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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > Jan/Feb 2019 > To hell and back

To hell and back

Governor General’s Literary Award winner Marq de Villiers presents a travelogue to the underworld and its denizens

Hell and Damnation: A Sinner’s Guide to Eternal Torment

Marq de Villiers

University of Regina Press

IN THE MOVIE Event Horizon, the crew of a rescue vessel is dispatched to the far reaches of space to investigate the eponymous ship, which vanished without a trace and has reappeared as mysteriously. It transpires that the Event Horizon made a detour on its intended course, winding up smack in the middle of hell. One set piece is a montage of split-second cuts visualizing a realm of pain and torture; the images are reminiscent of a Hieronymus Bosch painting in their baroque grotesqueness and gore. As a mash-up of sci-fi and horror tropes, Event Horizon is an enjoyable – if admittedly over the top and melodramatic – example of its kind, though it is as interesting for its extreme vision of what might lie on the other side of human consciousness and existence. It’s not pretty, to say the least.

Marq de Villiers does not mention Event Horizon in his latest book, which catalogues and describes various conceptualizations of hell throughout history and across cultures, nor does he spend a great deal of time considering other popular renditions of eternal damnation or devilry (William Friedkin’s The Exorcist gets name-checked in the book’s final pages, though not in a critical examination of the film itself but to illustrate a completely different point). De Villiers’s approach is generally more highbrow and largely confines itself to classical figures and sacred texts from antiquity. Modernity and its interpretations of eternal punishment are glossed over, shunted off to a brief and cursory epilogue.

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