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The Great Divorce

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The Great Divorce is a novel by the British author C. S. Lewis, published in 1945, and based on a theological dream vision of his in which he reflects on the Christian conceptions of Heaven and Hell.

160 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1946

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About the author

C.S. Lewis

1,407 books40.9k followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Clive Staples Lewis was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954. He was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. He wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. His most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures.

Lewis was married to poet Joy Davidman.
W.H. Lewis was his elder brother]

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,619 reviews
Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
1,033 reviews17.7k followers
September 30, 2023
If you think that the plain, humble folks whom Lewis brazenly shows us have been re-united with their BODIES in Heaven are scary -

Wait till you see the rest of his REMARKABLY REAL HEAVEN!

Imagine that you awoke one morning to find yourself wandering the streets of a grimy, gritty little twilit city in the middle of Nowhere.

You meander past endless shuttered and decrepit storefronts advertising nothing anyone would ever possibly want or need...

...to find yourself joining a long queue that is forming in a dark, gloomy side street.

You wait and wait, not knowing for what earthly reason you are there, among a crowd of obnoxious and surly rivals for the front of the line.

Where are we?

Well, first off, we’re dead.

And this is Hell, of course!

Our worldly and blasé attitude while living has decreed it.

That, says Lewis, is where most of us will start our Journey (and his friend and fellow Inkling Charles Williams agreed).

And why the lineup?

We are being given a second chance - to board a tour bus to Heaven.

And if we like it... we won’t ever need to come back. You may have to work a bit, though... no, actually, MUCH MORE than a bit...

But wait till you see Lewis‘ HEAVEN!

C.S. Lewis‘ Magical Mystical Tour will show you a weird ‘n wonderful kind of paradise - a BRIGHT, ZANY, and very HARD and SOLID place of eternal ‘rest’ your current mindset may not be ready for!

A place of truly tough CHALLENGES.

Sharp, solid grass blades. Hard, solid but fast-moving blue waves of an Eternal Sea. Totally alive mythological creatures roaming freely and happily through Eternal Glades.

A place of departure - for the final Great Pilgrimage: across rugged mountainous peaks, to your ultimate Heart’s Desire - a sacred grove of Deep Eternal Peace.

But The Great Divorce, of course, is only Narnia in embryo, just as Eliot’s Ash Wednesday is only the drawing board for the radiant Apocalypse of Four Quartets...

Narnia, Lewis’ later view of the Afterlife, had its genesis in the deep gloom and self-doubt that shrouded Lewis’ soul when he was roundly humiliated in a university debate over the existence of God, by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s similarly fiercely competitive and agnostic friend, Elizabeth Anscombe.

Narnia is Lewis’ own afterthought on that debate - a vision of Heaven so stunningly daring in its conception and execution it had to be disguised as a children’s book - a book also wondrously enlivened by the December-of-his-life romance with his soon-to-be wife, Joy Davidman.

And it is an Afterlife in which we ALL will play a part.

Like it or not.

Things in Heaven may not be what they seem, and as Lewis‘ buddy T.S. Eliot warned, we‘ll have to discard all sense and habitual notions once we get there!

But both these guys are really only reminding us of that old, old boogie-woogie revival tune, “better get-a ready cause I’m giving you the Warnin’...”

And that includes a grim warning to the persistent perpetuators of all our Disquiet in this earthly world - for the fruits of all their dark and aggressive mind games will be the endless gloomy twilit streets of that Infernal City we arrived at after we died...

Streets that will soon be engulfed in the Blackness of Endless Night, when the Author of our Salvation returns in judgement.

So don‘t shoot the messenger...

But, for goodness’ sake - and whatever you do - don‘t miss that BUS!
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,144 reviews1,851 followers
June 19, 2012
One of my favorite (if not my favorite) C. S. Lewis works (and I am a C. S. Lewis fan). The insight in this book about God and man's relationship with Him is wonderful.

I suppose that many who read this will already know that I'm a Christian. I won't belabor it, if you're interested I'm happy to discuss if you don't want to I won't push my thoughts on you.

This is a very readable book and while I suppose the Christian aspects will be obvious it is also possible to simply read the book as a novel. There are some overt "teaching sections" but the book is constructed as a fantasy story told from a narrator's point of view. I've read novels from the point of view of other religions and didn't suffer or find myself suborned into some belief against my will, so I don't think non-Christians would necessarily have a problem with the book. As to Christians I believe most will enjoy this book and find an (strangely when some of it is considered) uplifting story that is also thought provoking, enlightening and even instructional. If you are a non-Christian or even irreligious you might try it and see if you can approach it as a fantasy...that is up to each reader of course.

On the religious and philosophical front, the title is a response to Blake's, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and though the book isn't a direct answer to this work it provides a contrasting and opposed view. Blake's work was written long before this one (1793) and is not as well know as this book. It's not at all necessary to have read it to enjoy this work. I only include this piece of information because I know some will be curious about the title.

Finally (and again), yes this is a Christian book and if you are a Christian and approach it so I believe it's possible to get much from this short read. In studying the Triune-God and wanting, hoping for even a little more understanding about His plan for us and the provision He has made this book was/is (for me) amazing. C.S. Lewis was a wise man and close to God, and he left us an abundance of that wisdom (from God)in his writings.

Highest recommendation.

