The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (review) - A+ ~ BitterSweetLife

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (review) - A+

C.S. Lewis’ Pictures of Heaven & Hell

C.S. Lewis' book
Under the auspices of “assigned reading,” I’ve been forced to get through some real dogs. At the moment, with much groaning and rolling of the eyes, I’m laboriously working my way through The Great Divorce. Not! The reading list for the C.S. Lewis class I’m currently taking goes a long way toward atoning for some very dry, provincial books from the past.

The Great Divorce is one of my all-time favorite Lewis books. It’s a slim allegory filled with jaw-dropping truths and vivid imagery—all set in a deceptively simple narrative framework. Some of the central strains of Lewis’ thought—desire, joy, the weight of human choice—appear with devastating effect. I won’t describe the plot other than to say that one of Lewis’ goals was to demonstrate that Heaven and Hell were diametrically opposed to each other; the story-arc of our lives lead inevitably to one or the other.

Thus, the two sides of eternity figure prominently in Lewis’ myth. But despite his incomparable imagination and writing ability, Lewis didn’t feel that he could do justice to the realities of Heaven and Hell. He attempted to portray only “the outside edges” of these realms, hinting at their realities while hoping to avoid “factual curiosity about the details of the after-world.” This approach is similar to his descriptions of Aslan’s Country in the Narnia books, and the results are similarly splendid.

Lewis’ genius emerges here. Others have tried to deal with Heaven full-on and approach Hell’s horror in a more categorical manner. But this is like approaching a cumulus cloud with a tape measure. While such approaches will always falter, Lewis’ more modest aims result in pictures that resonate in the heart and, to the extent it’s possible, reveal.

This book gets an A+, hands down. Here are a few of Lewis’ pictures—but to get the full effect, you have to read the story.

I seemed to be standing in a busy queue by the side of a long, mean street. Evening was just closing in and it was raining. I had been wandering for hours in similar mean streets, always in the rain and always in evening twilight. - C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 1

I had the sense of being in a larger space, perhaps even a larger sort of space, than I had ever known before: as if the sky were further off and the extent of the green plain wider than they could be on this little ball of earth. I had got ‘out’ in some sense which made the Solar System itself seem an indoor affair. - C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 20

Some were naked, some robed. But the naked ones did not seem less adorned, and the robes did not disguise in those who wore them the massive grandeur of muscle and the radiant smoothness of flesh. Some were bearded but no one in that company struck me as being of any particular age. One gets glimpses, even in our country, of that which is ageless—heavy thought in the face of an infant, and frolic childhood in that of a very old man. Here it was all like that. - C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 23-24

You know it: it’s on the Master Book List.

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Kevin Stilley said...

I am curious regarding what other textbooks were required for the course?

Laborpayne said...

I agree, a remarkable book- one of my favorite's of Clive's.

tim said...

One of my favorites, I love how absolutely real and hard (diamond-like blades of grass) heaven is in comparison to the flitting shades of the visitors from hell.

Rachel's Big Dunk said...

It is a wonderful read! I love the Screwtape Letters, too....

(That was one of my Lenten books. Not a huge sacrifice, LOL)

Ariel said...

I am curious regarding what other textbooks were required for the course?

You might want to sit down and hold onto something before you read this list:

Jack (a biography) by George Sayers
The Screwtape Letters
God in the Dock

How do you like them apples? :)

Add The Great assigned reading for a class ever.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife