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Al Pacino is John Milton. Not John Milton the writer of Paradise Lost, although that is the obvious in-joke of the movie The Devil’s Advocate (1997). No, this John Milton is an attorney and — in what thus might be another obvious in-joke — he is also Satan, the Prince of Darkness. In the movie, he hires a fine young defense attorney, Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves), and offers him an escalating set of heinous — and high-profile — cases to try, a set of ever-growing temptations if you will. What will happen to Kevin in the trials to come?
The Devil is a terrifying foe in this film, which should not surprise us. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in the Duino Elegies that “Every angel is terrifying.” We sometimes forget that our devils were angels first. Tales of angels fallen from goodness particularly bother us, and Satan’s rebellion is supposed to have inspired the most terrible of conflicts. In The Prophecy (1995), Simon (Eric Stoltz) describes the conflict in Heaven and its consequences: “I remember the First War, the way the sky burned, the faces of angels destroyed. I saw a third of Heaven’s legion banished and the creation of Hell. I stood with my brothers and watched Lucifer Fall.”
The Doctor Who episode “The Satan Pit” (2006) also retells the story of this conflict. The Doctor (David Tennant) encounters The Beast (voiced by Gabriel Woolf) deep within a planet. The Beast tells The Doctor that he comes from a time “Before time and light and space and matter. Before the cataclysm. Before this universe was created.” In this time before Creation, The Beast was defeated in battle by Good and thrown into the pit, an origin that clearly matches that of the Satan whose legend he is said to have inspired: “The Disciples of the Light rose up against me and chained me in the pit for all eternity.”
A majority of Americans believe in Satan, a personified cosmic force of evil, but why? The Hebrew and Christian testaments say almost nothing about the Devil. As with Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, angels, and other topics related to the afterlife, most of what we know — or believe we know — about Satan comes from human imagination, not from holy scripture.
We have used stories, music, and art to flesh out the scant references to the Devil in the Bible. We find Satan personified in medieval mystery plays and William Langland’s Piers Plowman (ca. 1367), and described in horrifying—and heartbreaking—detail in Dante’s Inferno: “If he was fair as he is hideous now, / and raised his brow in scorn of his creator, / he is fit to be the source of every sorrow.” (Inferno 34.34-36) We find the Devil represented in the art of Gustave Dore and William Blake, and in our own time, represented graphically in the comics The Sandman, Lucifer, and disguised as “The First of the Fallen” in Hellblazer. We watch Satan prowling the crowds for the entirety of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), and arriving for an earthly visit at the end of Constantine (2005).
And we are terrified. Like him or not, the Devil is the greatest villain of all time. Who else stands for every quality and condition that we claim to despise? Who else helps us to understand why the world contains evil — and why we are ourselves sometimes inclined toward it?
We also work out these questions through characters who are not explicitly Satan, but who embody supernatural or preternatural evil. If writers and artists can be said to create “Christ figures,” then it makes sense that they might also create “Satan figures.” Professor Weston in C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra space trilogy, Sauron in The Lord of the Rings trilogy of books and films, Darkseid (the ruler of the hellish planet Apokolips in DC Comics), Lord Voldemort (The Dark Lord of the Harry Potter mythos), and Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter all fit this profile. Such characters — dark, scheming, and because of their tremendous capacity for evil, all but all-powerful — may tell us as much about evil as our stories of Satan do. In fact, Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Lecter in the television series Hannibal, makes that comparison explicit:
“I believe that Hannibal Lecter is as close as you can come to the devil, to Satan. He’s the fallen angel. His motives are not banal reasons, like childhood abuse or junkie parents. It’s in his genes. He finds life is most beautiful on the threshold to death, and that is something that is much closer to the fallen angel than it is to a psychopath. He’s much more than a psychopath, and there is a fascination for us.”
In our consumption of narratives and images of the Devil, we are trying to work out what — if anything — the devil means. Even if we don’t believe in an actual fallen angel who rules this world and contends with God, most of us have come to accept that Satan is an emotionally-satisfying explanation for all that goes wrong in real life. The stories in which Satan chills us prove this beyond doubt. What could be more frightening than Al Pacino’s John Milton plotting the destruction of our hero in The Devil’s Advocate, his schemes only moments away from coming to fruition?
Evil is real, and has real power. We see that in the daily headlines and history books, in our own lives and even in ourselves. To find out where that evil comes from — to understand why human beings do things that are so clearly wrong — perhaps we do need to wrestle with the Devil, even if the only way we encounter him is as a character in a story.
