Lewis' "The Great Divorce" is a book that I have owned for years but only recently read. I don't know why it took me so long, but now that I have read it I want to read it again all the more. I guess that is a sign of a good book. Many of you reading this review are no doubt familiar with Lewis the philosopher, theologian, writer, and speaker. Suffice to say he remains one of the most esteemed and brilliant thinkers and writers of the last century.
This book easily compares to the best of his work. The idea of using a fantasy-land constructed around a bus trip to try to give us some look into the unknown is pure Lewis. A dark, desolate, rainy bus stop gives us a mental picture of hell that reminds me of the films "Blade Runner" and "Dark City". The descriptions of a heaven-like place given in the book remind me of the house of Elrond and the elvish city in the recent "Lord of the Rings". The book essentially follows the author as he tours both of these worlds-seemingly seperated by a million miles. With George MacDonald as his guide, the author witnesses many interactions between those in the 'heavenly' world and those arriving from hell on a bus. The heavenly beings-who are solid-attempt to convince the spirits aboard the tour to remain with them and allow themselves to be made whole by the overseer of the heavenly realm.
Unfortunately, most of the spirits prefer to deal with their various troubles 'some other time' or not at all. Wishing to remain as they are, they refuse the help of the heavenly beings. We witness spirits literally and figuratively in chains of pity, anger, pride, arrogance, and fear. The answer to all of these maladies is offered to them with outstretched arms, they need only accept the gift.
The most powerful exchange in the book comes between a spirit who arrives with a little red lizard on his shoulder. (Readers of Lewis will recognize this from his earlier essay 'Horrid Red Things' in "God in the Dock"). The lizard embodies the spirit's struggles with lust; it continuously goads him on. As the spirit comes into contact with one of the heavenly angels, the angel states that if the man will only ask him to, he will kill the lizard. The lizard immediately warns the spirit that the angel is capable of this and reminds the spirit that if this is allowed, he-the spirit-will never enjoy the pleasures of lust and sin again. The spirit hems and haws, asking the angel many questions. Each time the angel responds "...MAY I KILL IT?"
It is heartbreaking to read as the spirit decides to allow the angel-hands hovering just around the neck of the lizard-to kill it, only to relent when he realizes that he himself will be hurt in the process of obtaining freedom. The angel responds: "I never said it would not hurt you, only that it would not kill you." This seems eerily similar to so many of us in the 'real' world who, when offered freedom thru Christ and the solutions to our myriad of social, emotional, spiritual, and physical struggles, raise an angry hand to God and reject His offer. How many of us want our problems to be fixed, our wounds healed and our pain dealt with-without any pain!? How many of us prefer to hold onto the very things that are destroying us? Keeping us from God?
A brilliant treatise on the ability of the human-in this case the spirit of departed humans-to rationalize and justify our behavior, whether it be an overbearing, controlling mother, a frightened woman, a man diseased with lust, those consumed by career, or any of the other characters in the book. Look deeper because there is a message for everyone in this book. A powerful allegory of the struggle to make the Gospel known to others.