Electronic Arts entered the arena of great literature by releasing adapting into video game format a classic poem: “Dante’s Inferno,” which features the Italian poet as an action hero. Early press about the game wonders how one transforms a poet into an action hero. The game’s designers themselves struggled with this question, apparently, as Jonathan Knight told USA Today, “The historical Dante is not action-oriented." So, Knight has said, Dante had to be pumped up somehow: “One of the conceits of the poem is that Dante is always fainting…. That wouldn’t work for an action game.” As a poet and scholar, I want to learn more about this transformation from poet to action hero.
How does a poet become an action hero? Over coffee, I ask my wife; a wrinkled brow and cross looks are returned. While building block towers on the floor, I ask my son; he smashes the towers then toddles out of the room, being only one year old and lacking the vocabulary to respond to such a complicated issue. I ask the dog on our walks; he is more interested in finding discarded fast food wrappers or cat poop to eat than my inquiries. I ask this question in the mirror when I’m shaving; “Stop this and get a cool-looking five o’clock shadow like academic-action-hero Indiana Jones,” my reflection responds. (My wife then says I look scruffy and unkempt.)
Getting no answers in my everyday life at home, I’ve decided time has come to engage a larger audience by delving into the Dante video game. The first problem here is that I already know the answer: How do you make a poet an action hero? Well, for this poet (the one writing this, not Dante), you stick him in a beanbag chair with a handheld controller, outsized bags of cheetos, and a case of Mountain Dew (preferably in completely undrinkable-looking red sort of color with a tricked-out faux-metaphoric name such as “Firestorm Crimson”). The second problem is that I’m not really engaging a larger audience; instead, I am activating insomnia by staying up all hours of the night slaying sinners or demons or whatever it is one does in EA’s “Dante.”
So this blog comes in to get an audience and to get my thoughts in order. The plan is that here I’ll write about my experiences reading the original poem (actually, not the original poem, but Robert Pinsky’s translation) as I make my way through the X-box version of the Inferno. Like Dante stepping into Hell in 1300 at age 35 (don’t ask how old I am, but it’s close to Dante’s age during the time this poem takes place), I don’t know exactly what I’ll find, or learn, but I’m hoping this blog is the beginning of an essay. Consider this a kind of notebook version, or rough draft. Who knows, Julie Powell wrote a blog about cooking with Julia Child’s cookbook, which turned into a movie. Maybe these words will lead to the silver screen, with Amy Adams starring as me.