Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Just finished reading Anthony McGowan's "Hellbent." It looks like a kid's book. I found it in the Young Adults' section of a Times Bookshop. It reads like a kid's book. It is full of juvenile, sophomoric toilet humour, and is overflowing with excruciatingly hideous idioms and similes only a 14-year-old boy could come up with, and only his scabby 14-year-old chums would chuckle at due to peer pressure.

The cover graphic is a simple looking label that reads, "WARNING: The most disgusting book you'll ever read." Now, that's really targeting a 14-year-old audience, and I had to go pick it up. And I couldn't put it down after that.

I don't know what the kiddies who persuaded their parents to buy this book think of it, but I think it's one of the most disturbing depictions of what hell is like without getting all religious and preachy about it.

In fact, McGowan looks at the concept of hell more from a philosophical point of view, examining arguments about the human condition, free will, existentialism, morality, justice, and the nature of hell itself: what it is, how it operates and how it devises specific torments particularly tailored to maximize the individual's misery with respect to the sins the individual is being punished for. McGowan is clear that in hell there is NO atonement, just unceasing eternal punishment.

The individual in question is a 16-year-old boy who is killed by an ice-cream truck(!) and goes to hell ostensibly for being a teenage prat. His personal hell is to spend eternity having nothing to do but read from a huge library of philosophy books and listen to nothing but classical music. He gets the idea that there must be someone else in hell who's suffering from the torments of having to play violent video games and listen to loud music for eternity. His quest then is to find this little corner of hell and trade places with its occupant so that even if they have to spend forever in hell, they would at least be doing things that they liked.

His journey through hell shows us hell's different facets, where every section and every district while being different in form from one another is the same, if not worse, in function -- causing pain, misery and suffering to the souls of the damned.

"Hellbent" doesn't seem like a cautionary tale. It doesn't really offer any tips about how to avoid going to hell, anyway. It doesn't say that hell is our inevitable end, either. What I think McGowan is getting at is that, mitigating circumstances notwithstanding, there are choices and there are consequences. Hell is only a consequence.

Which got me thinking along a similar thread to NBS some days ago: why is it that the decisions we make within our lifespan -- measured in mere decades -- should result in consequences that last throughout eternity? That doesn't seem all that fair, does it?

Parents, unless you want to spend lots of time answering difficult questions, or comforting your kiddies from their nightmares, I suggest you avoid buying this book as a bedtime story for junior. This might be a great text if you take KI though. Wanna borrow it, NBS?

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