REVIEW – Valley of the Dead (The Truth Behind Dante’s Inferno)

Many of my friends look down on my taste for horror fiction as being rather low brow, especially when it comes to zombie fiction. What they don’t understand is that horror is great vehicle for exploring a wide range of themes, whether it be social, spiritual or philosophical. If ever a book was the perfect antidote for such views, this is it.

Dr Paffenroth’s book, Valley of the Dead, starts off based on a clever idea, that Dante’s Inferno was inspired by his real life experiences and asks us the question, “What could have happened to Dante that was so terrible that he needed to express it in terms of Hell and all its torments?” In the pages you will find a very convincing answer.

As Inferno is considered one of *the* classics of Western Literature, it was a very daring move to try a work this ambitious, and it could have gone terribly wrong. It would be a bit of a stretch to claim this is the equal of Inferno, but it certainly is not shamed by association and is worthy of praise in its own right, not merely as a derivative piece.

There is a real spiritual resonance to this book, and it explores the nature of man in a deep and thoughtful manner. However, it does not allow itself to become too bogged down in philosophical introspection, rather they seem a natural outgrowth of the story. There is enough brutality and gore to please zombie fans, but the real horror lies in how it shines a spotlight on man’s inhumanity. In the original Inferno terrible acts can be understood a bit better, due them being in Hell or carried out by demons, but in Valley of the Dead it is living men inflicting it on each other and on the dead, and the truly terrifying thing is that there is no action, however depraved, that stretches the bounds of what we can imagine people actually doing under those circumstances. There are images in this book that you will find haunting your dreams, or replaying in your mind’s eye as you seek to sleep.

As a fan of Dante I really loved this take on the Inferno, because I could see what section he was referring to with each chapter of the book. But, I don’t think that you need a familiarity with the original to enjoy this book. I do hope, though, that those who haven’t read Inferno might be inspired to try it after reading Valley of the Dead.

This book probably isn’t for those who just want another zombie splatterfest where you don’t have to think about what you are reading. But if you want something that will make you think, as well deliver some gut wrenching zombie horror, I would encourage you to give it a read. Permuted Press seem to have a knack of publishing only the best in zombie fiction, and this book continues that trend.

I would also recommend checking out the author’s blog. He is professor of religious studies and the author of several books on the Bible and theology, as well as being a great horror writer, a combination close to my heart!

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