Profile Image for Anne.
57 reviews23 followers
July 12, 2008
I LOVE reading everything C.S. Lewis. I read this book a few years ago and I couldn't put it down. The section of the book that stands out most to me is when the main character observes a conversation between two people (one who lives in heaven and one who is just visiting to see what it is like). The one who lives in heaven had killed someone while he was living on earth and the person visiting could not believe that the murderer had actually made it to heaven-The visiting man basically decided that he didn't want to go to heaven if this man was going to be there...and so he left and returned to hell. I thought it was very thought provoking especially at that time in my life where I was working through trying to know if I "should" try to forgive a certain someone in our family who had done some things that were, well to say the least, seemingly unforgivable. I have often pondered on this question since I read this book: Do I believe in the atonement enough to believe that even a "murderer" could be forgiven and find a place in heaven at the right hand of God. And if I do believe it, could I forgive that person also for whatever it may be that he might have done, and desire to live there too along side him??? think about it...

This is a WONDERFUL book and I recommend it to EVERYONE! Let me know your thoughts...
Profile Image for John.
42 reviews42 followers
June 17, 2008
This is my favorite work by C.S. Lewis. I’d give it 8 stars, . . if ‘twer possible.

In it, Lewis reacts to moral relativism (the Marriage of Heaven and Hell) by suggesting that “you cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind.” He astutely notes that the “great divorce” of good and evil is utterly voluntarily. And he does so by conjuring up this simple tale of a bus ride from a ghostly, insubstantial hell, to the brilliant, vividly tangible outskirts of heaven. Anyone can take the bus, any one can stay in heaven. But in the end, most sadly return to the grayness below, unable to give up the things preventing them from truly accepting heaven. The bus is loaded with characters full of excuses, foibles and vices. And I think I know everyone on that bus. Some of them I know really well, - too well.

I have used this short book in many Sunday school lessons over the years because Lewis’ language is so clever and incisive, and his insights are so pointed. I really love this book, and I cannot recommend it more highly!
Profile Image for nostalgebraist.
Author 4 books457 followers
December 24, 2016
I find myself in a strange place. Everything is unutterably beautiful, unusually large, and disproportionately heavy and rigid. My weight cannot bend the grass, and I cannot lift an apple. Also, I'm semi-transparent now. A blindingly luminescent human figure approaches me.

C. S. LEWIS: Hello there. I'm C. S. Lewis.

ROB: What is this place?

C. S. LEWIS: Why, this is heaven, of course. You can tell because everything here is so Real, and so joyous. The earth you knew was but a collection of dim shadows, in whose corners you sometimes glimpsed a bit of the Real world you now see around you. Here, your ever-unsatisfied yearning finds its object! Your yearning for large, heavy things, for things perfectly opaque to visible light --

ROB: -- my yearning for what?

C. S. LEWIS: Look, it’s a metaphor. This is an allegory, all right? The physical “substantiveness” of this world stands in for a fuller kind of “substantiveness” lacking on earth.

ROB: But there are so many choices of metaphor that would have at least made heaven seem appealing, the way that fuller substantiveness would. Instead I’ve just been dropped in a sci-fi world where I have difficulty walking across the diamond-hard grass and live in mortal fear of rain. But let us leave aside that minor objection for a bigger one. You say this is heaven, and yet the people here are so mean, so heartless! Do I have to be an asshole to go to heaven? Just now I saw the saved soul of a murderer smugly conversing with his hell-imprisoned former boss in terms like these:

"He is here," said the other. "You will meet him soon, if you stay." "But you murdered him." "Of course I did. It is all right now." "All right, is it? All right for you, you mean. But what about the poor chap himself, laying cold and dead?"

"But he isn't. I have told you, you will meet him soon. He sent you his love."

"What I'd like to understand," said the Ghost, "is what you're here for, as pleased as Punch, you, a bloody murderer, while I've been walking the streets down there and living in a place like a pigstye all these years."

"That is a little hard to understand at first. But it is all over now. You will be pleased about it presently. Till then there is no need to bother about it."

"No need to bother about it? Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"

"No. Not as you mean. I do not look at myself. I have given up myself. I had to, you know, after the murder. That was what it did for me. And that was how everything began."

C. S. LEWIS: I intended you to have precisely that reaction. The point is, there is one thing that matters — a first thing — and all second things are irrelevant once you have placed that thing first. The Ghost ought to have seen that in comparison to the reality of heaven, salvation, Christ, a little thing like a murder on earth really is nothing to bother about. The murderer gave himself up, and the boss did not, and this condition of their inner selves was all that mattered, in the end.

ROB: But surely one can only get a sense of another person’s inner self by observing their outward actions. If this murderer is really now so virtuous, why does he speak to the boss in this tone of grotesque innocence, in this manner which seems to imply he cannot understand what the boss is worked up about, although he must? Or has he lost his reason? (Does heaven make us stupid?) It is possible to disagree sternly with someone while still treating them as if they are another human with dignity, and not a child to be patted on the head and condescended to (“that is a little hard to understand at first”). He antagonizes the boss without apparent justification, and he sounds more like a stoner or a cultist than like someone who’s really learned a deep secret about the universe.

C. S. LEWIS: He can’t bring the boss around. Only the boss can do that. If you had quoted the rest of the exchange, your reader would see that the boss is so obsessed with how well he thinks he has lived his life, and with his aversion to receiving “charity,” that he can’t even think about giving heaven a try even when it’s laid out before him.

