This is a list of some of the afterlife fiction I have come across in the course of my research. It is obviously not exhaustive; I am still putting it together and would appreciate comments or suggestions for additions. As far as the defintion goes, I am counting anything that is set entirely in or has a significant portion set in the afterworld. This rules out things like ghost stories or spiritualist texts, which deal more with the impact of the dead on the living than on figuring another world. My research focuses on the twentieth century, so I have included only those texts from the ancient, medieval, and ealry modern periods that have had the most direct influence on twentieth-century works. If you are new to the subgenre and/or interested in a more selective reading list, try my syllabus for an undergraduate course on afterlife fiction. I should also note that I generally list only the first book in book series (like Bangs's House-Boat books or Farmer's Riverworld series) in the main list; I identify the subsequent books in the series in the "notes" section.

One final note: the list does contain some SPOILERS due to a sub-subgenre of afterlife fiction and film that witholds the revelation that the protagonist is dead for the final few moments (a move that was fresh in 1886, but less so now). I don't care much about spoilers, but you might, so consider yourself warned.

Ancient and Medieval Precursors

Date Author Title Genre Notes
8th Century BCE Homer Odyssey Book XI Epic The most famous example of classical nekyia (a ritual summoning of the dead to ask advice). Odysseus travels to the Halls of Hades to speak to the shade of Teiresias. The Samuel Butler translation is available here from Project Gutenberg.
405 BCE Aristophanes The Frogs Comedy A parody of katabasis following Dionysus into the afterworld to seek out a tragedian to rejuvenate Athens after the death of Euripides. Zaniness (including a rap battle between Euripides and Aeschelus) ensues. A text version of the Harvard Classics edition is available here from Project Gutenberg.
29-19 BCE Virgil Aeneid Book VI Epic One of the definitive examples of classical katabasis. Aeneas travels to the underworld to gain sanction from his deceased father. A text version is available here from Project Gutenberg.
125-180 Lucian Dialogues of the Dead Satire Short satirical dialogues featuring characters such as Charon, Pythaqgoras, Hermes, and Lucian's skeptical leveler Menippus. Not all of Lucian's afterlife writing is contained in the text titles Dialogues of the Dead. Readers may also wish to consult texts such as A Voyage to the Underworld. Most of Lucian's works (in the Fowler and Fowler translation) are available online from Internet Sacred Texts Online.
1308-1381 Dante The Divine Comedy Epic The single most important text for almost all subsequent Western afterlife writing. It follows the poet on his guided tour of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. World of Dante offers a wealth of resources on the Divine Comedy, including the full text in both Italian and the Mandelbaum English translation.

Modern Afterlife Fiction

Date Author Title Genre Notes
1743 Henry Fielding A Journey from This World to the Next Prose fiction The beginning of the novelization of the afterlife. The first part of the satirical text follows the journey of one soul into the afterworld, while the second draws from the dialogues of the dead tradition to recount a number of reincarnations of Julian the Apostate as members of different social classes. A text version is available here from Project Gutenberg. A pdf of the 1834 London editon is available as a google book.
1863 Charles Kingsley The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby Prose fiction A didactic children's tale that follows Tom the chimney sweep past the death of his body and into an underwater world of allegorical Christian instruction. A text version is available here from Project Gutenberg.
1886 Ambrose Bierce "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" Short story The first of the sub-subgenre mentioned above that witholds the revelation of the protagonist's death until the end of the story. In this Civil War tale, a confederate sympathizer is tricked by a Union spy and sentenced to hanging. The story tells of his escape through a progressively more disconcerting landscape, only to reveal at the end that this escape took place only in his mind at the moment of his death. Text versions are available online from Classic Reader and the Eserver Fiction Collection.
1895 John Kendrick Bangs A House-Boat on the Styx: Being Some Account of the Divers Doings of the Associated Shades Prose fiction The source of the term Bangsian fantasy, this and following volumes update the tradition of Dialogues of the Dead in a light club setting populated by characters both historical (ranging from Xanthippe to Sir Walter Raleigh) and fictional (e.g., Hamlet and Sherlock Holmes). Bangs continued the series in The Pursuit of the House-Boat (1897), The Enchanted Type-Writer (1899), and Mr. Munchausen: Being a True Account of Some of the Recent Adventures beyond the Styx of the Late Hieronymus Carl Friedrich, Sometime Baron Munchausen of Bodenwerder, as originally reported for the Sunday Edition of the Gehenna Gazette by its special interviewer the late Mr. Ananias formerly of Jerusalem, and now first transcribed from the columns of that journal by J. K. Bangs (1901). A House-Boat on the Styx comprises a loosely connected set of farcical dialogues enabled by the afterworld setting, while the following volume (The Pursuit of the House-Boat) continues an action narrative begun at the end of House-Boat. You can find a long list of links to Project Gutenberg editions of Bangs's writings (including all of those mentioned above) here.
1909 Mark Twain Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven Prose fiction Twain's satirical debunking of Heaven can be found online at Project Gutenberg or in the 1952 volume titled Report from Heaven, which also includes a letter from a Recording Angel unpublished during Twain's lifetime.
1928 Wyndham Lewis The Childermass Prose fiction Notes coming soon. Out of print, but available online at HathiTrust Digital Library.
1930 Vladimir Nabokov The Eye Prose fiction Coming soon
1937 Charles Williams Descent into Hell Prose fiction Coming soon
Written 1940, published 1967 Flann O'Brien The Third Policeman Prose fiction Coming soon
1944 Jean-Paul Sartre No Exit Drama Coming soon
1945 Charles Williams All Hallows' Eve Prose fiction Coming soon
1946 C. S. Lewis The Great Divorce Prose fiction Coming soon
1946 Amos Tutuola The Palm-Wine Drinkard Prose fiction Coming soon
1954 Amos Tutuola My Life in the Bush of Ghosts Prose fiction Coming soon
1955 Wyndham Lewis The Human Age, Books 2 and 3: Monstre Gai and Malign Fiesta Prose fiction Coming soon
1956 William Golding Pincher Martin Prose fiction Coming soon
1963 Samuel Beckett Play Drama Coming soon
1965 Pierre Klossowski The Baphomet Prose fiction Coming soon
1970 Samuel Beckett "The Lost Ones" Short prose Coming soon
1971 Philip José Farmer To Your Scattered Bodies Go Prose fiction Coming soon
1976 Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle Inferno Prose fiction Coming soon
1978 Richard Matheson What Dreams May Come Prose fiction Coming soon
1979 Stanley Elkin The Living End Prose fiction Coming soon
1981 Alasdair Gray Lanark: A Life in Four Books Prose fiction Coming soon
1984 Thomas Disch The Businessman Prose fiction Coming soon
1986 Pamela Sargent and Ian Watson (eds.) Afterlives Short fiction anthology Coming soon
1987 William S. Burroughs The Western Lands Prose fiction Coming soon
1991 Cees Nooteboom The Following Story Prose fiction Coming soon
1995 Peter Crowther and Edward E. Kramer (eds.) Dante's Disciples Short fiction anthology Coming soon
1996 Richard Grant Tex and Molly in the Afterlife Prose fiction Coming soon
2002 Alice Sebold The Lovely Bones Prose fiction Coming soon
2003 Gary Soto The Afterlife Yound adult fiction Coming soon
2006 Kevin Brockmeier The Brief History of the Dead Prose fiction Coming soon
2008 Joshua Cohen A Heaven of Others Prose fiction Coming soon
2009 Robert Olen Butler Hell Prose fiction Coming soon
2009 David Eagleman Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives Short story collection Coming soon
2011 Chuck Palahniuk Damned Prose Fiction Coming soon

