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on October 29, 2003
The theologian who would rather lead a theological discussion in hell than experience heaven?
The poet who is always slighted, never appreciated?
The man who is too proud to accept any "bleeding charity" and must have his "rights"?
The artist who would rather fight for his style of art than stay and take in true beauty?
The materialist (entrepeneur?) who would rather try to take a bit of heaven back to hell for a proffit than enjoy the real thing?
The cynic who believes everything is a sham?
The grumbler who has finally become a grumble? (What other petty sins fit in this same category?)
The mother who "loves" her son so much she would rather have him in hell than desire God, and be with her son in heaven?
The man who struggles with lust but doesn't want to let it go?
The tragedian who would rather blackmail the joyful than give in and experience joy himself?
Or are are you simply onne of the malcontents who can't even get along well enough to get on the bus and see what heaven has to offer?
Truth be told, I have parts of many of these people and need to learn from them all.
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on August 22, 2003
If you don't care for C.S. Lewis, you will not care for this book. On the other hand, if you like C.S. Lewis (and appreciate what he was up to) you may thoroughly enjoy, even love, this book. I say "may" because an honest reading of this short allegory can reveal a great deal about the author's soul and view of the moral universe and something about the reader's own soul and views as well. In other words, it can entertain or disturb or both. It will, in any case, provoke a great deal of thought for any reader who bothers to think at all.
I read The Great Divorce many, many years ago and could never forget it; some of its images and episodes were and remain indelible. By some quirk or inspiration, I recently suggested using it for an adult Sunday School class of folks who love good, mental exercise, good literature, etc. and thus got back into it - big time. In preparing ten lessons on the book, I rediscovered why I loved it in the first place but then I also discovered a myriad of rich nuggets and not a few whole veins that I had completely blitzed by in the earlier reading. This second time I found it to be absolutely magnificent and have gone from being a CS Lewis fan to a serious and devoted student of the whole "mythopoeic" approach that he (along with many others, including now, most famously, JK Rowling) have championed.
You don't have to be well read or a Christian or an intellectual or a theologian or a Bible scholar or even a full grown adult to truly enjoy - or be really bothered by - this book. The premise, after all, is that not everyone would enjoy a holiday in the Valley of the Shadow of Life (post-mortem or otherwise), much less a few hours with C.S. Lewis himself. (It does help things, however, to have a good imagination and sense of humor.)
Like scripture, like great poetry, like any of those guys in my title (all of whom are embedded in the text and context of this book), this book and everything else I've read by Lewis is worth reading ...and worth reading (including reeading) carefully and soulfully.
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on January 21, 2003
The perfect blend of logic, common-sense, and insight, the Great Divorce is typical CS Lewis. It is a masterpiece of Christian thinking, even by Lewis's standards, and ranks among his best in my opinion. This short work of fiction seeks to explain why some people go to heaven and others go to hell. Lewis's thesis is essentially this: those who are in heaven are there because they want to be, and those who are in hell are there because they want to be there, too. In other words, Divine judgment does not send individuals screaming down to hell--in fact, they go there themselves.

Lewis's guide in the story, who just happens to be George MacDonald, tells him that most people have the attitude best expressed by Milton in Paradise Lost: "Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven." According to Lewis, it is pride and selfishness that keep people from wanting to go to heaven. In the story, a number of "ghosts" are brought to the outskirts of heaven by bus, yet almost none of them wants to actually enter heaven when given the chance. They all have some reason why heaven isn't good enough, why they shouldn't go there. In other words, they willfully go back to hell.

Of course, this story rocks the traditional views of the separation of the good and the evil, but Lewis presents his thesis in such an applicable story that it makes one stop and think. Why would a selfish, self-centered person want to be in heaven, anyway? What would they do? In Lewis's mind, there is no 'marriage' between heaven and hell, because the two (and those who occupy them) want to keep as much distance between them as possible. Hence the title.

