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A Review: The Great Divorce

I picked up The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis several years ago. I began to read it as soon as I got back for the book store, but gave up midway through chapter 2. I simply had no interest in the story.

Having read all the other C. S. Lewis books in my personal collection I decided to return to this book I found so difficult to read a few years ago. This time around I was captivated by the story. What made the difference? Part of it has to do with the fact that I wrote a research paper on the nature of hell for Turning Points in Systematic Theology the one semester I was at Lincoln Christian Seminary. Another part of it has to do with how I view stories now. I wasn't interested in The Great Divorce the first time around because it conflicted with how I viewed Heaven and Hell. C. S. Lewis appears to be saying that the people in Hell will get a second chance at Heaven and this bothered me, and so I kept the book on the shelf.

When I read the preface I realized that the truth in this story isn't found in the description of Heaven and Hell that Lewis paints, but in the reactions of the people found in both places. Though Lewis didn't say this, it appears to me one of the things he was trying to do was to explain why people in Heaven will be able to experience Joy even though there is so much misery in Hell. A second objective I think he was trying to accomplish was to show why people in Hell wouldn't be happy in Heaven.

The Great Divorce is not Lewis' attempt to explain what the afterlife is like. This is what he wrote in the preface:
I beg the readers to remember that this is a fantasy. It is of course--or I intended it to have--a moral. But the transmortal conditions are solely an imaginative supposal: they are not even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us. This last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the details of the after-world.
In other words Lewis wanted the story to be read as a story and not a doctrinal treatise on the nature of Heaven and Hell. To read it is such a manner robs the reader of the wonderful insight Lewis offers to the nature of man and the choices we make every day.


Anonymous said…
I read The Great Divorce some time ago, but a couple years ago I got to see it in play form. It added an entirely different dimension.

What struck me most was Lewis's idea that both Heaven and Hell were "always", in a sense. For those who are in Hell, everything that happened in life was Hell. For those who are in Heaven, everything that happened in life was Heaven. And for either to switch would be nonsensical.

I suspect that C. S. Lewis and others like him will often be misunderstood because his brand of fiction is easily misconstrued, but when taken as he intended it, it can be very enlightening. (Evidence The Screwtape Letters.)
Katherine said…
This is one of the few CS Lewis books I haven't read. So out of curiosity, what changed about your view of hell?
Paul said…
My view of hell really didn't change, but doing my research paper on hell (The The Fight over Hell)better helped me understand the issues involved. In the paper (which is the rough draft copy of it, the final copy has be lost)I argue for the Conditional Immortality position, but that is not necessarily my position.

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