Writer ∙ Author ∙ Journalist

The reincarnation of Ken Jennings

Zoomer / July 2023

The Jeopardy! star’s new book travels into the great beyond

Ken Jennings, the Jeopardy! GOAT turned co-host, isn’t afraid of death. In fact, he’s written 100 Places to See After You Die: A Travel Guide to the Afterlife, which is equal parts encyclopedia and travelogue. Jennings looks at where and how humans envision themselves after they die, from ancient Mesopotamia to Dante’s Inferno to The Simpsons. Here are a few of Jennings’ Final Jeopardy!-worthy factoids about final destinations.

DUAT, ANCIENT EGYPT: Arguably, nobody took the afterlife more seriously than the Egyptians, and centuries later their famous mummies are star museum attractions. But where did their souls go? To Duat, the obstacle-filled underworld, complete with “fire, crocodiles, bugs, decay, torture chambers and booby traps.” Survive this “full Indiana Jones temple of doom” via 189 spells – hopefully memorized in the early realm before you go – and then face 42 judges in the Hall of Two Truths, where your heart will be weighed against an ostrich feather to test your morality. “If the scales balance exactly,” writes Jennings, “Osiris will welcome you to the afterlife.”

PANDEMONIUM, PARADISE LOST: For John Milton, “the granddaddy of fan fiction,” Jennings imagines the English poet’s elevator pitch for his 10,500-line epic poem (pub: 1667): “What if the Bible, wondered Milton … but from Satan’s point of view?” Cut to Milton’s ubiquitous version of hell, with “a fiery, sulfurous lake” whose “flames somehow give off darkness rather than light.” Adam hadn’t fallen from Eden yet, but when he did, he’d have to dodge the flames to cross a rocky landscape of bogs to reach Hell’s capital, Pandemonium. It’s not the best place to visit, but Jennings notes there’s plenty to look at. “Don’t miss the four rivers of hate, sorrow, weeping, and anger.”

THE SUMMERLAND, WICCA: No wonder teenage would-be witches flock to Wiccan ideas: The perfectly named Summerland is a peaceful afterlife for rest and relaxation, where adherents can “recover from life’s troubles and make plans for their next reincarnation.” Loosey-goosey Summerland rules mean anything goes and there’s never any bad weather, so stay as long as you want, or forever, in this vague paradise. “Wiccans are way too chill to insist on specifics here,” writes Jennings.

IOWA, FIELD OF DREAMS: Religion doesn’t have a monopoly on imagined heavens, especially with Hollywood around. In the 1989 film, Kevin Costner hears an omniscient, baseball-loving God – “if you build it, he will come” – and promptly follows the instructions. Here, heaven is a baseball diamond surrounded by ghostly all-star greats … and his estranged father, who just wants to play catch once more, all while “every emotionally repressed male watching cries manfully into his popcorn.”

“THE AFTERLIFE,” PAUL SIMON: When the songwriter, who once wrote “how terribly strange to be seventy” turned 70 in 2011, he released So Beautiful or So What, an album musing on how terribly strange it is to die and meet God. In Simon’s song “The Afterlife,” the newly deceased narrator waits patiently in a long, slow line for a turn to climb a ladder into the sky. What happens next? Nobody knows. “When [Simon] tries to put the experience into words, all he can think of is the nonsense syllables of old blues and rockabilly songs,” writes Jennings. Whatever the lyrics, God must be feeling the beat, because rock ’n’ roll heaven clearly has a VIP section.