As I said, I think this is one of Lewis's best. It definitely got me thinking. This is a great book, suitable for young adults and adults alike, that will certainly expand your mind on how we choose to live in our own personal heaven or hell.
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on December 15, 2002
I first encountered this book during my college years, and at the time I thought that this was the most mind-expanding book that I had ever encountered. Picking it back up all these years later, I still feel the same way!
In this book, the incomparable C.S. Lewis takes the reader on a phantasmagoric journey from Hell to Heaven. There are no lakes of fire here or angels sitting on clouds strumming harps. Instead, the damned, who inhabit a lonely Hell of isolation of the mind, are permitted to journey to Heaven, where they can freely renounce their sinful natures and enjoy an eternity of salvation. But, as the narrator discovers, for all too many, their sinful thought forms (no matter how petty) are much more precious to them than all of the rewards of Heaven.
This book opens the reader's mind to more powerful ways of thinking about sin and about salvation. It certainly made me look at myself and the people around me with new eye. I highly recommend this book to Christians of every denomination and creed.
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on November 8, 2002
C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce" may be the most unusual book you will ever read. Beyond allegory, beyond fantasy, this look at the nature of Heaven, Hell, and the denizens of both has radically altered the view of what happens after we die in the lives of more people than any book you will encounter.
Lewis provides an utterly original view of the afterlife through the mechanism of a bus trip from Hell to Heaven. The portrayals of the vast, nearly-empty city in Hell and a Heaven more real and solid than our reality are so profound that many will find their thoughts on the two places forever altered.
Also included is an examination of the question that has haunted many: "How can a loving God send people to Hell?" Lewis brilliantly answers this in a way that is completely satisfying to even the most demanding inquirer. You'll have to read the book to see.
There are so many gems in "The Great Divorce" that any further discussion would spoil the book. But suffice it to say, this work of fiction may be the greatest ever written for provoking long and enjoyable discussions with others. As a worthy diversion from more heady small group studies, it is without peer.
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on August 14, 2002
After Screwtape, this is my favorite work from Lewis (and it is a close call). The book is short, but I read slow (especially something as weighty as Lewis). I could not put this book down until I finished it.
NOTE: Lewis himself made it clear that this book is not about the mechanics of the afterlife. It is about the cancerous nature of sin and how it interferes with out relationship to the Most High. If this entire story were taken literally then there would be discrepencies between it and scriptures concerning the attitudes of the damned souls, the nature of Hell/purgatory and the call to salvation. I suppose I should explain:
1) Most of the visitors from Hell refuse heaven and can not enjoy it because they are unwilling to repent of their sins. Jesus tells a story of a soul in Hell that yearned for just a drop of water (relief) from heaven. Souls in Hell will yearn for heaven and despise Hell.
2) Purgatory is not an idea found in Holy Scripture, and Lewis is dodgy about where the visitors are from. That aside, there are no visitors from Hell to even the outter realms of Heaven. It is true that Satan visits God's thrown room and raises accusations against us, but he has not yet been thrown into "the pit". He is called the "Prince of this World".
3) Salvation is an act of faith. Old Testement Believers had faith a Savior would come. New Testement believers have faith he came (and will return). Once you die you meet him. That's not faith. It's sight. To quote the famous hymn, "if you terry till your burried you will never come at all".
Those are not the point of the book. And the points it makes about sin and human nature are excellent!
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on May 28, 2002
As Lewis explains in his preface, The Great Divorce is a response to the attitude of William Blake, among others, that someday there will be an ideal union of the secular and divine, or Heaven and Hell. Unable to see how this could ever be, Lewis wrote The Great Divorce to explore the issue further. The result is a religous allegory of the highest caliber and impeccable, nearly frightening, insight.
As with all allegories, The Great Divorce relies on symbolism to make its point. Lewis admits his book is not to be taken literally as a tour guide of either Heaven or Hell, but merely as an artistic expression of his ideas. And the plot device works well--Lewis's intensely brilliant yet readily accessible and familiar writing style makes it easy to imagine oneself in the narrator's shoes on the uneasy bus ride out of Hell, hunkering under the great mountains of Glory, or even talking uncertainly with Ghosts or Spirits (oh yes, there is a big difference!).
The Great Divorce is a fine read for anyone, believer or unbeliever. The former will find many challenges and assurances; the latter will discover new insights into the Christian faith not readily available from other sources. Above all, The Great Divorce is a Dante-esque tour of not only the Worlds Beyond, but just as importantly one of the often unexplored metaphysical World within us all.
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on May 1, 2002
A friend told me that this book opened his eyes to the fact that some people don't want answers, only debate and politics. He couldn't believe people would think that way, but then he went to college and experienced them for himself.
Lewis has written a fun, memorable story about going to hell in a dream (or vision) and taking a bus tour of heaven. The ghostly figures that file timidly off the bus are barely visible in the bright light of heaven, and the grass is so much more real (or true) than they are it hurts their feet. One man tried to steal a golden apple, and he may as well have been trying to hiest a boulder. Lewis himself, writing in first person, feared a coming rain may pummel them into the ground.
But after the initial shock of a world more real than he could imagine, he watched the other tourist interact with heavenly friends who had come to greet them. Some of them were friends from earth, some just kind-hearted people. Again and again the hellions (if I may call them that) choose to hold on to their worthless pride or foolhearty beliefs rather than humble themselves to the truth. Pride manifests itself in a hundred subtle ways as these pitiful souls whine about perceived injustices or irrational motives. Thankfully, a few tourists do humble themselves, become transformed into marvelously real beings, and remain in heaven. But most don't, about which the great Scottish author George MacDonald, Lewis' heavenly guide, says, "They may not be rejecting the truth of heaven now. They may be reenacting the rejection they made while on earth."
This book has curious insight into our human hearts and teaches a few Biblical ideas in very memorable ways. I enjoyed reading it myself and again aloud to my wife. Lewis has a nice, readable style. 4 stars, only because a guy can't give everything good five stars.
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on March 22, 2002
Allow me to begin by saying that I am, at best, skeptic regarding the existence of God. Yet, C. S. Lewis remains being one of my favourite authors, and this is by far one my favourite books by him. Through the allegory of a bus journey, this Christian writer allows to enter what he believes Heaven and Hell to be like. This, however, is just the means Lewis uses to face us with something much deeper and, to many of us skeptics, mind-boggling: The question of Free Will. Why is it that some people are granted entrance to Heaven, while others are doomed to Hell? How can a benevolent God punish his creatures so cruelly? He does not, Lewis claims; it is us who make the choice, whether consciously or not. This is what THE GREAT DIVORCE is about: making us aware of our own actions and where they lead us, thus forcing us to take a good, hard look at human nature... and our own. Afraid to do so? Then you should definitely read it.
PS: What can I say? I've declared myself an atheist for a long time. Yet, the more C. S. Lewis I read, the more I doubt my beliefs- or lack thereof.
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on October 16, 2001
Although I do not share Lewis's metaphysical assumptions about heaven and hell, I think The Great Divorce, in addition to being a thought-provoking religious piece, is one of the best "ghost stories" I have ever read. There's always been a moral dimension to the ghost story...the ghost seen as a sad spirit bound by the faults that enchained him in life. Lewis skilfully presents this concept in this novel about a group of spirits in hell who take a bus-ride to heaven but find no happiness there, because they bring their own hell with them.
If there is one criticism I have of the novel it is that it seems rather heartless at times. While Lewis's narrator does not go so far as to rejoice in the sufferings of the damned, neither, it seems, is there much pity for them in the celestial realm. Lewis at times takes pains to criticize human emotions like pity, compassion, and an inordinate desire for human (as opposed to divine) companionship. His whole concept of saved vs. damned leaves very little room for ordinary human-ness, which sometimes imparts a rather cold and inhuman quality to the novel. Nevertheless, the novel's originality and skillful style do make it worth reading.
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