Imaginative maps to heaven and hell form a peculiar subset of antebellum cartography, as Americans surveyed not only the things they could see but also the things unseen. Inspired by the biblical injunction to “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction… and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 KJV), the maps provided striking graphics connecting beliefs and behavior in this life to the next.
“Mah-tan’-tooh, or the Devil, standing in a flame of fire, with open arms to receive the wicked.”
As early as the 17th century, Catholic missionaries were using didactic visuals of heaven and hell to surmount a language barrier with indigenous North Americans. Such illustrations probably influenced the cosmological map of Neolin, the Delaware Prophet. Born around 1762 near Lake Erie, Neolin experienced a series of otherworldly visions that he turned into a map for his followers. The image here, copied by a white observer, was published some years later in a volume of captivity narratives. The rectangle at the bottom of the map represented the earth and its inhabitants. Those who avoided temptation would proceed directly to future bliss on the path labeled “D,” while those who followed paths A, B, and C would undergo various purgation processes before receiving their reward. The wicked, on the bottom left of the rectangle, would go straight to a fiery hell guarded by the Devil. Neolin warned his followers that the vices Europeans brought, like alcohol consumption, had made the path to future bliss more perilous.
Credit: In Archibald Loudon, A selection, of some of the most interesting narratives, of outrages, committed by the Indians, in their wars, with the white people… (Carlisle [Pa.]: From the press of A. Loudon (Whitehall), 1808-1811). Monroe Wakeman and Holman Loan Collection of the Pequot Library Association, on deposit in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Pequot L92. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Like earlier didactic devices, this Catholic Ladder (ca. 1840) was created by a French Catholic missionary for the purpose of evangelization. First carved into a large wooden stick, and then painted on a paper scroll measuring nearly five feet long, the Catholic Ladder served as a visual aid for Father Francis Norbert Blanchet and his associates to explain sacred history to the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest. Blanchet drew bars to represent the passage of centuries and dots to represent years in the life of Christ, and added simple pictures to illustrate sacred events. There is no sign of heaven or hell in this ladder, which simply ends with Blanchet’s mission in the present day. But this wasn’t just a neutral timeline: for Blanchet, there clearly is a wrong path to follow. In the detail shown here, Blanchet depicted the Protestant Reformation as a spindly branch off the main course of sacred history, with the three bars below it representing Luther, Calvin, and Henry VIII.
Credit: By Fr. Francis Norbert Blanchet, ca. 1840. 6 1/2 x 58 in. Section from middle of ladder, showing the Crucifixion to the Protestant Reformation. Courtesy of The Oregon Historical Society, Image Number OrHi 89315.
Protestant missionaries Henry and Eliza Spalding, who also traveled to the Pacific Northwest, responded to the Catholic depiction of Reformation heroes with a ladder of their own. Six feet long and two feet wide, the ladder made explicit the biblical teaching about the wide and narrow paths. Painted by Eliza with ink and colored dyes made from berries and natural pigments, the ladder, like Blanchet’s, also illustrated sacred history beginning with Adam and Eve. But it divided this history into the good and the bad, and instead of ending in the present, it ended with the reward of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked. On the right (directionally and morally) path to heaven, the Spaldings included Moses, Paul, and Martin Luther. On the left and wider path to hell, they featured the Tower of Babel, the beheading of John the Baptist, and several scenes with the Pope, culminating with his headfirst fall into a fiery hell where a horned devil awaits.
Credit: By Henry H. and Eliza Spalding, ca. 1845. Section from top of ladder. Courtesy of The Oregon Historical Society, Image Number OrHi 87847.
If the colorful and dramatic Protestant Ladder was more visually exciting than Blanchet’s monochrome series of bars and dots, Albert Lacombe’s mass-produced version from the 1870s was even more so. Lithography techniques had improved by this time, making it possible to make tens of thousands of copies of the striking six foot by one foot scroll. Like the Spaldings, Lacombe embellished the idea of the two roads to heaven and hell, but his was a Catholic version that included a fiery Purgatory on the path to heaven. And, where the Spaldings had the Pope falling into the flames of hell, Lacombe featured the richly-clad Pope on a gilded throne, pointing the way to heaven. No surprise that the Pope himself endorsed the ladder, which saw use among Catholic missionaries worldwide.
