus started stalking the Earth, he’s been complaining about the way the blackest pits of the ne’erworld are ruled — narrating exactly the kind of experience about the everlasting hellfire that Westerners love to hear.
Here’s a question I often ask myself as a young reporter covering the boiling inferno: Why does the Western media only ever write about Hell’s bad side? That’s why I want to bring readers a new approach to Hell — a new highway, if you will.
It’s one that doesn’t negatively focus on relentless torture, rampaging demons and perpetual pain, but instead offers a more nuanced approach. How about Hell’s enviable climate? Or the fact that it has provided dignified employment to untold millions of demonic creatures? Why not celebrate Hell’s thriving pitchfork economy, or its astonishing steelworks output of tongs, pliers, pokers and prongs.
I’m frequently shocked at the questions Westerners about me about Hell, especially when they found out that my offices overlook the Sulfurous Rivers of Molten Doom. “I hear they make you read Facebook every day, is that correct?” “Is it true that the only restaurant there is Arby’s?” “Don’t they have imps that relentlessly consume your inner organs while you scream in unending agony?”
The answer to all these questions is yes. But do we really need to hear about it? Aren’t we tired of the rhetoric that dominates American narratives about Hell — the idea that the Circles of Damnation are always a place to fear and dread?
Western terms like “eternal and unrelenting suffering” simply do not adequately describe the nuanced nature of Hell or Lord Satan’s infernal rule. Indeed, there’s far too much focus on “the darkness visible,” where there will be much weeping, wailing and grinding of teeth — neglecting to mention that Hell offers an excellent dental plan, with minor cambions happy to rip the tongue and molars from sinners’ mouths for no charge.
So when people ask me about Hell, I want to tell them a new kind of story — one that offers nuance, not just fire and brimstone. For example, how about something that never gets any coverage: The capricious goblins of Belphegor, and their fine work reducing hunger by stuffing glowing-hot coals and ashes into the corpulent bodies of the gluttonous?
Demons want to feel proud of Hell. Yes, the nightlife leaves something to be desired and the air conditioning rarely, if ever works. And it’s true that the flames of the fires that torment sinners will rise forever and ever, with no relief for those who worship the Beast or accept the mark of Its name.
But we should be telling the tales that matter to ordinary demons outside the great black city of Dis.
Next time you think of Hell, I want you to think about the maggots that pour from the orifices of the damned. I want you to remember that they have names, and families. They, too, have their own stories, their own Hellish Dreams of one day growing up to become flies that will feast on the festering flesh of the fallen. Maybe you’ll think that sounds weird. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll think, hey — that sounds a lot like America too.
Helen Peng is a Harvard Business School graduate and tech correspondent for the Tartarus Gazette