A Short Stay in Hell
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"A Short Stay in Hell" Characters Analysis

By Steven L. Peck

fiction | 104 pages | Published in NaN

An ordinary family man, geologist, and Mormon, Soren Johansson has always believed he’ll be reunited with his loved ones after death in an eternal hereafter. Then, he dies. Soren wakes to find himself cast by a God he has never heard of into a Hell whose dimensions he can barely grasp: a vast library he can only escape from by finding the book that contains the story of his life.In this haunting existential novella, author, philosopher, and ecologist Steven L. Peck explores a subversive vision of eternity, taking the reader on a journey through the afterlife of a world where everything everyone believed in turns out to be wrong.


Estimated read time: 6 min read

List of Characters

Soren JohanssonProtagonist
The LibrarianAntagonist
Other Damned SoulsSupporting Characters

Role Identification

In "A Short Stay in Hell" by Steven L. Peck, the protagonist, Soren Johansson, finds himself in a nightmarish afterlife where he must navigate an immeasurable library and search for a book that contains the answer to his existence. The antagonist, known as The Librarian, oversees and torments the damned souls trapped within this endless library. Other damned souls serve as supporting characters, sharing Soren's struggle and offering glimpses into their own stories.

Character Descriptions

Soren Johansson

Soren Johansson is a middle-aged professor who leads a mundane life before his untimely death. He is described as an introspective and contemplative individual, possessing a deep intellectual curiosity. Soren's physical appearance is not extensively described in the book, allowing readers to focus on his inner journey rather than his external attributes.

The Librarian

The Librarian is an enigmatic and omnipotent figure who presides over the library in hell. He maintains a cold and detached demeanor, seemingly unaffected by the suffering of the damned souls. The Librarian is described as having an imposing presence, with a commanding voice that echoes through the vast halls of the library. His motivations and true nature remain shrouded in mystery, adding an air of suspense to the story.

Other Damned Souls

The other damned souls in the library represent a diverse range of individuals who have met tragic ends. They come from various backgrounds, cultures, and time periods, adding depth and complexity to the narrative. Each character has their own unique story and perspective, contributing to the overall exploration of the human condition and the nature of suffering.

Character Traits

Soren Johansson

  • Intellectual: Soren possesses a deep thirst for knowledge and seeks answers to existential questions.
  • Reflective: He often contemplates his choices and actions, grappling with the consequences of his decisions.
  • Resilient: Despite the overwhelming and seemingly hopeless nature of his situation, Soren persists in his quest for meaning.

The Librarian

  • Authoritative: The Librarian exerts complete control over the library and its inhabitants, dictating their experiences and manipulating their perceptions.
  • Unfeeling: He appears indifferent to the suffering of the damned souls, treating them as mere subjects of an experiment.
  • Mysterious: The Librarian's true intentions and origins are unknown, leaving readers to speculate on his nature and purpose.

Other Damned Souls

  • Diverse: The other damned souls represent a wide range of personalities, beliefs, and experiences, showcasing the complexity of the human condition.
  • Desperate: They are trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of searching for answers, yearning for escape or resolution.
  • Supportive: Despite their individual struggles, the damned souls form connections and provide support to one another in their shared torment.

Character Background

Soren Johansson

Before his arrival in the library, Soren led an ordinary life as a professor, focusing on his work and relationships. He cherished his wife and children, but his mundane existence left him feeling unfulfilled. Soren's sudden death thrusts him into the afterlife, where he is confronted with the overwhelming task of finding meaning within the vast expanse of the library.

The Librarian

The origins and background of The Librarian are left ambiguous in the book. He is a formidable figure who possesses immense knowledge and power within the library. Whether he is a supernatural being or a manifestation of the damned souls' collective consciousness is left to interpretation. The Librarian's purpose appears to be to test and challenge the souls trapped within the library, pushing them to confront their deepest fears and desires.

Other Damned Souls

The other damned souls come from various time periods and cultures, reflecting the universality of human suffering. Their backgrounds range from ordinary individuals to historical figures, each carrying their own burdens and regrets. Their shared predicament in the library unites them in a common struggle, fostering a sense of camaraderie and empathy among them.

Character Arcs

Soren Johansson

Soren's character arc revolves around his journey to find meaning within the library. Initially overwhelmed and disoriented, he gradually adapts to his surroundings and develops strategies to navigate the seemingly endless shelves of books. As he encounters other damned souls and engages in philosophical discussions, Soren's understanding of his existence deepens. His pursuit of knowledge and truth ultimately leads to a profound realization and acceptance of the incomprehensible nature of reality.

The Librarian

The Librarian's character arc remains relatively static throughout the book. He maintains his position of authority and control over the damned souls, seemingly unaffected by their suffering. However, hints of vulnerability and ambiguity are revealed as Soren challenges the Librarian's authority and questions the purpose of the library. These subtle shifts in the Librarian's demeanor hint at a deeper complexity that is never fully explored.

Other Damned Souls

While the other damned souls do not undergo individual character arcs, their interactions with Soren and their shared experiences contribute to the overarching exploration of the human condition. Through their stories and conversations, readers gain insights into the diverse ways people grapple with their existence and search for meaning.


Soren Johansson and The Librarian

The relationship between Soren and the Librarian is one of power dynamics and philosophical conflict. Soren questions the Librarian's authority and challenges the purpose of the library, leading to tense and thought-provoking exchanges. The Librarian, in turn, manipulates Soren's experiences and pushes him to confront the limits of his understanding.

Soren Johansson and Other Damned Souls

Soren forms connections with the other damned souls he encounters in the library. They share their stories, engage in philosophical debates, and provide support to one another in their shared struggle. These relationships offer Soren glimpses into different perspectives and foster a sense of collective resilience in the face of an insurmountable challenge.


"A Short Stay in Hell" by Steven L. Peck delves into the profound themes of existence, suffering, and the search for meaning. Through the characters of Soren Johansson, the Librarian, and the other damned souls, Peck explores the complexities of the human condition and challenges readers to contemplate their own place in the universe. The character analysis highlights the distinct traits, backgrounds, and relationships of each character, revealing their roles in the narrative and their contributions to the exploration of existential questions.