The Great Divorce
C. S. Lewis
The Great Divorce — interesting title, but what’s the book about?
In the Preface, C.S. Lewis says “[William] Blake wrote of the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. I have written of their Divorce…The attempt is based on the belief that reality never presents us with an absolutely unavoidable ‘either-or’…that refinement will somehow turn evil into good without our being called on for a final or total rejection of anything we should like to retain.”
C.S. Lewis referred to The Great Divorce as a fantasy with a moral, an imaginative journey into the world of the after-life. Throughout the book we repeatedly find Spirits asking Ghosts to forgive them of some past transgression, but the Ghosts hang onto their past experiences, unable to forgive either themselves or others. Spirits also ask Ghosts to try to believe in God, or at least believe in themselves, but again the Ghosts are unable to follow-through. The Ghosts make excuses that they are being tricked, or that the Spirits don’t understand the depths of what they’ve been through.
The Great Divorce, a mere 147 pages, quickly draws you in and is a fast read. In C.S. Lewis style, the book ends with an interesting, unexpected twist, which I won’t elaborate on here.
Excerpt from The Great Divorce:
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…’ Suddenly the Ghost cried out, ‘No, I can’t. I tell you I can’t…And it’s not fair. They ought to have warned us. I’d never have come. And now — please go away!’
‘Friend,’ said the Spirit. ‘Could you, only for a moment, fix your mind on something not yourself?’ ‘I’ve already given you my full answer,’ said the Ghost, coldly but still tearful.
But, beyond all these, I saw other grotesque phantoms in which hardly a trace of the human form remained; monsters who had faced the journey to the bus stop — perhaps for them it was thousands of miles — and come up to the country of the Shadow of Life and limped far into it over the torturing grass, only to Spit and gibber out in one ecstasy of hatred their envy and (what is harder to understand) their contempt, of joy…
‘How do they come to be here at all?’ I asked my Teacher.
‘I’ve seen that kind converted,’ said he. ‘Those that hate goodness are sometimes nearer than those that know nothing at all about it and think they have it already.’
Born in Belfast, Ireland, C.S. Lewis was a man of many talents. He was a novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist. He held academic positions at both Oxford University, 1925–54, and Cambridge University, 1954–63. Lewis and fellow novelist J. R. R. Tolkien were close friends. They both served on the English faculty at Oxford University, and were active in the informal Oxford literary group known as the Inklings.
Internet resources include The Official Website of C.S. Lewis and the C.S. Lewis Foundation.
C.S. Lewis is known for both his fictional and nonfiction works.
His fictional works include:
His non-fiction Christian apologetics include: