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The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

The Great Divorce (edition 1965)

by C. S. Lewis

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6,40069603 (4.24)125
Title:The Great Divorce
Authors:C. S. Lewis
Info:New York, Macmillan (08678). 1965, c1946. viii p., 1 l., 128 p. 18 cm.
Collections:Your library, Ether, To read
Tags:adventure, religion, Christian, supernatural, ghosts, travel, bus, Heaven, Hell, good and evil, unread, small paperback, Bookcase 6-2

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The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis


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C.S. Lewis is a fine propagandist - more that in this short novel than an apologist. But the power of his allegory - in this, in the Screwtape Letters, in the Narnia Chronicles, in the Out of the Silent Planet series - feels deeply manipulative. Here, a man climbs aboard a bus in a gray, miserable city with a variety of unhappy passengers. When they reach their destination, it becomes clear that the characters are on the outer fringes of Heaven, and will be welcomed in, if only they can bring themselves to admit their total inadequacy and shame and cast their lot with God: "If you will accept [shame] - if you will drink the cup to the bottom - you will find it very nourishing: but try to do anything else with it and it scalds."

In the literary form of an allegory or fable, it's perfectly legitimate for an author to set up the world of the story any way they like. But, the chief problem with this as a mode of argument is that it is compelling only if you accept that it is. I have the same problem with Paolo Coelho's fable, the Alchemist - but here, the effect is worse. The choice whether to accept the ground rules of the fable is, in fact, a different choice than the choice presented within the fable to Lewis's characters, but to a reader trying to find a common frame of reference with an author, it is easy for the two choices to superimpose and merge. I think Lewis intends them to; that is how this work functions - as a kind of tautology - to save souls (or, as I think Lewis might put it, to bring readers to an emotional place where they can choose to invite God in - they definitely must make the choice themselves). To pile on the pressure, many of Lewis' characters are straw men (or straw women) - not ordinary complex people, but people who are morally weak in simplistic and unsympathetic ways.

All of that would be fine - not every book is for everyone. But there is an aspect of Lewis' writing that really raises my hackles: the implication that this book is in fact for everyone - that it must be - because everyone has to accept their shame and inadequacy before they can be saved. What's deeply missing from this worldview is a sense of the multiplicity of grace; that's it's not up to us, (if we're being truly serious) to decide it is too late for a fictional character or a real person to be saved in a cosmic sense - we just can't know that. It's striking that Lewis is perfectly prepared to rule some speculation out of bounds - for example, what actually happens after we die, which he raises twice explicitly to deny it as a legitimate topic of discussion - while simultaneously insisting on a specific vision of how grace operates, and making characters pop out of existence when they deny it. My gut and my faith tell me Lewis is wrong; I certainly hope he is. My rating reflects my sense that this is a work of better than average quality, although I dislike it. ( )
  bezoar44 | Oct 26, 2014 |
In this slim allegorical tale, Mr. Lewis illustrates the idea that "no unclean thing can enter the kingdom of God" in a very concrete way. Over and over we see "ghosts" who are bid to enter heaven but will not if it requires them letting go their earthly attachments. I especially liked the introductory passage by the author and how he conceives of this idea. Lots to think about. ( )
1 vote tjsjohanna | Jul 27, 2014 |
I'm not a great fan of allegory... ( )
1 vote | KirkLowery | Mar 4, 2014 |
Another allegory illustrating deep theological ideas. ( )
1 vote krista.rutherford | Jan 3, 2014 |
Some very interesting theological ideas and a brilliant allegory. ( )
1 vote A.J.Lumaren | Sep 13, 2013 |
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"No, there is no escape. There is no heaven with a little of hell in it--no plan to retain this or that of the devil in our hearts or our pockets. Out Satan must go, every hair and feather."--George MacDonald
Barbara Wall: Best and most long-suffering of scribes
First words
I seemed to be standing in a busy queue by the side of a long, mean street.
When the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say, "We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven," and the Lost, "We were always in Hell."
And both will speak truly.
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060652950, Paperback)

The Great Divorce is C.S. Lewis's Divine Comedy: the narrator bears strong resemblance to Lewis (by way of Dante); his Virgil is the fantasy writer George MacDonald; and upon boarding a bus in a nondescript neighborhood, the narrator is taken to Heaven and Hell. The book's primary message is presented with almost oblique tidiness--"There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'" However, the narrator's descriptions of sin and temptation will hit quite close to home for many readers. Lewis has a genius for describing the intricacies of vanity and self-deception, and this book is tremendously persistent in forcing its reader to consider the ultimate consequences of everyday pettiness. --Michael Joseph Gross

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:47 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A symbolic fantasy which finds a busload of condemned ghosts faced with the choice of giving up their cherished sins to enter the gates of Paradise.

(summary from another edition)

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