In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis S Classic Vision Of The Afterworld, The Narrator Boards A Bus On A Drizzly English Afternoon And Embarks On An Incredible Voyage Through Heaven And Hell He Meets A Host Of Supernatural Beings Far Removed From His Expectations, And Comes To Some Significant Realizations About The Nature Of Good And EvilA Stunning New Edition Of This Timeless Allegory Of Heaven And Hell, Repackaged And Rebranded As Part Of The CS Lewis Signature Classics Range I find myself in a strange place Everything is unutterably beautiful, unusually large, and disproportionately heavy and rigid My weight cannot bend the grass, and I cannot lift an apple Also, I m semi transparent now A blindingly luminescent human figure approaches me.C S LEWIS Hello there I m C S Lewis.ROB What is this place C S LEWIS Why, this is heaven, of course You can tell because everything here is so Real, and so joyous The earth you knew was but a collection of dim shadows, in whose corners you sometimes glimpsed a bit of the Real world you now see around you Here, your ever unsatisfied yearning finds its object Your yearning for large, heavy things, for things perfectly opaque to visible light ROB my yearning for what C S LEWIS Look, it s a metaphor This is an allegory, all right The physical substantiveness of this world stands in for a fuller kind of substantiveness lacking on earth.ROB But there are so many choices of metaphor that would have at least made heaven seem appealing, the way that fuller substantiveness would Instead I ve just been dropped in a sci fi world where I have difficulty walking across the diamond hard grass and live in mortal fear of rain But let us leave aside that minor objection for a bigger one You say this is heaven, and yet the people here are so mean, so heartless Do I have to be an asshole to go to heaven Just now I saw the saved soul of a murderer smugly conversing with his hell imprisoned former boss in terms like these He is here, said the other You will meet him soon, if you stay But you murdered him Of course I did It is all right now All right, is it All right for you, you mean But what about the poor chap himself, laying cold and dead But he isn t I have told you, you will meet him soon He sent you his love What I d like to understand, said the Ghost, is what you re here for, as pleased as Punch, you, a bloody murderer, while I ve been walking the streets down there and living in a place like a pigstye all these years That is a little hard to understand at first But it is all over now You will be pleased about it presently Till then there is no need to bother about it No need to bother about it Aren t you ashamed of yourself No Not as you mean I do not look at myself I have given up myself I had to, you know, after the murder That was what it did for me And that was how everything began C S LEWIS I intended you to have precisely that reaction The point is, there is one thing that matters a first thing and all second things are irrelevant once you have placed that thing first The Ghost ought to have seen that in comparison to the reality of heaven, salvation, Christ, a little thing like a murder on earth really is nothing to bother about The murderer gave himself up, and the boss did not, and this condition of their inner selves was all that mattered, in the end.ROB But surely one can only get a sense of another person s inner self by observing their outward actions If this murderer is really now so virtuous, why does he speak to the boss in this tone of grotesque innocence, in this manner which seems to imply he cannot understand what the boss is worked up about, although he must Or has he lost his reason Does heaven make us stupid It is possible to disagree sternly with someone while still treating them as if they are another human with dignity, and not a child to be patted on the head and condescended to that is a little hard to understand at first He antagonizes the boss without apparent justification, and he sounds like a stoner or a cultist than like someone who s really learned a deep secret about the universe.C S LEWIS He can t bring the boss around Only the boss can do that If you had quoted the rest of the exchange, your reader would see that the boss is so obsessed with how well he thinks he has lived his life, and with his aversion to receiving charity, that he can t even think about giving heaven a try even when it s laid out before him.ROB You say that, and so of course does the reader who follows his caricatured words on the page Your virtuous murderer does not make the same argument He doesn t even try to help the boss see where he s gone wrong Is there nothing wrong with this refusal to stretch out a hand to a sinner who might become virtuous C S LEWIS But now you re thinking merely about the consequences of actions What matters here is not that the murderer perhaps harmed the boss in this exchange, while the boss did no harm to the murderer what matters is only the role their actions played in their own internal universe Again, what matters is not harm to another even murder but cultivation of good qualities in the little walled garden of one s own soul As I write in Mere Christianity That explains what always used to puzzle me about Christian writers they seem to be so very strict at one moment and so very free and easy at another They talk about mere sins of thought as if they were immensely important and then they talk about the most frightful murders and treacheries as if you had only got to repent and all would be forgiven But I have come to see that they are right What they are always thinking of is the mark which the action leaves on that tiny central self which no one sees in this life but which each of us will have to endure or enjoy for ever One man may be so placed that his anger sheds the blood of thousands, and another so placed that however angry he gets he will only be laughed at But the little mark on the soul may be much the same in both Each has done