ROB: You say that, and so of course does the reader who follows his caricatured words on the page. Your virtuous murderer does not make the same argument. He doesn’t even try to help the boss see where he’s gone wrong. Is there nothing wrong with this refusal to stretch out a hand to a sinner who might become more virtuous?

C. S. LEWIS: But now you’re thinking merely about the consequences of actions. What matters here is not that the murderer perhaps harmed the boss in this exchange, while the boss did no harm to the murderer; what matters is only the role their actions played in their own internal universe. Again, what matters is not harm to another — even murder — but cultivation of good qualities in the little walled garden of one’s own soul. As I write in Mere Christianity:

That explains what always used to puzzle me about Christian writers; they seem to be so very strict at one moment and so very free and easy at another. They talk about mere sins of thought as if they were immensely important: and then they talk about the most frightful murders and treacheries as if you had only got to repent and all would be forgiven. But I have come to see that they are right. What they are always thinking of is the mark which the action leaves on that tiny central self which no one sees in this life but which each of us will have to endure — or enjoy — for ever. One man may be so placed that his anger sheds the blood of thousands, and another so placed that however angry he gets he will only be laughed at. But the little mark on the soul may be much the same in both. Each has done something to himself which, unless he repents, will make it harder for him to keep out of the rage next time he is tempted, and will make the rage worse when he does fall into it. Each of them, if he seriously turns to God, can have that twist in the central man straightened out again: each is, in the long run, doomed if he will not. The bigness or smallness of the thing, seen from the outside, is not what really matters.

ROB: And so in my own life, in which I am forced to ration out my willpower, indulging my anger in some cases and not others — it does not matter how I choose? Whether I indulge it when it tempts me to tear up a blank piece of paper, as opposed to when it tempts me smash the happiness or the very body of another human being — ?

C. S. LEWIS: If you indulge your anger, and thereby fan it further, you’ll have to live with that angry aspect of yourself for eternity. Make yourself good and eternity will be heaven to you; make yourself bad and it will be hell.

ROB: But I can’t just stop having bad impulses altogether. I’m weak. I’m not perfect. As I recall, this sort of thing is a cornerstone of your faith.

C. S. LEWIS: Precisely. And that’s why the only answer is in salvation, not in the sort of “rationing” you describe. Some manage their lives responsibly so their sinful nature harms few and they brighten the lives of many; some commit the worst crimes known to man. It doesn’t matter to God.

ROB: It doesn’t matter to God that the victims of atrocities suffer as they do?

C. S. LEWIS: Here you are, hung up yet again on other people. None of it really matters — whether you nurture and strengthen the beings around you or torture and destroy them. What matters is whether, in the end, [somehow!] independent of all that, you made yourself into more of a good, virtuous guy in the process. (And thus prepared yourself for an afterlife of goodness.)

ROB: That’s quite solipsistic, isn’t it?

C. S. LEWIS: Look, you are focusing on big numbers when I’m speaking of infinities. Are you really unable to conceive of the sort of reality I am depicting, one in which there are things so much more important than anything in your earthly world that they dwarf every earthly blessing and atrocity?

ROB: I can conceive of it all right. But I don’t think you have depicted it.

C. S. LEWIS: How so?

ROB: Your heaven is a world of great big pretty solid things, populated by blissed-out, monstrously indifferent creatures who seem to have no sense of morality whatsoever. In your book, a busload of sinners leave hell for a heavenly vacation, and while you portray them as cartoon figures — straw men — they at least ask some legitimate questions, suffer from some affecting and recognizable human pains. It is not just that the saved souls in heaven are unable to help them, not that these souls do not meet some sort of halfway compromise with sin — the saved souls no longer even seem to have concepts of right or wrong. They describe heaven in appetitive terms, as a pleasant tasty thing which the damned could have if only they’d reach out and snatch it:

"You think that, because hitherto you have experienced truth only with the abstract intellect. I will bring you where you can taste it like honey and be embraced by it as by a bridegroom. Your thirst shall be quenched."


The Ghost made a sound something between a sob and a snarl. "I wish I'd never been born," it said. "What are we born for?"

"For infinite happiness," said the Spirit. "You can step out into it at any moment. .. ."


"Then there's never going to be any point in painting here?"

"I don't say that. When you've grown into a Person (it's all right, we all had to do it) there'll be some things which you'll see better than anyone else. One of the things you'll want to do will be to tell us about them. But not yet. At present your business is to see. Come and see. He is endless. Come and feed."


“[…] Flesh and blood cannot come to the Mountains. Not because they are too rank, but because they are too weak. What is a Lizard compared with a stallion? Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed.”

Near the end we meet one of the most “virtuous” among them (“one of the great ones”), and she spends her time strolling about in the company of a retinue of singers and musicians who continually sing her praises.

C. S. LEWIS: Oh, come on now. It’s an allegory. As I write in Mere Christianity about depictions of heaven:

Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendour and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.

ROB: Well, if you meant to portray “ecstasy and infinity,” you ended up portraying a vapid virtual-reality paradise, one that fills you with enough narcotics you can no longer remember what it was like to think or care and then leaves you wandering carefree across realer-than-real CGI vistas. Is there any reason to think, after all, that we are really in heaven and not in the land of the Lotus Eaters?

