The Great Divorce

By C.S.Lewis. An adult fantasy novel on the subject of heaven and hell. The story is about a man travelling from a massive ‘grey town’, on a flying bus, to a peaceful and green cliff-top country. It becomes clear very early on that the bus passengers are all dead and they are travelling from hell to heaven on holiday. I have in my head the sight of London stretching underneath me when taking off from Heathrow, not that I think London is hell-like obviously.

Throughout the book we meet a cast of characters who are fellow passengers, and we hear them speaking to people living in heaven, who are related in one way or another when they were alive. Each ‘ghost’ from hell represents a common attitude or character that rejects heaven. Under the sharp pen of Lewis, their folly and ugliness are mercilessly exposed and none of them can be persuaded to stay in heaven.

Most chapters are quite easy to get until George MacDonald appeared and started to commentating on the mysteries of heaven. I got quite confused and thought there were some problematic views, but I’m not sure I got the points correctly. Even if the views are not correct, I need to remember that, as Lewis himself said, this is a fantasy and fiction, not a theological textbook. Secondly, although Lewis was a world-renowned Christian writer, he was not a theologian. We shouldn’t read every page of his books expecting biblical teaching.

One genius feature that stands out is the weightiness of everything in the heavenly country, which Lewis honestly attributed to an unknown writer from an “American magazine of what they call ‘Scientifiction’ “. I found it intriguing especially comparing with the account in Acts when Jesus greeted disciples in a locked house after apparently walking through walls. Also from this book are some of the stories and sentences frequently quoted by preachers, like the man and the red lizard, and “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ ” It’s interesting to see them in their original context.

I found many elements in this book have echoes in the Chronicles of Narnia (the first of which was published five years later), for example, the imagery of light that almost has weight. They are much better thought through and fully fleshed out in Narnia stories.

Overall, I much prefer the Chronicles of Narnia as a fiction, which is simpler but more profound at the same time.

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