something to himself which, unless he repents, will make it harder for him to keep out of the rage next time he is tempted, and will make the rage worse when he does fall into it Each of them, if he seriously turns to God, can have that twist in the central man straightened out again each is, in the long run, doomed if he will not The bigness or smallness of the thing, seen from the outside, is not what really matters.ROB And so in my own life, in which I am forced to ration out my willpower, indulging my anger in some cases and not others it does not matter how I choose Whether I indulge it when it tempts me to tear up a blank piece of paper, as opposed to when it tempts me smash the happiness or the very body of another human being C S LEWIS If you indulge your anger, and thereby fan it further, you ll have to live with that angry aspect of yourself for eternity Make yourself good and eternity will be heaven to you make yourself bad and it will be hell.ROB But I can t just stop having bad impulses altogether I m weak I m not perfect As I recall, this sort of thing is a cornerstone of your faith.C S LEWIS Precisely And that s why the only answer is in salvation, not in the sort of rationing you describe Some manage their lives responsibly so their sinful nature harms few and they brighten the lives of many some commit the worst crimes known to man It doesn t matter to God.ROB It doesn t matter to God that the victims of atrocities suffer as they do C S LEWIS Here you are, hung up yet again on other people None of it really matters whether you nurture and strengthen the beings around you or torture and destroy them What matters is whether, in the end,somehow independent of all that, you made yourself into of a good, virtuous guy in the process And thus prepared yourself for an afterlife of goodness ROB That s quite solipsistic, isn t it C S LEWIS Look, you are focusing on big numbers when I m speaking of infinities Are you really unable to conceive of the sort of reality I am depicting, one in which there are things so much important than anything in your earthly world that they dwarf every earthly blessing and atrocity ROB I can conceive of it all right But I don t think you have depicted it.C S LEWIS How so ROB Your heaven is a world of great big pretty solid things, populated by blissed out, monstrously indifferent creatures who seem to have no sense of morality whatsoever In your book, a busload of sinners leave hell for a heavenly vacation, and while you portray them as cartoon figures straw men they at least ask some legitimate questions, suffer from some affecting and recognizable human pains It is not just that the saved souls in heaven are unable to help them, not that these souls do not meet some sort of halfway compromise with sin the saved souls no longer even seem to have concepts of right or wrong They describe heaven in appetitive terms, as a pleasant tasty thing which the damned could have if only they d reach out and snatch it You think that, because hitherto you have experienced truth only with the abstract intellect I will bring you where you can taste it like honey and be embraced by it as by a bridegroom Your thirst shall be quenched The Ghost made a sound something between a sob and a snarl I wish I d never been born, it said What are we born for For infinite happiness, said the Spirit You can step out into it at any moment Then there s never going to be any point in painting here I don t say that When you ve grown into a Person it s all right, we all had to do it there ll be some things which you ll see better than anyone else One of the things you ll want to do will be to tell us about them But not yet At present your business is to see Come and see He is endless Come and feed Flesh and blood cannot come to the Mountains Not because they are too rank, but because they are too weak What is a Lizard compared with a stallion Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed Near the end we meet one of the most virtuous among them one of the great ones , and she spends her time strolling about in the company of a retinue of singers and musicians who continually sing her praises.C S LEWIS Oh, come on now It s an allegory As I write in Mere Christianity about depictions of heaven Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people not all music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendour and power and joy Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven gold does not rust and the preciousness of it People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs ROB Well, if you meant to portray ecstasy and infinity, you ended up portraying a vapid virtual reality paradise, one that fills you with enough narcotics you can no longer remember what it was like to think or care and then leaves you wandering carefree across realer than real CGI vistas Is there any reason to think, after all, that we are really in heaven and not in the land of the Lotus Eaters C S LEWIS But here the residents are virtuous, and what they experience is joy, the very holy substance of it, not some idle earthly pleasure.ROB You say that, but there is absolutely nothing in your book to substantiate it Whatever you choose to call it, what you wrote was a land of Lotus Eaters.C S LEWIS But isn t that what true joy would inevitably look like, from your perspective My book is called The Great Divorce because I don t believe goodness and badness can or should make any sort of compromise, any meeting in the middle Every example on earth you have seen of people without wretched feelings is an example that makes you wary but goodness is goodness, and contains no wretched feelings That is why it is wrong to say that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved Son, son, it must be one way or the other Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves.ROB You re saying that your joy is a purely pleasant experience, and things like human sympathy have to be eradicated because they sometimes harsh one s mellow