C. S. LEWIS: But here the residents are virtuous, and what they experience is joy, the very holy substance of it, not some idle earthly pleasure.

ROB: You say that, but there is absolutely nothing in your book to substantiate it. Whatever you choose to call it, what you wrote was a land of Lotus Eaters.

C. S. LEWIS: But isn’t that what true joy would inevitably look like, from your perspective? My book is called “The Great Divorce” because I don’t believe goodness and badness can or should make any sort of compromise, any meeting-in-the-middle. Every example on earth you have seen of people without wretched feelings is an example that makes you wary — but goodness is goodness, and contains no wretched feelings. That is why it is wrong to say that “the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved”:

Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves.

ROB: You’re saying that your “joy” is a purely pleasant experience, and things like human sympathy have to be eradicated because they sometimes harsh one’s mellow. And you’re conflating that purely pleasant thing with goodness, so that goodness is not a thing with any other people in it, but a pure narcosis that can contain nothing novel that might worry or startle or uplift us. A sealed womb, impermeable to any outside world.

C. S. LEWIS: You won’t mind about the distinction between self and other, if you’ve made it here. (“When you have drunk of [the fountain] you forget forever all proprietorship in your own works. You enjoy them just as if they were someone else's: without pride and without modesty.”) None of that will matter anymore. Only God will matter. You’ll have nothing to yourself any more; you will have given up everything of yourself and replaced it with God. Can’t you stretch your mind and imagine that sort of world — that dramatically different yet authentically joyous world?

ROB: I might if I had some tool to help with the stretching — say, some work of fiction that rewrote all these fearsome and abstract things in terms I could feel and touch. A well-written, well-constructed allegory.

C. S. LEWIS: I’m sorry. I’m just not very good at those.
Profile Image for Brian.
709 reviews353 followers
December 19, 2018
“Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good is good.”

“The Great Divorce” is a didactic novel and the premise though intriguing is not always interesting. Some “ghosts” board a bus in Hell and make their way to a portion of Heaven (although it does not seem to be “in” Heaven proper. What follows are a bunch of conversations that the narrator overhears. As mentioned, the story is didactic in tone, but when Mr. Lewis hits a strong point, it is a kick in the pants. This text is a thinking novel, not a diversionary one. There are one or two well-drawn characterizations, but the narrator (I think by choice) is not one of them. I believe the narrator is a sort of stand in for C.S. Lewis himself.
Of special note is the “Preface” to the text, which is in and of itself worth the price of the novel. Lewis says more in those 4 pages then most writers do in 100.
As a former actor/artist myself this line on page 85 knocked me back a step. “Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.” I think that in any pursuit you can eventually lose sight of the forest for the trees. I have lived this experience, which is perhaps why it was so impactful for me.
In this short text chapter 11 seems to be the meat of the book. In it, we are witness to two different “ghosts” and their vastly different reactions to the offer of Heaven. That sentence makes this text seem simplistic. It certainly is not, do not be fooled. In chapter 11 we also observe a scenario in which we see how natural love can be warped by our humanity and turned into something quite ugly. It is pretty heady stuff, and disturbingly unsettling.
At one point a character says of love on Earth, “But what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved.” I have thought about that one a lot. I think this might be true. I don’t add a value to that or suggest that is a bad thing, I just wonder if that is not a huge motivation for something that we sometimes tell ourselves is altruistic. Don’t know…
I think that you would appreciate “The Great Divorce” more if you have a knowledge of the Bible, especially the New Testament. It will greatly aid you in seeing what Mr. Lewis is doing with this text. This novel has depth, but does not get bogged down in it. I read it quickly; it made me stop and think. I will take that as a good thing in almost any book.
Profile Image for booklady.
2,326 reviews65 followers
May 19, 2022
Lewis wrote The Great Divorce in response to William Blake’s famous poem, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Lewis didn't believe such a marriage of good and evil was possible on any level. He wrote, ‘...life is not like a pool but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but also from other good. I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. ... Evil can be undone, but it cannot “develop” into good. Time does not heal it.’

The Great Divorce is my favorite by C. S. Lewis and perhaps one of my all-time favorite novels, although I'm at a loss to explain why. It's not really great literature, yet I've lost count of the times I've read it. Maybe it's because of its simplicity; it seems to get people and their ‘issues’ right. Maybe it's because it makes Heaven and Hell as simple as our one choice, where do you want to go? It all boils down to, your will or God's?

Another part of the book which I think is worth quoting is from a conversation between Lewis and his Heavenly ‘guide’, George MacDonald on page 96:

MacDonald: ‘“...love, as mortals understand the word isn’t enough. Every natural love will rise again and love forever in this country: but none will rise again until it is buried.”
Lewis: “The saying is almost too hard for us.”
MD: “Ah but it’s cruel not to say it. They that know have grown afraid to speak. That is why sorrows that used to purify now only fester.”
L: “Keats was wrong, then, when he said he was certain of the holiness of the heart’s affections.”
MD: “I doubt if he knew clearly what he meant. But you and I must be clear. There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. And the higher and mightier it is in the natural order, the more demoniac it will be if it rebels. It’s not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons, but out of bad archangels. The false religion of lust is baser than the false religion of mother-love or patriotism or art: but lust is less likely to be made into a religion.”

