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on 14 January 2016
C.S. Lewis both knew his stuff, and how to express it by telling a brilliant story. The central message is, Heaven and Hell have their beginnings on Earth. Lewis has shown us in an allegory, how our conduct and our choices on Earth are the beginning of the path we follow into eternity. It's not about works, or doing the right thing, but what one loves, and how that guides ones choices. Some people, as he demonstrates in his narrative, actually prefer Hell. That doesn't mean they're happy there; it only means that they'll only agree to be happy if it's on their own terms. In other words, they prefer misery over happiness. I don't think I have to elaborate. We all know people like that, and we've occasionally been in that state ourselves. Lewis provides us with a few examples in the narrative.

In Christian circles, this isn't the story we're used to hearing. Our emphasis has always been, "Get saved and you'll go to Heaven and avoid Hell", with only a minimal explanation of what "saved" really means. Our emphasis has always been on the fear of Hell rather than the correct Biblical concept of the Fear of the LORD. The object of Biblical teaching is salvation from SIN, not salvation from Hell. Matthew 10:28 says, "fear HIM who can destroy both soul and body in hell". In other words, the Gospel message isn't just about avoiding Hell, but drawing close to God and His Kingdom. Once we understand this, Lewis's tale of the bus trip to Heaven makes a lot more sense.

Once having arrived in the outskirts of Heaven, the passengers have the opportunity to try it out, and exercise the option of staying permanently. The only thing is, everything there is so real and tangible, compared to where they came from, that even the blades of grass don't give way when they step on them. Fortunately, each passenger meets an old friend or relative or someone who's already been living in Heaven, to help them walk around, and gently show them what they must do. The closer they can make it to the "The High Country", the more solid their bodies become so they can be equipped to stay. Again, Lewis relates a number of meaningful and sometimes amusing dialogues between various visitors and their hosts. Some simply can't handle the idea of having to depend on someone else.

Lewis' first-person narrator is paired up with George MacDonald, a writer of fantasy whose work had influenced C.S. Lewis (I've also reviewed one of MacDonald's stories here). Many may remember MacDonald as a Universalist, who believed that everyone would eventually be saved (he did regard the atoning death and resurrection of Christ to be necessary for that). Lewis, himself, wasn't; a Universalist, rather he was an Inclusivist. They believe that many are saved even where the Gospel hasn't been clearly presented, by responding to God's voice in other ways, such as choosing mercy and compassion over revenge and selfish desire. Again, the enabling factor is the Atonement of Jesus, whether they had heard about it or not. I'm an Inclusivist myself. Some reviewers have compared my own story, Allegory, to Lewis' The Great Divorce.

Some reject Inclusivism as a cop-out, or as “candy coating” the Gospel. Lewis certainly didn't present it in that way. According to Lewis, “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.” It's about the life of a disciple.

Another issue Lewis covers is the debate between determinism (or absolute predestination) and free will, in which he offers some valuable insight. Over all, a worthwhile read.
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on 8 January 2012
[NOTE: I am reissuing my Amazon.com reviews on Amazon.co.uk. This review was originally published on Amazon.com June 8, 2000]

"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 `Thy will be done'."

This is a quote from this little volume, and effectively sums up the entire book in that one sentence. THE GREAT DIVORCE, like Lewis's TILL WE HAVE FACES, is his song of songs, his great achievement. Tolkien's was LORD OF THE RINGS, Adams' WATERSHIP DOWN, Sinclair Lewis' MAIN STREET. These novels are generally regarded as their major works. This little book, published in a little periodical called The Guardian, is one such book. (It was this periodical that Lewis's classic book THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS also appeared). Sadly, SCREWTAPE, though excellent in and of itself, is often given much more credit than this, which is a deeper work (and to those who know THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, know what a feat that is).

