Somewhere around the summer of 1967 a rather peculiar attraction opened in the Smoky Mountains tourist town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It was called TOUR THROUGH HELL. According to the promotional brochure, the attraction was put together by a preacher of some sort. The tour promised to show visitors the lake of fire, to see the vilest sinners consigned to eternal damnation, and to walk on burning brimstone. TOUR THROUGH HELL guaranteed to deliver horror, agony, and suffering. It was not the typical fare of families on vacation, but I was sold-- I was ready to go to HELL.
The attraction was housed in a stone-like structure that had the appearance of a volcano. The building would have been ideal for a Flintstones attraction. The TOUR consisted of a series of wax museum type dioramas and Coney Island-like funhouse scenes garishly painted in ultraviolet orange and reds set in darkened corridors. It was much like a guided tour of a carnival haunted attraction lead by a preacher. Though somewhat cheesy, the attraction fascinated me, but did so little business that it was soon closed down. The structure remained for a year or two until it finally burned down.
Several years later, in the mid 70s I believe, I began formulating a novel which contained a scene inspired by my visit to the TOUR THROUGH HELL. The novel, which remains unfinished on a back burner, I call The Spiritual Adventures of Larry Tibbs. The novel, which might be compared to a John Updike style of story, relates a summer in the life of one ordinary man who is married and has an eight year old daughter. The story takes place in 1963. In my outline, the novel is basically divided in three parts: "Larry Tibbs on Vacation", "Larry Tibbs Mows His Lawn", and "Larry Tibbs Buys Life Insurance". There is little in the way of action. The novel would be mostly character driven and connected by absurdist encounters, comic situations, and spiritually philosophical reflections.
Much of the first section written years ago is completed. My son had read this sometime in the 90s and continues to try to persuade me to finish this as he thought it showed great potential. I have numerous notes concerning the other two parts, but I have not been inspired enough to do any thing with the novel. Perhaps after I wrap up the current projects on which I have been working I will return to this novel.
Hell has been a fascinating vision for many artists and writers throughout the centuries. Dante Alighieri's poetic epic The Divine Comedy famously depicts the realms of the Inferno in the first and most famous section of the work. Painters have often depicted the horrors of hell. Hell has probably been depicted in film far moreso than heaven. Frequently the depictions of hell are comic and absurd. Why is it that the concept of hell is not taken seriously by many? Could it be that the depictions that we often see and read about are inadequate in conveying what hell really is? What does the concept of "hell" mean to you?