If C.S. Lewis was alive today, he might have to revise that statement about lust being turned into a religion; aside from that, I couldn’t agree with him more.

When we went to see The Screwtape Letters performed back in March 2012, it was announced that the rights to this Lewis book had also been purchased for adaptation to stage. Reread again in anticipation of going to see as a play tomorrow, November 8, 2014 in Dallas.

May 19, 2022 update: Have seen it again since then, plus other plays by The Fellowship of the Performing Arts and that have all been excellent! Revised for bad link.
Profile Image for Rachel.
30 reviews20 followers
May 29, 2008
Once again C.S. Lewis shows us how deft he is at cracking open the mysteries of human spirituality and motivation. This book is an allegory for heaven and hell and as he describes each of the characters and how they ultimately choose their eternal reward, we can glimpse a bit of ourselves.

My favorite part is when he describes a woman who has chosen heaven but whose husband refuses to give up the little devil sitting on his shoulder and ultimately chooses to return to hell. The narrator asks how is it possible that this woman will able to be happy for eternity when her husband has chosen not to be with her. Shouldn't a part of her be sad? The narrator's escort then gives a brilliant explanation of how if hell had it's way it would hold all the joy in the world hostage. It helped me understand how we can still find peace even though those around us may make bad choices.

The only reason I didn't give it 5 stars is because the book has a slow start - it takes a little while to get into it. But please persist - you will find that it is worth it.
Profile Image for Brian .
415 reviews5 followers
May 3, 2018
I’m learning that, at least to me, reading Lewis can be a terrifying, dangerous endeavor. Why? Because he will change you and influence you without your realizing it. In all honesty, I had some trouble reading through this at times. I couldn’t get beyond my theological disagreements but have learned to accept the truth he presents without criticism, agree to disagree. I know I’m nothing compared to Lewis, but I believe every person should think for themselves rather than depend on opinions of others, regardless of fame.

The book had me thinking and still has me thinking. That’s what I mean about Lewis. He gets in your head (at least in mine) and you come face to face with the things he says, and sometimes they confront you. Since we all have weaknesses, and only a fool pretends, I want to share an experience. I started on an unwise path in my mind last week, a matter of minutes, maybe seconds. As I started in that way, I remembered the people in this book who go to hell, and they shrivel to tiny beings, because hell is a tiny place. (This gives a kind of spoiler and I’m sorry about that.) The trick of being unwise: we (I, at least) think it makes us bigger, because of how we feel, but in reality we become smaller and smaller. I started to see my choices and thoughts, and foolish decisions, and how these things make me a tiny little man, without character, and to compensate, the unwise things promise to make us bigger, this the cycle of diminishing. The terrifying part comes at the realization of what is shrinking. Me. My very essence. My very existence. That terrifies me. I personally believe in eternal security, but even so, knowing I’m always going to be saved, becoming smaller and smaller, and pathetic and pitiful inside makes those tantalizing things distasteful, and terrifying, a hell in themselves.

I admire how Lewis credited a sci-fi author for his idea (spoiler) of becoming bigger as a means of entering heaven, and smaller to get down into hell. The story starts on a bus. Everyone’s dead, and they go to a middle place, between the lower and higher realms. People have a chance to let go of things holding them back, but many still refuse. Many stories and encounters show reasons people have for rejecting the path of becoming bigger— they choose to diminish. George MacDonald comes as a character near the end and walks with him, like Virgil walked with Dante (although MacDonald enters “paradise”). He says many things that inspire me in wanting to pursue his writings further.

I don’t agree with everything Lewis says, but his impact has broken and awakened me in a short time. He has changed and continues to change my life. What a brilliant man who became a weapon of Light in divine hands!
Profile Image for Sunshine Rodgers.
Author 13 books319 followers
December 19, 2016
C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” was puzzling at first. I read and kept waiting for the action. When was the plot going to happen? When is there going to be a turn of events? When is the story going to progress? And all the while I kept thinking about different scenarios and various outcomes the character was going to have to go through or where he would eventually go at the end… but no. This book cannot and should not be predicted. My struggle was my pull to get the story going when it actuality it was the author himself who was trying to slow me down and pay attention to what was truly playing out in front of me. Throughout the book, I had to learn to engage in each meaningful conversation, each intricate character and before I knew it I had stopped trying to move the story along on my own, but I felt good sitting on the floor as C.S. Lewis himself spoke to me. “The Great Divorce” is enjoyable if the reader can turn off their expectations for fiction books and turn on their eyesight for something greater. I mostly enjoyed Lewis’ voice as this narrative became a story, just an allegorical story of one man’s experience through Heaven. The readers then saw the real divide between heaven and hades; the separation that starts in our very own heart. Thank you C.S. Lewis. Though you have passed away in this life years and years ago, you truly came alive to me when I read this book, teaching me about myself, about others and about the second chances God gives to those He loves.
Profile Image for Nikki.
354 reviews14 followers
July 15, 2008
I just listened to the audio of "The Great Divorce." It was my first reading of this book, and I know there will be many re-readings in my future. I feel a first reading was really just a glimpse of what it will be like to delve into it again and again. First of all, I must say that I adore Lewis's writing style and that his stories really resonate with me. And I know I'm just beginning to touch the surface. I have read Narnia a couple times and I read "The Problem with Pain" last year. I'm eager to continue venturing into his writings. His Christian perspective is inspiring and is quite a good fit to my own ideas/musings/wonderings/beliefs.

