In the classic mythological trope, the hero finds it necessary to descend into the Underworld in order to obtain something vital in order to achieve their overall quest. This could be information, an item, a skill or even a person. The hero emerges, changed and readied to take on the rest of their quest.
D&D (particularly in its B/X form) emulates this trope very well. The early levels of character development occur primarily in the Dungeon, where they obtain magic items, maps and experience. Once they reach 4th level or so, the characters emerge ready to take on the rest of their quest — explore and tame the Wilderness in order to build a stronghold.
I mention this, especially my own musing on the Holmesian version of the Dungeon (an ever-changing and unconquerable place that is almost a character unto itself), because Christianity takes this classic tale of the hero and turns it on its ear. Christ — the hero figure of the Christian story — does not descend into the Underworld in order to gain some special object or skill. He descends into the Underworld in order to conquer.
|Greek Shorthand for Christ Conquers|
For He crushed the gates of bronze and shattered the bars of iron — Psalm 107:16 (cf. Isaiah 45:2)
For as Jonah remained in the belly of the sea-monster for three days and three nights, so will the Son of man be in the heart of the earth for three day and three nights. — Matthew 20:14
In the body He was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life, and, in the spirit, he went to preach to the spirits in prison. — 1Peter 3:18-19In other words, the implied pattern of dungeon-delving in context of the Christian story is not just exploration, but restoration. This flies in the face of the Mythic Underground as understood by Philotomy and my own understanding of the Dungeon in Holmes.
Given that I am very interested in a Holmesian Underworld as well as playing in a Christian context, I have been trying to meditate on how to reconcile these two divergent views of the Hero and the Underworld. Part of my thinking in this direction is inspired by the general move that the OSR has made in recent months toward the Weird.
In a world where the Dungeon is a semi-intelligent and ever-changing NPC (Holmes), it makes sense to understand that part of this change can be imposed. What if, when a level or a sub-level of a dungeon were cleared (and thus restored) or otherwise "rescued" that it physically moved from the underworld to the surface world? In context of a dungeon beneath a city, these dungeon levels could be additional neighborhoods that spring up. In context of a dungeon in the wilderness, the levels could be ruins restored to full functionality. The more of the dungeon that is restored, the more Civilization takes root and the more Wilderness (whether on the surface or in the underworld) retreats.
The Dungeon would then change in response to the foray by the adventurers. Either the next level could "move up" or another level or sub-level could spring up in its place. Thus, the semi-intelligent and ever-changing Dungeon of Holmes can actually play a vital role in the context of the Christian hero story.