Afterlife Films

Date Director Title IMDB Notes
1930 Robert Milton Outward Bound imdb Coming soon
1934 Fritz Lang Liliom imdb Coming soon
1944 Edward R. Blatt Between Two Worlds imdb Coming soon
1946 Powell and Pressburger A Matter of Life and Death (UK)
Stairway to Heaven (USA)
imdb Coming soon
1947 Jean Delannoy Les jeux sont faits (Fr)
Second Chance (Int)
imdb Coming soon
1962 Herk Harvey Carnival of Souls imdb Coming soon
1977 Claude Chabrol Alice, or the Last Fugue imdb Coming soon
1990 Adrian Lyne Jacob's Ladder imdb Coming soon
1991 Albert Brooks Defending Your Life imdb Coming soon
1994 Giuseppe Tornatore A Pure Formality imdb Coming soon
1995 Jim Jarmusch Dead Man imdb Coming soon
1998 Hirokazu Koreeda After Life imdb Coming soon
1998 Vincent Ward What Dreams May Come imdb Coming soon

Secondary Reading

Date Author Title Publication Notes
1964 Roger Caillois "La représentation de la mort dans le cinéma américain" in Instincts et société Paris: Éditions Gonthier, 115-29 An interesting discussion of the bureaucratic treatment of death and the afterlife in American films.
1975 Roger Caillois "Metamporphoses of Hell" in The Edge of Surrealism (ed. Claudine Frank) Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 298-311 A revised version of his earlier treatment of death in film, now including extended comments about the meaning of Hell in a post-holocaust world.
2005 Rachel Falconer Hell in Contemporary Literature Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Deals with both literal and metaphorical hells in post-WWII fiction and poetry.
1973 Frederick M. Keener English Dialogues of the Dead: A Critical History, an Anthology, and a Check List New York: Columbia University Press Published back when the title actually indicated the contents of the book. Useful for anyone interested in the history of dialogues of the dead, but focused mainly on English language examples between 1600 and 1900.
1997 David L. Pike Passage through Hell: Modernist Descents, Medieval Underworlds Ithaca: Cornell University Press A useful discussion of katabasis as a way of rhetorically staging a break with the past.
2001 Evans Lansing Smith The Descent into the Underworld in Literature, Painting, and Film, 1895-1950 Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press Despite the title, I found this text extremely unhelpful. The author is a disciple of Joseph Campbell and fond of locating descent narratives and themes everywhere but not saying much of substance about any of them. It may be of interest to someone with different critical interests in afterlife fiction.
1979 Thomas Whitaker "Playing Hell" The Yearbook of English Studies 9: 167-187 An excellent discussion of stage treatments of Hell, including Sartre's No Exit, Beckett's Play, Genet's The Screens, and Pinter's No Man's Land.