Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Young Inferno by John Agard

The Young Inferno by British poet John Agard, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura, is a modern retelling of the story written centuries ago by Dante Aligheri. This up-to-date retelling is written in rhyme and illustrated in graphic-novel-like style. While some of the details of the original Inferno have been altered, this version will give you a clear idea of what the story is actually about.

Rather than being escorted by Virgil, the main character – a teenage boy in a hoodie – is escorted through the various levels of hell by Aesop, author of fables. The rhyme is readily understandable, with an occasional Britishism (e.g., "trainers" instead of "sneakers") to make things interesting. Here's a sample from the start, so you can see if it might be your cup of tea brimstone:

In the middle of my childhood wonder
I woke to find myself in a forest
that was – how shall I put it – wild and sombre.

No sign of light. Not a star twinkling.
The whole thing was kind of creepy and crawly.
I still shudder in my trainers, just thinking

of those scary monsters lurking in the leaves,
and death itself putting on a grinning mask
and rehearsing its whispers for the breeze.

Full of humor and wit, this interpretation of Inferno may not stand in as a substitute for reading Dante's classic, but it will certainly convey the sense and feeling of the original classic in modern terms.

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