And you re conflating that purely pleasant thing with goodness, so that goodness is not a thing with any other people in it, but a pure narcosis that can contain nothing novel that might worry or startle or uplift us A sealed womb, impermeable to any outside world.C S LEWIS You won t mind about the distinction between self and other, if you ve made it here When you have drunk of the fountain you forget forever all proprietorship in your own works You enjoy them just as if they were someone else s without pride and without modesty None of that will matter any Only God will matter You ll have nothing to yourself any you will have given up everything of yourself and replaced it with God Can t you stretch your mind and imagine that sort of world that dramatically different yet authentically joyous world ROB I might if I had some tool to help with the stretching say, some work of fiction that rewrote all these fearsome and abstract things in terms I could feel and touch A well written, well constructed allegory.C S LEWIS I m sorry I m just not very good at those. I LOVE reading everything C.S Lewis I read this book a few years ago and I couldn t put it down The section of the book that stands out most to me is when the main character observes a conversation between two people one who lives in heaven and one who is just visiting to see what it is like The one who lives in heaven had killed someone while he was living on earth and the person visiting could not believe that the murderer had actually made it to heaven The visiting man basically decided that he didn t want to go to heaven if this man was going to be thereand so he left and returned to hell I thought it was very thought provoking especially at that time in my life where I was working through trying to know if I should try to forgive a certain someone in our family who had done some things that were, well to say the least, seemingly unforgivable I have often pondered on this question since I read this book Do I believe in the atonement enough to believe that even a murderer could be forgiven and find a place in heaven at the right hand of God And if I do believe it, could I forgive that person also for whatever it may be that he might have done, and desire to live there too along side him think about itThis is a WONDERFUL book and I recommend it to EVERYONE Let me know your thoughts This is my favorite work by C.S Lewis I d give it 8 stars, if twer possible In it, Lewis reacts to moral relativism the Marriage of Heaven and Hell by suggesting that you cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind He astutely notes that the great divorce of good and evil is utterly voluntarily And he does so by conjuring up this simple tale of a bus ride from a ghostly, insubstantial hell, to the brilliant, vividly tangible outskirts of heaven Anyone can take the bus, any one can stay in heaven But in the end, most sadly return to the grayness below, unable to give up the things preventing them from truly accepting heaven The bus is loaded with characters full of excuses, foibles and vices And I think I know everyone on that bus Some of them I know really well, too well I have used this short book in many Sunday school lessons over the years because Lewis language is so clever and incisive, and his insights are so pointed I really love this book, and I cannot recommend it highly Lewis wrote The Great Divorce in response to William Blake s famous poem, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Lewis didn t believe such a marriage of good and evil was possible on any level He wrote,life is not like a pool but like a tree It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection Good as it ripens, becomes continually different not only from evil but also from other good I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road Evil can be undone, but it cannot develop into good Time does not heal itThe Great Divorce is my favorite by C S Lewis and perhaps one of my all time favorite novels, although I m at a loss to explain why It s not really great literature, yet I ve lost count of the times I ve read it Maybe it s because of its simplicity it seems to get people and their issues right Maybe it s because it makes Heaven and Hell as simple as our one choice, where do you want to go It all boils down to, your will or God s Another part of the book which I think is worth quoting is from a conversation between Lewis and his Heavenly guide , George MacDonald on page 96 MacDonald love, as mortals understand the word isn t enough Every natural love will rise again and love forever in this country but none will rise again until it is buried Lewis The saying is almost too hard for us MD Ah but it s cruel not to say it They that know have grown afraid to speak That is why sorrows that used to purify now only fester L Keats was wrong, then, when he said he was certain of the holiness of the heart s affections MD I doubt if he knew clearly what he meant But you and I must be clear There is but one good that is God Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him And the higher and mightier it is in the natural order, the demoniac it will be if it rebels It s not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons, but out of bad archangels The false religion of lust is baser than the false religion of mother love or patriotism or art but lust is less likely to be made into a religion If C.S Lewis was alive today, he might have to revise that statement about lust being turned into a religion aside from that, I couldn t agree with him When we went to see The Screwtape Letters performed back in March 2012, it was announced that the rights to this Lewis book had also been purchased for adaptation to stage Reread again in anticipation of going to see as a play tomorrow, November 8, 2014 in Dallas. Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good is good The Great Divorce is a didactic novel and the premise though intriguing is not always interesting Some ghosts board a bus in Hell and make their way to a portion of Heaven although it does not seem to be in Heaven proper What follows are a bunch of conversations that the narrator overhears As mentioned, the story is didactic in tone, but when Mr Lewis hits a strong point, it is a kick in the pants This text is a thinking novel, not a diversionary one There are one or two well drawn characterizations, but the narrator I think by choice is not one of them I believe the narrator is a sort of stand in for C.S Lewis himself.Of special note is the Preface to the text, which is in and of itself worth the price of the novel Lewis says in those 4 pages then most writers do in 100.As a former actor artist myself this line on page 85 knocked me back a step Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him I think that in any pursuit you can eventually lose sight of the forest for the trees I have lived this experience, which is perhaps why it was so impactful for me.In this short text chapter 11 seems to be the meat of the book In it, we are witness to two different ghosts and their vastly different reactions to the offer of Heaven That sentence makes this text seem simplistic It certainly is not, do not be fooled In chapter 11 we also observe a scenario in which we see how natural love can be warped by our humanity and turned into something quite ugly It is pretty heady stuff, and disturbingly unsettling.At one point a character says of love on Earth, But what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved I have thought about that one a lot I think this might be true I don t add a value to that or suggest that is a bad thing, I just wonder if that is not a huge motivation for something that we sometimes tell ourselves is altruistic Don t know I think that you would appreciate The Great Divorce if you have a knowledge of the Bible, especially the New Testament It will greatly aid you in seeing what Mr Lewis is doing with this text This novel has depth, but does not get bogged down in it I read it quickly it made me stop and think I will take that as a good thing in almost any book. I ve classified this book on my Christian life and thought shelf, which is one of my nonfiction shelves Technically, one might argue that this is a work of fiction, a made up narrative that uses the device of a dream vision to supposedly describe places to which no earth bound human has ever been But here, as with some of Hawthorne s short stories essays, the fiction is so message driven that any dividing line separating it from an essay is thin indeed It s very much a narrative about ideas, and the fictional framework is just a vivid stage for these, with a few props, and the use of dramatic dialogue here unlike in his Chronicles of Narnia series or the Space Trilogy Lewis didactic purpose so overwhelms the story that it s not fair to evaluate it as fiction.A professor of medieval literature, Lewis was quite familiar with Dante s The Divine Comedy I am not but I can recognize the conceptual similarity from general descriptions of the latter Here too, we have a journey that encompasses Heaven and Hell which, Lewis suggests, also serves as Purgatory for those who don t choose to stay there and here, too, the narrator is furnished with a guide in the person of a famous author One of my Goodreads friends calls this work a rip off of Dante s classic perhaps we could accurately call it a sort of homage, or an extended literary allusion Whatever Dante s purpose was, however, Lewis clearly states in the short Preface to this work that it s not intended as a literal speculation as to what the real Heaven and Hell may be like Rather, he uses his narrator s fictional journey as a literary conceit to make a series of major and minor points about how God relates to human beings, and how we relate to God and each other A key message here is that God doesn t will any humans to be damned This would exclude the idea of Calvinist predestinarianism, despite Lewis suggestion that the eternal perspective obviates some earthly theological distinctions such as this Rather, there are those who exclude themselves from Heaven, because their attitude won t let them embrace it As the book suggests and the Goodreads description quotes , there are two kinds of people, those who say to God, Thy will be done, and those to whom God ultimately says, in sorrow, Thy will be done We could also characterize them, based on the portrayals here, as those willing to recognize a God outside themselves, and those determined to be the god and center of their own universe The author holds up a kind of moral mirror in which readers can see how their own attitudes and actions reflect and it s one that reveals a lot of human self centeredness, blaming of others for everything we refuse to take responsibility for, self deceit and hypocrisy The type of fictional framework, ostensibly a description of unseen realities but not intended to be taken as literally so, and the quality of the rigorous, uncompromising, spiritually grounded ethical thought, is reminiscent of the author s also excellent The Screwtape Letters.Unlike some Christian works, this one doesn t come across with the all Christians are moral exemplars, and non Christians are scumbags vibe that non Christians understandably tend to find offensive Both God s judgment and grace, Lewis suggests, probe much deeply into the heart and soul than surface religious affiliation there are professed Christians even an Anglican bishop in his Hell, and we hear of at least one pagan who s found his way to Heaven However, I d recommend this to Christian than to non Christian readers That s not to say that some open minded non Christians wouldn t be interested in reading it, or couldn t profit from doing so But I think Lewis presupposes some basic Christian concepts about God and the afterlife that, probably, most non Christians would find hard to take as starting points It s suited, I think, as a stimulus for Christian moral and theological reflection about how we