Ever since humans started telling stories about life, they have also told stories about life after life. We show an unquenchable obsession with the world beyond the grave, and today’s pop-culture narratives offer ample testimony to that fact.
In his workmanlike study Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination (Oxford University Press), Austin, Texas–based writer and scholar Greg Garrett explores this obsession. He looks not only at our tales of heaven and hell, but at tales of the undead (vampires and zombies), of death’s denizens (angels, demons, and the Devil), and of purgatory. For a relatively short book, Entertaining Judgment is a strikingly thorough inventory of these topics, as they appear in such movies and TV shows as The Hunger Games, Doctor Who, Lost, Field of Dreams, Twilight, and even, somehow, professional football. Garrett—a lay Episcopal preacher who teaches fiction, screenwriting, literature, film, and popular culture at Baylor University—manages to namecheck Dante, Milton, Barth, Augustine, and various mythological traditions.
Items of pop culture, Garrett says, can function as “alternative wisdom traditions of a sort, helping readers and viewers to find comfort and make meaning about ethical and spiritual questions.” They help us make sense of challenging concepts, and “along the way, they offer us some peace of mind.”
As a scholar and experienced writer—his previous books include The Gospel Reloaded: Exploring Spirituality and Faith in ‘The Matrix’ and The Gospel According to Hollywood, plus some works of fiction—Garrett writes rigorous, readable prose. It is clear he has spent plenty of time with the ...1