I’m back today with a review as part of my 3 posts reviewing works for The Classics Club. I’ve been focusing on this list for the last month or so because suddenly my deadline is coming this year!
Today I am reviewing The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis. I added a few more C. S. Lewis reads to my list because I aspire to read more by him. A lifetime goal of mine is to read his collected works. And that certainly can take a lifetime as Lewis wrote widely and in depth about so many topics. I always feel inspired and enlightened by his work.
This was my first time reading a hard copy book of The Great Divorce although I’ve listened to the audio book with my husband on a road trip. It’s a great book to listen to–simple stories and easy to follow with fascinating truths throughout.
- If you want to read more C. S. Lewis beyond Narnia, I would start with this story. It’s not too long and it’s not as dense as some of his other religious writings. I think the story is easy to follow and compelling for readers of many religious backgrounds.
- I enjoy that George MacDonald is the mentor for our narrator in this story. I’ve only read a bit of his work but a good friend of mine wrote her graduate thesis on his work so I had to smile when I saw him featured in this one.
- The protagonist is a bit removed from the action but offers such poignant descriptions of what he sees.
According to Goodreads, “C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce is a classic Christian allegorical tale about a bus ride from hell to heaven. An extraordinary meditation upon good and evil, grace and judgment, Lewis’s revolutionary idea in the The Great Divorce is that the gates of Hell are locked from the inside. Using his extraordinary descriptive powers, Lewis’ The Great Divorce will change the way we think about good and evil.”
I love the symbolism in this story and the way Lewis characterizes the differences between Heaven (or the potential for Heaven) and Hell. The scenery in Heaven and the solid nature of it is overwhelming to our narrator at first. It is harsh, bright, more than he can take in. I thought it fascinating that you had to overcome that intensity and even pain to begin a journey to the mountain. We are never exactly told what lies beyond the mountain but I believe it is there that true Heaven and understanding lie. There is understanding beyond our own abilities and more to understand beyond the grave. The gray town is empty, dreary, and endless. But it is also tiny which was the most fascinating element of that town. I found the way people interacted (or refused to interact) there also fascinating. It seems that we can create Hell wherever we are and a loss of connection begins that journey.
The descriptions of personalities of the ghosts vs solid people are truly fascinating. First they are different physically from each other with the ghosts less present and the solid people able to traverse the landscape. But they also see that landscape and their lives on Earth in very different ways. The solid people have all gone to the mountain and have a deeper understanding of the value of life, the importance of connection, the role of God, and the way to salvation. The ghosts are limited to a perspective similar to the one we are all limited by on Earth. They are also often stubborn in hanging onto that limited belief. They don’t want to change or find excuses to stay stagnant. It was fascinating how the ghosts would twist something good into a vice or misunderstand the role of some experience in their life. Lewis is a master at creating compelling conversations about faith, God, and salvation. He is at his best here.
There were many intriguing themes and ideas in this story. I thought I would share a few that stuck out to me on this reread.
- What is real love? What is selfishness? What is important — fame, family, the past, the future? Who is Christ?
- What must we give up to achieve the peace and understanding of Heaven? Are we willing to do that?
- Who would come to help you through the valley and over the mountain? Why would it be hard to go with them? What would you have to face to overcome your past?
- Our journey does not end after death, nor is heaven just a place to hang out and have all your dreams come true. It takes work to progress.
- Religion and the afterlife. We don’t understand everything that will come in the afterlife especially the work and struggle that is necessary to understand God. I think Lewis gets a lot right.
My absolutely favorite quote from this story: There are two kinds of people: those that say to God “thy will by done” and those whom God says “thy will be done”
I am so glad to have revisited this allegory and it’s intriguing themes. Again, I think this is a great piece to begin with as you expand your Lewis reading. I will certainly be returning to this story in the future.
What is your favorite C. S. Lewis work?
What’s next on your Lewis TBR?