Perhaps one reason that this work is such an excellent little volume is its length of gestation: it was concieved in 1931 and written in 1944. Insipred by a sermon found in Jeremy Taylor's WORKS, suggested such a premise as to think, or take, the absuridity of damned souls getting a real refreshment from hell. Also another source was the fourth centru Latin poet named Prudentius Aurelius Clemens (his contribution can be found in "Hymn for the Lighting of the Lamp). Assuredly, one of the reasons that it took so long to be written (the first known written account is a diary entry by his brother Warnen on Paril 15, 1932) is he had not had it visualized. In terms of inspiration his fiction arose from "seeing pictures" in his mind. (Example: One of his images he received when he was about 16, and it was a faun with parcels in one hand and an umbrella in the other, standing in a wintery, snow laden forest).

Much of this short little novel has a direct comparison or parellel to Dante's DIVINE COMEDY. Just like Beatrice to Dante, so also was George MacDonald to C. S. Lewis. MacDonald was almost a Universalist. He believed most of the world populace would submit and enter into joy, and know God's love. A lot of this would occur after death. According to Sayer, Lewis did not believe this, but thought it was a possibility (much my view on purgatory). What Lewis had to do was to rectify this belief with the others of purgatory, hell, heaven, predestination, damnation, etc. How he did so was a stroke of genius: he made hell and purgatory the same place. To those who would leave and give up a vice, it was only purgatory; but to those who were determined to keep their wickedness, instead of entering into joy, were damned. To enter into Heaven, the only prerequiste was to give up a vice. That was all. Some lust, some apostasty, some selfishness and false love (the mother Pam for her son Michael). Just like Dante, Lewis has an Apostate Anglican bishop in there.

One of the things that he has done most brillantly is the potrayal of the Platonic belief that the essence of something is more real than the thing itself. Virture is more real that the vitrue that is practiced. Everything in God is much more real and tangible than hell, and Lewis does this marvelously. A device he borrowed from a writer whose name was unknown to him, Lewis made everything very, very real, and the damned men and women were but ghosts in that heavenly place. Each had an accompaning Spirit, one who has surrendered to God. In that place, the ones saved are real and can bend the grass and walk and swim, but always traveling further up and further in (to borrow a Narnian phrase, although it equally applies here). To aid the damned, the real, the saved, must go back and forsake their journey for a time, to aid those that will.

One of the grandest scenes is toward the very last, in which a lady named Sarah is seen. In this, another of his master's ideals is expressed. Sarah Smith is no great woman by earth's standards, but she is so close to God, everyone she meets she changes for the better. God wants to use you, not only for his own intimate purposes, but for you also to update and bring the quality of the life for others around you to a much better place. Her whole train of follows is transformed by her love, because she allows God to work through her, and submitted to her; in turn, she transforms others, because she is a yielded vessel. Macdonald states of her "There's joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life". Likewise, because of Lewis being yielded to God, this book has a similar effect (as, perhaps, all of his books do -- I cannot say all because I have not read all).

Ultimately, the entire point of this beautiful little book is that there could be no damnation without free choice. God made us to fellowship with us, not to damn us to hell. We are to enter into joy - but because we live in a fallen world, we might choose to hang onto some vice instead of entering into joy. Joy, that grand and beautiful intimacy with the Lord, real satisfying water that will forever quench your thirst, that is what C. S. Lewis is about. Let us not choose to stay in Hell. But one must understand this - Lewis is not advocating there is such a thing as bus rides to hell. The novel is, of course, but a dream. It is no way an examination of what lies after we die, although it does give thought to MacDonald's view on Universalism, though Lewis did not hold that view himself. Enter into joy, dear child, and meet Christ.
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on 24 January 2018
Good book. However it did not come with the cover I expected... It sounds silly, but it was a gift so that's why I bought it based on the cover.
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on 26 January 2001
One of the strongest arguments against Christianity is often hurled at the Christian doctrine of Hell. How could a just God, much less a loving God, send anyone to eternal torment? In "The Great Divorce" Lewis presents a different picture of Heaven and Hell-- one that focuses on human free will and the consequences of our own choices. For example, the prideful, mean-spirited man is already in a sort of Hell. The humble, thankful, kind-hearted man is already in a sort of Heaven. "The Great Divorce" takes the reader beyond the fire-and-brimstone pictures of Hell and the streets-of-gold pictures of Heaven to a place of pure spirituality. "The Great Divorce" is MUST reading, a truly great book. Also recommended: "Castle of Wisdom" by Rhett Ellis- a quirky Christian book that will make you laugh and cry.
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on 24 February 1998
C.S. Lewis himself says in his preface, "The last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the details of the after-world." This book kept me wondering just what he WAS trying to say--whether he thought there were choices after death, or whether he was just trying to get us to think about life and the terrible seriousness but potentially glorious finality of our choices. If you are the kind of person who believes common 90s philosophies like, "That's YOUR reality but not mine," you should let Lewis tell you a little story. Aside from being very entertaining, it cuts right through a lot of "intellectual" nonsense, and makes you really THINK, maybe for the first time "outside the box" you didn't know you were in.

