As life (and its dark shadow self, the internet) continues to teeter ever closer to some great and inescapable chasm of strangeness and despair, “Go to hell” has become an increasingly opportune phrase to periodically bust out. And yet, for all its vim and vitriol, as a set of directions, “Go to hell” does leave something to the imagination. Which hell? What’s its trade deficit like? Does it have a national anthem, and, if so, how does it sound?
Lucky for you, infernal pedants, there’s apparently a book for that. Many thanks to Twitter user Oliver Clegg for bringing to the world’s attention The Stellar Almanac: A History And Tour Guide Of The Infernal Kingdoms Of Hades, a book published by writer P. Scott Hollander back in 1974, and which appears to describe Hell—at least, one very specific vision of Hell—in such exhausting detail that you kind of can’t help but fall in love with it. Clegg encountered the book during his work with rare books, where it was described as an “early D&D setting.” But he quickly discovered that it was even weirder than some old Ravenloft tome: Hollander’s book is an exhaustive almanac of everything you might want to know about the fires below, from its units of weights and measures, to the designs of its clocks, to detailed maps of its various roads.
It’s fascinating stuff, full of fake bureaucratic forms and economic structures for Hollander’s invented society of demons; meanwhile, Clegg also did some more research on the author, discovering a Facebook page about Hollander’s work set up by her friend Neil Smith, whose letters to the writer helped inspire the book. (They were pretending to be rival infernal/celestial law firms arguing about the soul of Beethoven; this is what fun looked like before the internet, for those of you too young to know.) Although Hollander died a few years ago, Smith is apparently consulting with her estate about possibly making a PDF version of the Almanac available; per Clegg, the paper version is apparently several hundred (very rare, unsurprisingly) pages, filled with in-universe descriptions of all the minutiae of an entire fictitious place of damnation. It’s also one of those artifacts of pure, unrelenting human focus that feels good simply knowing it exists; the idea that someone would spend this long, and have this much obvious fun, describing, say, the origins of the flags of a fake kingdom of demons, is the kind of thing that can really warm a black and miserable heart.