My favorite part of "The Great Divorce" :

In great anguish, a woman declares, "I'd rather die!"
She is reminded, "You are already dead."
In further anguish, she cries out, "Then I wish I were never born!! What are we born for??"
She is answered, "For infinite happiness. You can step out into it at any moment."

The idea of happiness always being accessible, always being available, is beautiful. We don't have to wait for heaven. It's already here...
Profile Image for Jeremy.
Author 1 book252 followers
August 3, 2023
I own this edition. Go here to listen to Lewis read his introduction. See here for Joe Rigney on Lewis on Hell.

I do believe that artists have a responsibility to get theology as right as they can, even in their fiction, but I think that there is a significant difference between The Shack and Lewis's The Great Divorce. Whereas Young's novel really seemed to be promoting the theology behind it, The Great Divorce should not be read as proposing the way that Heaven and Hell really are. (Lewis himself says this in the preface.) It's an artist's impressionistic collection of snapshots of human character, and Lewis's insights in that regard are peerless.

In 2015, The Great Divorce sold 800,000 copies in one new HarperCollins edition (not across all editions). That year it was 71 years old. It doesn't sell as well as The Screwtape Letters or Mere Christianity, but it sells better than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (Source: see 28:30–30:07 here.)

Some blog comments (not mine) here. Read about its deeper meaning here.

3: MacDonald doesn't sound like a universalist in this quote (see p. 114)
7: direct response to Blake and the distaste for either-or
8: earth is, in a way, a foretaste of Heaven and Hell
9: it's intended to have a moral, but he's not setting out details about the afterlife

Ch. 1
13: bus queue; rainy and dark (Hell/Purgatory)
Is the bus driver Jesus?
16: bus flies

Ch. 2
20: issue of wanting (see also pp. 28, 34, 28, 52, 55-56, 60, 66-67, 111)

Ch. 3
26: bus lands in a green field
27: nature is as hard as diamonds
28: bus passengers are ghosts
29: ageless (infant thought and old frolic)

Ch. 4
30: solid people approach (spirits, not ghosts)
32: issue of getting in
33: there are no private affairs
34: man concerned with his "rights" chooses to leave

Ch. 5
35: the book started getting more interesting for me at this chapter
36: literal Heaven/Hell seen as silly
39: Inquisition was bad, but the opposite error is bad too; encouragement to repent and believe
40: no such thing as a final answer—traveling hopefully > arriving (view that Heaven = stagnation)
41: thirst was made for water; children love answers
42-43: man rejects Heaven to go read a theological paper; he thinks that since Jesus died young, He died before He could fully mature past His early (foolish) views

Ch. 6

Ch. 7
50: Hell is just like any other town
51: assumption that since God is sovereign over both Heaven and Hell, they can't be at war with each other [so a king can't be sovereign over the banquet hall and the dungeon?]

Ch. 8
54: doubting the intentions of the Solid People; Cowper's despair
57: we are born for infinite happiness ("joy" on p. 65)
58: unicorns

Ch. 9 (MacDonald)
MacDonald pointed Lewis to myth; Lewis edited a collection of MacDonald's work and wrote a preface
MacDonald appears as a shepherd. See his theology here. He rejected penal substitution (not appeasing God's wrath).
MacDonald : Lewis :: Virgil : Dante
Refrigerium [see Is. 28:12]—annual holiday on Easter? [Prudentius in 2c?] —> judgment isn't final
Chapter 9 is drier [Milton/Josephus: law preceded by narrative]
59: George MacDonald as Dantean/Virgilian guide
60: Phantastes (autobiographical)
60: issue of choice; Jeremy Taylor on Christ's advent
61: holidays for the damned (hauntings); for those who leave Hell, it was really Purgatory; Deep Heaven; Valley of the Shadow of Life
62: Heaven turns agony into glory
63: Heaven is reality; Roman Catholics and Protestants closer than they think
64: Milton's Satan ("better to reign in Hell…" and "injured merit"); Achilles's "wrath" was just sulking
65-66: possible to care more about proving God's existence than caring about God Himself
66-67: two kinds of people: those who tell God "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says "thy will be done"—all those in Hell want to be there, or at least would rather be there than in Heaven
68: sparks?
74: Deep Hell—artists love the showing, not the object itself
fame and being known

Ch. 10
77-78: nagging wife both creates and destroys her husband's ambition (she wanted credit)
78-79: she destroys his friendships (her "love" made others miserable)
81: she needs someone to control

Ch. 11
Question: Does Pam love her dead son too much?
death as a kind of surgery
Pam tries to be a victim, and she says, "I'm always wrong, to you" (MacDonald: "um, yeah")
tragedian: some people use pity as a weapon
83: wanting God for His own sake
88: spark of something not herself (see p. 68); corruption of the best becomes the worst; total depravity; issue of what to say to the bereaved and when
89: Keats was wrong in his certainty of the holiness of the heart's affections
89-94: lizard of lust (spirit can't kill it without permission); lizard transforms into stallion
92: our wills give permission?
95: excess vs. defect
nature is no longer at enmity with humans
woman/son compares with man/lizard; she loves her son too little; she might demand that her son be in Hell with her

progression of characters: Pam might transform; man does transform; Sarah has transformed

