Eschatology: Thought or belief concerning “ultimate” questions, last things, “end times” — that is, what happens after death or the end of the world and life as we know it. Christian eschatology includes such concepts as heaven and hell, salvation and damnation, and God’s judgment and forgiveness. Medieval Christian eschatologists developed the concept of Purgatory, espoused by the Roman Catholic Church but rejected by Protestants after the Reformation. Eschatology is generally relevant to the study of literature, which has often been concerned with first and last things, ultimate questions.
EXAMPLES: The biblical book of Revelation, medieval mystery plays about Creation and the Day of Judgment, Dante Alighieri’s Divina commedia (The Divine Comedy) (1321), Mary Shelley’s post-apocalyptic science-fiction novel The Last Man (1826). More recent examples include Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957; adapted to film 1959), set in the wake of a nuclear World War III; Piers Anthony’s fantasy series Incarnations of Immortality (1983—89); Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’s apocalyptic Left Behind series (1995—2007); Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (2002; adapted to film 2009), narrated by a teenager from her own personal heaven, as she adjusts to her death and watches the players in her life and death on earth; Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2003); and the animated Pixar film WALL-E (2008), in which the Earth has been abandoned, but a roving robot finds a single plant, inspiring humans to return and try to restore the planet.