Credit: By Reverend Albert Lacombe, O.M.I., 1874. Purgatory to the left, hell to the right, heaven above. Original at Missionary Oblates, Grandin Province Archives at the Provincial Archives of Alberta. Printed on four pasted panels glued together and backed with linen, attached to a stick, and rolled like a scroll. Electronic image courtesy of the Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Marquette University Libraries.
Frontispiece in John Cameron Lowrie, A Manual of Missions, or, Sketches of the Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church
On the face of it, this is not a guide to heaven or hell. It is a detailed map of the world, so rooted in the here-and-now that it is meticulously plotted along latitude and longitude. It seems fairly neutral at first glance. But the color-coded key tells a more partisan story. Each region of the world is colored according to religion. For John Cameron Lowrie, the corresponding secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, only the blue of Protestantism was salvific. The didactic moral of the map? Live in or move to a blue zone, and help to color the rest of the world blue by converting its inhabitants to Protestantism and hence saving them from eternal damnation.
Credit: Photograph by Nicholas Lum.
The nineteenth-century temperance movement in the US sought to curtail alcohol consumption in a nation where it was widespread. Its reach extended to Hawaii, where sailors boozed in port towns and alcohol made its way to the indigenous population. At Lahainaluna Seminary on the island of Maui, Hawaiian students produced this Temperance Map, which depicted the ruinous consequences of alcohol and the rewards of temperance. They also printed a simplified version of the map in Hawaiian. Unlike the ladders, which showed fairly straightforward roads to heaven or hell, the temperance maps offered a tangle of choices that could lead in multiple directions. Viewers were cautioned to exercise constant vigilance. Even if one was happily floating on the Sea of Temperance, making stops at the isles of Longevity and Tranquility, the map showed how easy it was to get swept into Relapse Bay and the Gulf of Broken Pledges. And from there, the Gulf of Perdition was just one wrong turn away.
Credit: by C. Wiltberger Jr. (Published by L. Andrews, Lahainaluna, Maui, Republished in 1972 by the Hale Pa’i Printing Museum of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, Lahainaluna, Lahaina, Hawaii, 96761). Photograph by author from personal copy. Detail shows the “Sea of Anguish” in the center and the “Sea of Temperance” above it, connected by the “Strait of Total Abstinence” and the “Gulf of Broken Pledges,” which also leads to the “Gulf of Perdition” to the right.
Just available in paperpack, John Agard's reimagining and modernisation of Dante's Inferno, fabulously illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura.
Extracted from the poet's Introduction:
... it struck me that since Dante was interested in the everyday Italian heard in the street, and since teenagers are so wired to the world of horrror movies, science fiction and video games, then they would feel quite at home with the virtual reality of Hell described by Dante with such magisterial and architectural precision. There you'll find your ascents and descents, your walkways and fortified gates, your spiralling levels not unlike a multi-storey car park....
... though The Young Inferno is told in 13 cantos IDante's Inferno has 34) I hope that 13 sounds about right for a teenager and is in keeping with Dante's regard for the magic of numbers.
In one of my recurring nightmares, I'm ascending the golden staircase that leads up to the pearly gates, and there stands St Peter in his robes and spectacles, frowning.
I clutch my bundle of documents, all 12 point Times New Roman double-spaced (or should that be single-spaced, where the synopsis is concerned? Or 1.5? I've consulted a bunch of archbishops on the matter - no one seems to know. Not that it matters to them, they're already in the system...)
I've counted my words, headed my headers and footed my footers. My printer's been well fed with the choicest cartridges and the smoothest, whitest paper money can buy. I've define my genre and 'placed' myself with respect to other authors, though I haven't mentioned Charles Dickens, George Eliot or JKR. My pages are pristine, my sentences grammatical, my metaphors well-chosen, poignant and surprising (though no longer so surprising, after nine revisions, to me).
I hand over my submission with trepidation.
St Peter casts an eye over Chapters 1-3 of my life. Shakes his head, tuttting solemnly. 'Typo on page 2,' he intones. 'I'm afraid this is completely unacceptable. We can't consider anyone who has a typo on page 2 of their life story. And this is even worse - an exclamation mark on page 4!'
Chapters 1-3 are dropped (passive alert!) carelessly to the ground, which I notice is soggy and slush-like, consisting as it does of a thick layer of decaying manuscripts. St Peter glances at my letter and gives another frown.
'I didn't mention that my children love my work,' I venture (no, sorry, I say. One must never use a different word for 'say'). 'Nor did I tell you anything about my garden, my goldfish or my penchant for golden syrup sandwiches.'
