Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Remembering The Great Divorce

On this day in 1946 the C.S. Lewis book The Great Divorce was published, after successfully appearing in the newspaper The Guardian (November 1944 - April 1945). A theological fantasy about a bus trip from hell to heaven, the book has much in common thematically with The Screwtape Letters, not only on the topics of heaven and hell, but the biting insights into human behavior.

Although it took awhile for The Great Divorce to grow on me, after several readings it has become one of my favorite Lewis books. It influenced my book Conversations with C.S. Lewis in at least three ways. First, it is written in the first person and, as such, helped shape the style of my book, which is also written in the first person. Second, it is episodic in plot and features a series of conversations (also like my book). Third, I drew upon the ideas on immortality, heaven, and hell from The Great Divorce (as well as other writings of Lewis). The bus from the book also appears in my work, as does the gray town "always in evening twilight."

Despite the warning Lewis provides in the preface about not drawing literal theological interpretations from his fantasy, wherein he claimed it is "solely an imaginative supposal," critics routinely try to "make the text walk on all fours" (as my hermeneutics professor used to say about over interpreting a text).

It's a short work, but a rich classic in the vein of Dante's Divine Comedy. I highly recommend it.


Jeff LaSala said...

The first few times I read this book, I did so in one sitting. It takes a while, but the impact was great.

I love the individual conversations the narrator observes, and how well Lewis pinpointed real states of mind. And that George MacDonald shows up!

Robert Velarde said...

It took The Great Divorce awhile to grow on me. I think the first couple of times I read it I did not "receive" it, as Lewis would say, but "used" it (see his insights on this in An Experiment in Criticism).

Like other Lewis books, The Great Divorce is a wonderful companion to read in conjunction with The Screwtape Letters. A couple of other good related Lewis books include The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed, as well as, for instance, The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength.

Robert Velarde said...

Note that I did not mean The Problem of Pain and those other books relate directly to The Great Divorce (though Pain does address heaven and hell), but that Lewis books are often read well in somewhat matched pairs.