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*****= An all-time favorite
*****The Great Divorce
by C. S. Lewis
Reviewed October 9, 2003.
Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1978. First published in 1946. 128 pages.
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003: #1, Fiction Old Favorites
I last read The Great Divorce when I was a student at Biola University. I thought it would be interesting to read it again now that I have read George MacDonald, for C. S. Lewis puts him in this book as his guide and credits his books with being the strongest influence in his life that led him toward Christianity.
The Great Divorce is the story of C. S. Lewis as a tourist who takes a bus ride from Hell—a grey, dreary, unending city—to Heaven. All the bus passengers from Hell look like ghosts in the beautiful world that is Heaven and can’t even make the grass bend under their feet.
All the ghosts are met by citizens of Heaven, bright, beautiful and joyful people. C. S. Lewis overhears several conversations as the bright people try to convince the ghosts to stay, to let their feet harden so they can travel to the mountains.
I found it interesting that C. S. Lewis disagreed with and even argued in the book against the idea that I think of as fundamental to MacDonald’s teachings—that eventually every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord and that Hell is just a compassionate tool for showing people their own sinfulness and turning them—eventually—back to God.
Though in his argument, he does put in MacDonald’s mouth that such things cannot really be answered within Time, that all answers deceive. He does leave it that every human may choose eternal death. What will happen at the True End of all things is beyond our grasp, but our choices now are still real. Is that enough of a reason to explain why I value tremendously the writings of both of these men? I still hope that MacDonald is right, but either way my concern should be to obey God here and now.
However, he does use the idea that perhaps choices can still be made after death in his very idea of a bus ride for dwellers of Hell to visit Heaven. As in the Narnia books, he also suggests that we will still be able to grow and become godlier when we are in Heaven, that life there will not be sitting around playing harps. He sees Hell as so insubstantial that it does not fit into one molecule of Heaven.
All the same, C. S. Lewis presents the story as a dream and makes it clear that he is not claiming in any way to know what Heaven or Hell is truly like. Ultimately, this is a story about life and about the choices we make and what is truly important now. He has the gift of using symbolism to show Truth in clarity and beauty.
Reviews of other books by C. S. Lewis:
Till We Have Faces
Out of the Silent Planet
That Hideous Strength
A Year with C. S. Lewis
Of Other Worlds
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician's Nephew
The Last Battle
The Last Battle performed by Patrick Stewart
Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund. All rights reserved.