live, think, and relate to God and others Nonfiction Lewis works that I d readily recommend for non Christian readers would include Mere Christianity, Miracles, and God in the Dock Essays on Theology and Ethics. I m learning that, at least to me, reading Lewis can be a terrifying, dangerous endeavor Why Because he will change you and influence you without your realizing it In all honesty, I had some trouble reading through this at times I couldn t get beyond my theological disagreements but have learned to accept the truth he presents without criticism, agree to disagree I know I m nothing compared to Lewis, but I believe every person should think for themselves rather than depend on opinions of others, regardless of fame.The book had me thinking and still has me thinking That s what I mean about Lewis He gets in your head at least in mine and you come face to face with the things he says, and sometimes they confront you Since we all have weaknesses, and only a fool pretends, I want to share an experience I started on an unwise path in my mind last week, a matter of minutes, maybe seconds As I started in that way, I remembered the people in this book who go to hell, and they shrivel to tiny beings, because hell is a tiny place This gives a kind of spoiler and I m sorry about that The trick of being unwise we I, at least think it makes us bigger, because of how we feel, but in reality we become smaller and smaller I started to see my choices and thoughts, and foolish decisions, and how these things make me a tiny little man, without character, and to compensate, the unwise things promise to make us bigger, this the cycle of diminishing The terrifying part comes at the realization of what is shrinking Me My very essence My very existence That terrifies me I personally believe in eternal security, but even so, knowing I m always going to be saved, becoming smaller and smaller, and pathetic and pitiful inside makes those tantalizing things distasteful, and terrifying, a hell in themselves I admire how Lewis credited a sci fi author for his idea spoiler of becoming bigger as a means of entering heaven, and smaller to get down into hell The story starts on a bus Everyone s dead, and they go to a middle place, between the lower and higher realms People have a chance to let go of things holding them back, but many still refuse Many stories and encounters show reasons people have for rejecting the path of becoming bigger they choose to diminish George MacDonald comes as a character near the end and walks with him, like Virgil walked with Dante although MacDonald enters paradise He says many things that inspire me in wanting to pursue his writings further I don t agree with everything Lewis says, but his impact has broken and awakened me in a short time He has changed and continues to change my life What a brilliant man who became a weapon of Light in divine hands One of my favorite if not my favorite C S Lewis works and I am a C S Lewis fan The insight in this book about God and man s relationship with Him is wonderful.I suppose that many who read this will already know that I m a Christian I won t belabor it, if you re interested I m happy to discuss if you don t want to I won t push my thoughts on you.This is a very readable book and while I suppose the Christian aspects will be obvious it is also possible to simply read the book as a novel There are some overt teaching sections but the book is constructed as a fantasy story told from a narrator s point of view I ve read novels from the point of view of other religions and didn t suffer or find myself suborned into some belief against my will, so I don t think non Christians would necessarily have a problem with the book As to Christians I believe most will enjoy this book and find an strangely when some of it is considered uplifting story that is also thought provoking, enlightening and even instructional If you are a non Christian or even irreligious you might try it and see if you can approach it as a fantasythat is up to each reader of course.On the religious and philosophical front, the title is a response to Blake s, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and though the book isn t a direct answer to this work it provides a contrasting and opposed view Blake s work was written long before this one 1793 and is not as well know as this book It s not at all necessary to have read it to enjoy this work I only include this piece of information because I know some will be curious about the title Finally and again , yes this is a Christian book and if you are a Christian and approach it so I believe it s possible to get much from this short read In studying the Triune God and wanting, hoping for even a little understanding about His plan for us and the provision He has made this book was is for me amazing C.S Lewis was a wise man and close to God, and he left us an abundance of that wisdom from God in his writings.Highest recommendation. I just listened to the audio of The Great Divorce It was my first reading of this book, and I know there will be many re readings in my future I feel a first reading was really just a glimpse of what it will be like to delve into it again and again First of all, I must say that I adore Lewis s writing style and that his stories really resonate with me And I know I m just beginning to touch the surface I have read Narnia a couple times and I read The Problem with Pain last year I m eager to continue venturing into his writings His Christian perspective is inspiring and is quite a good fit to my own ideas musings wonderings beliefs My favorite part of The Great Divorce In great anguish, a woman declares, I d rather die She is reminded, You are already dead In further anguish, she cries out, Then I wish I were never born What are we born for She is answered, For infinite happiness You can step out into it at any moment The idea of happiness always being accessible, always being available, is beautiful We don t have to wait for heaven It s already here