Ch. 12
98: the greatness of common people; Milton referenced
Sarah Smith—ordinary; compare her love to Pam's love; Pam hoarded love, and Sarah gave it away
99-105…: Dwarf/Tragedian
split husband
"of course not"—cf. "of course"

Ch. 13
106-07: the terrible struggle against joy, and a miserable triumph
107: Dwarf disappears
108: pity as blackmail (action of pity [positive] vs. passion of pity [negative])—weapons can be good or bad
108-09: Tragedian vanishes
109-10: Ps. 91
112-13: Heaven is far larger than Hell (Hell is in a crack)
113: Alice [Wonderland] referenced; a damned soul is shrunk, shut up in itself [cf. incurvatus in se]
114: the higher a being, the lower it can descend/stoop; Julian—all will be well
114-15: Universalism
115: pictures as symbols; Predestination
some tricky points about Universalism, Paul, etc.

Ch. 14
116: chess/puppetry; lens/vision/dream [I think of Lewis's review of of Tolkien's LOTR: fiction fortifies you to go back to the real world]
wakes to the siren—Hell of WW2
Profile Image for Werner.
Author 3 books602 followers
September 8, 2013
I've classified this book on my "Christian life and thought" shelf, which is one of my nonfiction shelves. Technically, one might argue that this is a work of fiction, a made-up narrative that uses the device of a dream vision to supposedly describe places to which no earth-bound human has ever been. But here, as with some of Hawthorne's short stories/essays, the fiction is so message-driven that any dividing line separating it from an essay is thin indeed. It's very much a narrative about ideas, and the fictional framework is just a vivid stage for these, with a few props, and the use of dramatic dialogue; here (unlike in his Chronicles of Narnia series or the Space Trilogy) Lewis' didactic purpose so overwhelms the story that it's not fair to evaluate it as fiction.

A professor of medieval literature, Lewis was quite familiar with Dante's The Divine Comedy. I am not; but I can recognize the conceptual similarity from general descriptions of the latter. Here too, we have a journey that encompasses Heaven and Hell (which, Lewis suggests, also serves as Purgatory for those who don't choose to stay there); and here, too, the narrator is furnished with a guide in the person of a famous author. (One of my Goodreads friends calls this work a "rip-off" of Dante's classic; perhaps we could more accurately call it a sort of homage, or an extended literary allusion.)

Whatever Dante's purpose was, however, Lewis clearly states in the short Preface to this work that it's not intended as a literal speculation as to what the real Heaven and Hell may be like. Rather, he uses his narrator's fictional journey as a literary conceit to make a series of major and minor points about how God relates to human beings, and how we relate to God and each other. A key message here is that God doesn't will any humans to be damned. (This would exclude the idea of Calvinist predestinarianism, despite Lewis' suggestion that the eternal perspective obviates some earthly theological distinctions such as this.) Rather, there are those who exclude themselves from Heaven, because their attitude won't let them embrace it. As the book suggests (and the Goodreads description quotes), there are two kinds of people, those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God ultimately says, in sorrow, "Thy will be done." (We could also characterize them, based on the portrayals here, as those willing to recognize a God outside themselves, and those determined to be the god and center of their own universe.) The author holds up a kind of moral mirror in which readers can see how their own attitudes and actions reflect --and it's one that reveals a lot of human self-centeredness, blaming of others for everything we refuse to take responsibility for, self-deceit and hypocrisy. The type of fictional framework, ostensibly a description of unseen realities but not intended to be taken as literally so, and the quality of the rigorous, uncompromising, spiritually-grounded ethical thought, is reminiscent of the author's (also excellent) The Screwtape Letters.

Unlike some Christian works, this one doesn't come across with the "all Christians are moral exemplars, and non-Christians are scumbags" vibe that non-Christians understandably tend to find offensive. Both God's judgment and grace, Lewis suggests, probe much more deeply into the heart and soul than surface religious affiliation; there are professed Christians (even an Anglican bishop!) in his Hell, and we hear of at least one pagan who's found his way to Heaven. However, I'd recommend this more to Christian than to non-Christian readers. That's not to say that some open-minded non-Christians wouldn't be interested in reading it, or couldn't profit from doing so. But I think Lewis presupposes some basic Christian concepts about God and the afterlife that, probably, most non-Christians would find hard to take as starting points. It's more suited, I think, as a stimulus for Christian moral and theological reflection about how we live, think, and relate to God and others. (Nonfiction Lewis works that I'd more readily recommend for non-Christian readers would include Mere Christianity, Miracles, and God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics.)
Profile Image for Cori.
852 reviews147 followers
December 16, 2021
My 2020 Reading Challenge, read all of C.S. Lewis’s published works, is off to a decent start. The Great Divorce is the third book in for this considerable list.

I loved this book. Certain quotes in it…I want tattooed on me so I don’t forget them. This review is going to be long, detailed, and full of quotes; so a couple things: I don’t want the books to start running together over the year so I lose track of the specifics I enjoyed of each one. This is a book summary for myself, so don’t read it if you plan on reading this and savoring the details for the first time. And when I say it’s long, I mean it’s LONG. I’m about to find out if Goodreads has a character limit for reviews. So if anyone actually reads through, I would be shocked. Kudos to you. But don't feel obligated by any means.

