As early as the first century B.C., volcanoes were imagined as entrances to Hell. In the “Aeneid,” the epic poem by the Italian poet Virgil, the entrance to the underworld is located in the Phlegrean Fields, a volcanic area near Naples, Italy.
In another work about 1,300 years later, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri expanded on the same theme in the “Inferno.” In that work, the author explores the nine levels of Hell, some of which have fiery qualities obviously inspired by volcanoes.
As scientific understanding of the natural world advanced and the science of volcanology became established, volcanoes became more of a backdrop in works of fiction, especially in science fiction and adventure stories.
In Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” Professor Lidenbrock and his companions begin their travels by descending into the crater of Snaefellsjokull volcano in Iceland and end by being erupted out of Stromboli volcano in Italy.
James Fenimore Cooper, author of “Last of the Mohicans,” also wrote “The Crater.” In it, he writes of sailors, shipwrecked on a volcanic island, who establish a utopia later destroyed by an eruption.
Modern adventure writers also make use of volcanoes. Patrick O’Brian, author of the naval adventures of Jack Aubrey (featured in the movie “Master and Commander”), included a south Pacific undersea volcanic eruption in the opening of his book, “The Wine-Dark Sea.”
John Saul’s 1998 novel “The Presence” tells of teenagers with lungs modified to breathe vog (perhaps a useful adaptation for Big Island residents today). Less well-known is the book “Volcano Ogre,” which features a lava monster (in reality an American geologist in a heat-proof suit covered by molten rock) that terrorizes a community and has to be stopped by Prince Zarkon and his Omega Crew (whether or not this qualifies as literature is, perhaps, debatable).
Volcanoes have also provided the setting for romantic dramas. “The Last Days of Pompeii,” an 1834 novel written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (and inspired by a Russian painting of the same name), uses the A.D. 79 eruption of Vesuvius as the climax in an otherwise fictional story centered on a love triangle between three Pompeii residents.
More recently, Susan Sontag’s best-seller, “The Volcano Lover,” describes a real-life love triangle between the beautiful Emma Hamilton, her diplomat husband, Sir William Hamilton, and British naval hero Horatio Nelson. While serving in Italy, Sir William Hamilton spent much of his free time researching volcanoes (providing the title for Sontag’s novel), leading many to view him as the father of volcanology.
The preceding from article that does not mention Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry.