August 21, 2009

Dante finds a Zombie Hell in the VALLEY OF THE DEAD

New torments and new tormented souls I see around me wherever I move, and howsoever I turn, and wherever I gaze. - Dante Aligheri (Canto VI of Inferno)

During his exile from Italy in the early 1300's, Dante Aligheri began writing what is now known as The Divine Comedy, an epic poem in three parts about the poet's literal journey into the circles of hell, then purgatory, and finally paradise. The most famous section of The Divine Comedy is Inferno, Dante's description of hell and the poetically just torments and punishments sinners face for their lives of indulgence. But what if these nightmarish depictions of torture did not solely spring from Dante's imagination? What if they were based on Dante's witnessing of a real hell: a hell on earth caused by zombies.

This is the fascinating premise for Kim Paffenroth's new book VALLEY OF THE DEAD (Cargo Cult Press, 2009) in which Dante is imagined to have lived through a zombie outbreak. The horrors of cannibalism, eviscerations, and bodily violence he witnesses become the inspiration for the terrors of which he later writes in his Inferno.

"When I saw how similar Romero's idea of damnation was to Dante's - endless repetition, a slave to one's appetite - I saw the compatibility," Paffenroth told The Zed Word zombie blog. Kim Paffenroth is well-versed in visions of damnation. As a professor of religious studies, Paffenroth linked biblical hell to zombie films in the award-winning Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero's Visions of Hell on Earth in 2006. Since then, he's been editing zombie anthologies for Permuted Press and writing original zombie novels and stories such as Dying to Live: A Novel of Life (2007) and its sequel Dying to Live: Life Sentence (2008). Now with Valley of the Dead, Paffenroth reconnects zombies to visions of hell -- Dante's vision of hell.

"I'd been working on academic, non-fiction analyses . . . but I got increasingly frustrated by the simple fact that almost no one reads those, and I think Dante should be read and appreciated by lots of people."

In preparing to share the work of Dante with his readers and zombie fans, Paffenroth also finds connections between the sociallyrelevant allegorical elements of Dante's Inferno and the socially subversive and metaphorical elements of the modern zombie. Sometimes literally and sometimes subtextually, Dante's Inferno comments on the religious and political struggles in Italy during Dante's life. Have zombies been used to the same political effect? Paffenroth would seem to agree.

"I think Land of the Dead is a better political satire on the Bush years than Fahrenheit 9/11," said Paffenroth. "I enjoyed the latter and laughed, but I'll never watch it again, whereas the zombie metaphors hold up to repeated viewings. And I think, like Dante, they'll hold up to repeated viewings, even by people who don't remember Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld, just as people read Dante even though they have no connection to Count Ugolino or Pope Boniface."

At the end of the month, Kim Paffenroth will be in Toronto as a guest for the 2009 Festival of Fear, which is the horror portion of the overall amazing horror, sci-fi, comics, gaming, and anime event known as FANEXPO. FanExpo is a premiere fan convention and always manages to bring in interesting people and voices, such as Kim Paffenroth. If you are attending, make sure you visit Paffenroth's booth in the guest section to check out and buy his books and learn more about Dante's experiences with zombies in Valley of the Dead. Kim Paffenroth will also be participating alongside Max Brooks and Kelly Armstrong on the MODERN LITERARY MONSTERS PANEL (August 28th @ 7:00 pm in room #713A). Don't miss it!


Kim Paffenroth's blog