THE OXFORD TIMES Thursday 24th January 2013
By Philippa Logan
Dante’s Inferno is not the first idea that springs to mind when thinking of classical stories that could be adapted to children’s literature. However, Griselda Heppel has done just that with her variation on Dante’s 14th-century epic poem in her children’s novel Ante’s Inferno (Matador, £6.99).
Many of the parallels with the original are there. Twelve-year-old Ante (Antonia) is lost in the dark staircase to the old organ loft, pursued by her enemy Florence, her lifelong persecutor. She is rescued not by the poet Virgil, but by the ghost of a long-dead boy, Gil, who had fallen to his death from the rickety staircase a century earlier. The three of them have a horrendous journey through the circles of hell, with beasts, lost souls and bad advice at every turn.
Myths and reality merge at the outset. The idea for the story was sparked by a true tragedy in 1910 at the Dragon School, when two 13-year-old boys climbed on to a balcony overlooking the school hall, and one fell to his death. Like the Gil of the novel.
This set the author contrasting the fate of that boy with the fate of his contemporaries, many of whom would have gone on to fight in the First World War. These wonderings feed a modern thread into the circular tapestry of the novel.
Younger readers will take the story at face value, and it is a dark, gripping tale. Older readers may appreciate the classical references, and perhaps be inspired to read a little further into the allegorical poem from which this novel derives its name.