In the end, I believe he makes it clear that there are no choices after death. His characters are simply acting out the choices we make within the boundaries of time here on earth, with the element of time removed from the story as it plays out in "heaven" and "hell." While you are caught up in the story, you will be in another whole "world" of Lewis's creation, and will be surprised to find yourself back on earth at the end--but you'll now see it (for a while at least) through different eyes. Reality is absolute, and what is seen is the least real of all.
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on 25 March 1999
"The Great Divorce" was a wonderful read. I have read 18 of his works (all I recommend) And I recommend this one to anyone who likes to keep their imaginations fresh and young.
It is fantasy in the way that only Lewis can conjure it. Full of insightful analogy and beautiful, flowing metaphor. The imagery he uses brings to vivid life the hidden thoughts and suspicions we all have about ourselves and the workings of the inner man.
All of Lewis' works of fiction, particularly this one carry-at least for me-that movement of mind toward those things that we see as "through a glass darkly". The process of taking the mind there invokes awe and wonder at the limitlessness of God. Not just God's ways but the infinite and out of timeness of God as a personal entity. I brings me to that place of childlike wonderment, and just when you think it gets no better, or deeper, he reveals better and deeper still till it extends beyond the edge of comprehension of our frail human intellect -and can only be embraced by the heart.
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on 4 July 1999
Having read everything published by C.S. Lewis , The Great Divorce is likely the best overall synopsis of his thinking and emphasis. It was the first book of his that I read, and what "hooked" me. If you are unfamiliar with C.S. Lewis, I suggest you start with this little book, which is one of his best. The story is about a bus ride from hell to heaven, and it is a romp to read.
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on 19 February 2013
Do not underestimate this book, just because it does not deal with Narnia - it is one of his most beautiful and thought-provoking books. I have a paper copy and have read it many times, and have now moved to the Kindle edition, which is much easier to read, physically speaking.

There are three small textual errors in the Kindle version of the book. The first is as follows:

On page 45 the text reads:

The noise, though gigantic, was like giants' laugh-ten like the revelry of a whole college of giants together ...

It should read:

The noise, though gigantic, was like giants' laughter: like the revelry of a whole college of giants together ...

On page 62, the text reads: .. the whole wood trembled and dwindled at the sound.

It should read .. the whole wood trembled and dindled at the sound.

On page 81, the text reads: ..only to Spit and gibber out in one ecstasy of hatred ..

It should read:

.. only to spit and gibber out in one ecstasy of hatred ..

It is a great book, and other than these three errors, the text is just great, conveying all of Lewis' imaginative greatness. I cannot over-emphasise just how amazing this book is; I personally re-read it about once every couple of months and am always thinking about the truths conveyed in it.
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on 24 August 2008
"The Great Divorce" is a strange allegorical novel written by the well-known Christian writer C.S. Lewis, who was also a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien. "The Great Divorce" is also my favorite work by Lewis, alongside the classical children's story "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe".

The novel is about Heaven and Hell. Hell turns out to be a boring, great city, where the sun never really rises. An angel operates a bus that takes people from Hell to Heaven. Anyone who likes can go onboard the bus. In Heaven, the denizens of Hell are met by angels who call upon them to enter. The offer of salvation is (almost) free. Despite this, most of the bus-passangers voluntarily decide to go back to Hell!

