Bangsian fantasy

Bangsian fantasy

Bangsian fantasy is the school of fantasy writing that sets the plot wholly or partially in the afterlife. Frequently used are Hades (benign; no torture or pleasure), Heaven (a good place, although religious sects differ on what a newly arrived soul gets when he/she dies) and Hell (a bad place, but again, exactly what souls face varies from religion to religion).

Bangsian fantasy is named for John Kendrick Bangs, [languageicon|en|EnglishFantasticFiction > Authors B > John Kendrick Bangs cite web
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title = John Kendrick Bangs
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] whose Associated Shades series of novels, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, deals with the afterlives of various famous dead people.


Bangs was not the first to write afterlife fantasy; he was merely the modern face put on an old idea. One of the world's earliest pieces of literature, the "Epic of Gilgamesh", contains a description of Hell and a voyage across the river of Death in search of eternal life.

Some Greek myths deal with Hades. The Greco-Roman mythological understanding of Hades is "not" the same as the Hell (which is also referred to as Hades) of Christianity. Hades (known as Erebus among the Romans) is a universal collecting-place for all dead souls; the kind of life led by the owner of the soul makes no difference; though it bears noting that Hades was and still is oft envisioned as having a reservoir for damned souls, known as the pit of Tartarus, as well as a paradisiacal haven for the righteous, known as the Elysian fields, these locales nonetheless belong to the same Underworld. In Christianity, Hell is a place to which those who live sinful and unrepentant lives go when they die. Most forms of Christian belief hold that there is no escape from Hell, whereas characters in Greek or Roman myth sometimes escape from Hades.

Greek epics such as the Odyssey and Roman epics such as the Aeneid have the main character meet people they have known or heroes (such as Achilles) in the underworld, one of the "stops" in their travels.

The Bible does not describe Hell in great detail, and some interpretations of the Bible claim it doesn't exist at all [languageicon|en|English Allan Kardec, "Heaven and Hell", 1865.] . However, with the publication in the 14th century of Dante's "Divine Comedy", particularly the first Book ("Inferno"), Hell gained imagery still used in fiction today. Hell, as Dante described it, was a cone shape drilled into the Earth by the impact of Satan's fall from heaven (drawings of Dante's Hell resemble an open-pit mine). The cone was divided into nine concentric rings, with each lower ring offering more-terrible punishments. The worse a person had been in life, the lower on the cone that person would end up in death.

Dante took quite a few liberties with the Christian mythology of Hell. He placed persons alive at the time of the book's publication in Hell (thus taking a firm stance on a somewhat controversial issue amongst Christians: whether or not all persons arrive in Hell or Heaven at the same instant, regardless of when said persons departed the mortal world), and he also meshed Greco-Roman myths into Christian Hell. Various Greek and Roman personages also turn up in the mix, such as Virgil, the Latin poet who serves as Dante's guide. Dante's works use not just the dead but famous fictional personae as well.


In addition to being set in Hades, Heaven, or Hell, another characteristic of Bangsian fantasy is that it often has few, if any, fictitious characters in it. The people in it are much more likely to be either historical or mythical in nature.

Works of Bangsian fantasy

* "A House-Boat on the Styx" (1895), by John Kendrick Bangs
* "Pursuit of the House-Boat" (1897), by John Kendrick Bangs
* "The Enchanted Type-Writer" (1899), by John Kendrick Bangs
* "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven" (1909), a short story by Mark Twain
* "" (1901), by John Kendrick Bangs
* "A Matter of Life and Death" (1946), by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
* "Les jeux sont faits" ("The Chips Are Down") (1952), by Jean-Paul Sartre: Two persons destined for each other are sent back to life, from a bureaucratic afterlife, to consummate their love.
* The "Riverworld" science fiction series (started in 1971), by Philip José Farmer.
* The Earthsea fantasy series by Ursula Leguin, in particular "The Farthest Shore" (1972).
* "Inferno" (1976), by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
* "What Dreams May Come" (1978), by Richard Matheson
* "On a Pale Horse" (1983), by Piers Anthony: A man about to commit suicide instead shoots the Incarnation of Death and must assume the office, reaping the souls of others.
* "" (1984) by Robert A. Heinlein.
* "Beetlejuice" (1988) directed by Tim Burton
* "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French" (1998) by Stephen King.
* "The Lovely Bones" (2002), by Alice Sebold


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