'Adverbs...' intones St P. 'Three of them. To say nothing of four adjectives in the first two paragraphs of your synopsis.'
I bristle. 'There may be the occasional adverb, but only where strictly needed to make my meaning clear.'
'Strictly?' bellows St Peter. 'That's an adverb if I ever heard one. Save it for those dancing programmes on TV. I've sent devoted believers to hell for less.'
'But surely...' I adopt a pleading tone. No, make that a wheedling tone. 'St Peter, please. I've spent a lifetime honing and polishing my life story. Is there nothing I can do to get you to read it - so you can actually judge my life on its merit
…And THIS came out. Hmmm… I’m not sure about posting this as it doesn’t fit into the over-all cutesy-ness of my posted work as of late, but c’est la vie. I was playing around with line and color and sort of just wanted to do a devil decorating a Christmas tree. Not so clever, I know. I didn’t work at this all that much so it is what it is: a/the devil decorating a pine tree. But while working on it, this question was in my head as far as a cartoon idea, and I will ask you all: What would Christmas in hell look like? Got a clever cartoon idea for that anyone…? Feel free to share!
While walking down the street one day a Corrupt Senator wastragically hit by a car and died. His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peterat the entrance.
"Welcome to heaven," says St. Peter."Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official aroundthese parts, you see, so we're not sure what to do with you."
"No problem, just let me in," says theSenator.
"Well, I'd like to, but I have orders fromthe higher ups. What we'll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven.Then you can choose where to spend eternity."
"Really? I've made up my mind. I want to bein heaven," says the Senator.
"I'm sorry, but we have our rules."
And with that, St. Peter escorts him to theelevator and he goes down to hell.
The doors open and he finds himself in the middleof a green golf course. In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in frontof it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him.
Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. Theyrun to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times theyhad while getting rich at the expense of the people. They played a friendly game of golf and then dineon lobster, caviar and the finest champagne. Also present is the devil, who really is a veryfriendly guy who is having a good time dancing and telling jokes. They are all having such a good time that beforethe Senator realizes it, it is time to go. Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waveswhile the elevator rises.
The elevator goes up, up, up and the door reopensin heaven where St. Peter i
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As I've mentioned before, I'm in the midst of revising my YA ms and it's been an interesting process -- read what you will into the word interesting. So last week, I came across an amazing checklist for each phase of the revision process on Natalie Whipple's blog. On one hand, it was great to recognize that I'm in that final, third phase -- what I call the "tweaking" stage. On the other hand, I was under the assumption that this last stage would be a piece of cake. I thought if major things like plot, story arc, and characterization were good to go, how long could it possibly take to tweak? Right. Can you tell this is my first YA ms? Now I know why something that takes 6 weeks to write can take 6 months to revise.
Here's what I've learned thus far about the revision process:
1) Revisions are like rabbits. You think you take care of one -- then you turn around and there are 20 more staring at you, and not in a cute bunny kind of way. 2) Don't use chocolate as a revision reward. Or if you do reward yourself with chocolate, such as after revising each chapter, write fewer chapters. Your waistline will thank you. NOTE: I'm totally kidding -- I sometimes reward myself after each page! Chocolate rocks. 3) It's better to mark revisions on your manuscript with a purple pen. Some red pen purists out there will disagree here, but corrections don't seem quite so harsh when written in pretty colors. 4) Tweaking takes FOREVER. I'm at the stage of agonizing over every word choice, verb, sentence structure, etc. and my eyes are crossing. I flew through the first few revisions and this one is killing me -- I'm lucky if I get through 10 pages a night. Please tell me this part gets easier/faster with each completed novel. Even if it's not true, somebody please lie to me. 5) Revisions make your book better. Okay, this seems obvious. Like when the NFL announcer says the key to winning the game is scoring the most points. However, this last one if the reason I don't hate this process. Yes, it's painful at times. Yes, there are nights I want to pull my hair out. However, now I can see the light at the end of the tunnel -- just barely, mind you -- it's still dim and looks like it's miles away. Yet, just knowing it's there gives me the rush I need to get to the finish line.
What stage of the revision process do you find most challenging? How do you reward yourself? Note: if your answer to this one is that the process itself is its own reward, I don't want to hear from you.
Agent Mary Kole also has some fabulous revision posts such as this one. They can all be found on her Kidlit blog. Any other great revision posts you'd like to share?