On first reading, the story might sound completely absurd. Who would be so stupid as to voluntarily remain in Hell, if you are offered an eternity in Heaven instead? The story makes more sense if read as an allegory about why people reject the Church here on Earth. For instance, one of the main characters is a heretical priest who refuses to accept the truths of traditional Christianity, even when confronted with hard evidence. Another character is some kind of bohemian left-wing artist. They both retun to "Hell", i.e. the meaningless, grey, secular world outside the Church.

The story could also be read as a criticism of modern society. The people in "Hell" live in houses that slowly but steadfastly move away from each other, making the inhabitants more and more socially isolated from each other, and more and more preoccupied with their own negative feelings, rather than turning towards what C.S. Lewis believed was the best source for Meaning in life: traditional Christianity. (Poor Napoleon is held up as a particularly bad example of a meaningless, self-preoccupied denizen of "Hell". Lewis was British.)

But the story is also theologically interesting. Indeed, Lewis seems to have believed that his allegorical description of Heaven and Hell reflected something real. It's not just a story about modern man rejecting the Church, or modern society becoming increasingly meaningless. It's also a story about the actual, supernatural realms known as Heaven and Hell.

Lewis felt extremely uncomfortable with the traditional idea of Hell. Small wonder. The traditional idea is deeply immoral: Jesus throws most of humanity in Hell, for eternal torture, simply for disbelieving in him and his mission. Christian groups who believe in this, claim that everyone who disbelieves *them* will end up in Hell. "Ultra ecclesiam nulla salus". And once you've been cast into Hell, let go of hope, for there is no turning back, not even an "Arbeit macht frei".

Modern Christians have tried to mitigate the hellish ideas of traditional Christianity somewhat. Some say that people who go to Hell choose to go there voluntarily. Others claim that even non-Christians can go to Heaven, at least if they act as Christians. Still others, who really believe in Hell, refuse to discuss the matter if a critic gets to close for comfort. For instance, did the victims of 9/11 go straight to Hell? Most of them weren't born-again Christians.

Lewis felt so uncomfortable with Hell, that he went one step further still. He essentially identified Hell with Purgatory, and claimed that those who want to leave, can do so. He thus rejected the idea, based on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in the New Testament, that denizens of Hell cannot leave their place of habitat. Lewis created a more humane, rational and logical view of Hell. What a pity that main-stream Christianity took millenia to come around to this position! Indeed, many still haven't.

At the same time, Lewis couldn't accept universalism, the idea that everyone gets saved in the end. What if people don't *want* to be saved? And that is precisely the main point of the novel. Why would a person voluntarily reject Heaven, even if given unlimited chances to enter? Why indeed? Many people here on earth refuse to get helped. They refuse to listen even to the most kind, loving advice. In fact, we all do, to a greater or lesser extent. What makes us think that angels or God himself could change this? Yes, many people would be changed, but the greater the love, the greater the rejection might be, the more supernatural the love, the more supernatural the rejection. Hence Heaven and hence Hell. And at a certain point in time, people get so ingrained in their real or imaginery insults, that they are simply beyond redemption. That, I take it, was Lewis' point. And no, I'm not saying I believe in Lewis' supernatural speculations...

And yet, Lewis simply couldn't end his book on a sombre, pessimistic note. He was no Albert Camus. Good old Jack seems to have been quite a party-animal, perhaps even a bit too hedonistic for his fellow high churchmen. So in the novel, he lets one of the characters discover that the seemigly endless City of Hell is actually just a pinprick compared to the vastness of Heaven.

In his heart, I think Lewis might have been a universalist after all.

Goodspeed, Jack, wherever you are.

Five stars!
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on 16 November 1998
I have read the Great Divorce 4 times and each time I read it I glean some new insight into Lewis and his "Seeing Eye." I don't need to elaborate on the content of the book the other reviewers have done so, so eloquently. But for anyone who really wants a fictional picture of both Heaven and Hell this book is a must. Lewis, who was and still is one of the 20th centuries-greatest apologists for Christianity brings Heaven and Hell to life like no other writer I have ever read. The first time I read the book I could not put it down it is a quick read with beautiful, well rounded and scriptural accurate views on Heaven and Hell a must for any library.
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