The Great Divorce tells the story of a man in purgatory; I think the author was using himself as the main character. He comes across a bus station taking a group to heaven. The author later describes the place they start in as “The Valley of the Shadow of Death,” so not quite hell. They fly off into space and end up in “The Valley of the Shadow of Life,” so not quite heaven. The main character then witnesses an assortment of passengers respond as they are given the opportunity to remain in heaven or return to hell. Okay, so not completely and theologically sound. But Lewis knew that; it’s meant to be allegorical. Moving on.

Passenger Number One is offended when a murderer who knew from his former life meets him and welcomes him. I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God. He’s not happy with the fact that he, someone who lived “a good life” needs forgiveness, the same as the murderer. What rubbish. So he returns to hell where he can be considered better than his neighbors.

Passenger Number Two is horrified to learn that his reasoning and intellect won’t be revered here. Questions are made clear, and the firsthand knowledge of God removes the entertainment of speculation Two is used to being praised for. On Hell and Earth, Two could view himself as omniscient like God because he didn’t comprehend God. In heaven, no one would be amazed by his philosophy. Rather than viewing this as a comfort, Two decides to return to Hell where he will continue to be exalted in his intellectual circles.

Passenger Number Three is jaded. It’s all a scam. All of it. The end.

Passenger Number Four is horrified to learn that she will look different, be perceived as different, and won’t blend in with her old acquaintances as Four adapts to a heavenly appearance. “I wish I’d never been born. What are we born for?” “For infinite happiness,” said the Spirit. “You can step out into it at any moment…” “But I tell you, they’ll see me.” “An hour hence, and you will not care. A day hence and you will laugh at it. Don’t you remember on earth—there were things too hot to touch with your finger but you could drink them all right? Shame is like that. If you will accept it—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.”

At this point, the main character has an intermission of sorts in which he runs into George MacDonald. I had to laugh because only C.S. Lewis would be so transparent that he would put one of his greatest heroes in a story just to have a hypothetical conversation with him (I REALLY need to read Phantastes). Holy Moses, I wish I had this man’s moxie and willingness to be vulnerable and self-deprecating. But his choice to include his favorite author (or one of them) was spot on. The conversation between the two of them is incredible. Case(s) in point.

“And that is why, at the end of all things, 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.”

“The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words, ‘Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.’ There is always something they insist on keeping, even at the price of misery. There is always something they prefer to joy—that is, to reality. Ye see it easily enough in a spoiled child that would sooner miss its play and its supper than say it was sorry and be friends.”

“There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself…as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist! There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ. Man! Ye see it in smaller matters. Did ye never know a lover of books that with all his first editions and signed copies had lost the power to read them? Or an organizer of charities that had lost all love for the poor? It is the subtlest of all snares.”

“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. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires Joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”

George MacDonald then becomes a guide of sorts for the main character. Continuing to observe the passengers, Passenger Number Five was a famous artist and abhors that he will not be given an exalted place in heaven.

Passenger Number Six only condescends to agree to come to heaven if she is “given” her husband so she can keep working on him as her project like she did on earth. This was so oddly specific, I can’t help but wonder if Lewis knew a woman like this in real life.

Passenger Number Seven is a mother who allowed bitterness and grief to turn her away from her living children and husband when Seven’s son, Michael, died. She sees heaven merely as a way to see her son again. “You’re treating God only as a means to Michael. But the thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for His own sake.” “You wouldn’t talk like that if you were a Mother.” “You mean, if I were ONLY a mother. You exist as Michael’s mother only because you first exist as God’s creature. That relation is older and closer.”

Passenger Number Eight comes on the scene with a red lizard sitting on his shoulder. The lizard whispers into Eight’s ear constantly, distracting the man. A Spirit offers to kill the lizard, but Eight says it isn’t so bad, and he can ignore it for the most part. The Spirit persists and, finally, the man agrees. The Spirit kills the lizard which rises from the ash as a beautiful stallion. Eight becomes a being prepared to enter heaven and rides the horse away. The conversation between MacDonald and Lewis explains that the lizard is fleshly desire that isn’t evil when turned over to God. Rather, it can be a source of great joy when we give these desires over for God to work with as He will.

Finally, Passenger Number Nine is a small, twisted man leading a tall, thespian man on a chain. Basically, the little man is the true self and the tall, drama king is…well. A drama king. Drama King pretends all sorts of things to control the joy of people around him because he has none of his own. And when his amazing, selfless, Godly wife, who put up with his garbage for years and is already in heaven, tells him that they don’t need one another here…well…he has a meltdown.

“Love,” said the Tragedian striking his forehead with his hand: then a few notes deeper, “Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?” “How should I not?” said the Lady. “I am in love. IN love, do you understand? Yes, now I love truly.” “You mean,” said the Tragedian, “you mean—you did NOT love me truly in the old days?” “Only in a poor sort of way,” she answered. “I have asked you to forgive me. There was a little real love in it. But what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. In the main I loved you for my own sake; because I needed you.” “And now!” said the Tragedian with a hackneyed gesture of despair. “Now, you need me no more?” “But of course not!” said the Lady; and her smile made me wonder how both the phantoms could refrain for crying out with joy. “What needs could I have now that I have all? I am full, not empty. I am in Love Himself, not lonely. Strong, not weak. You shall be the same. Come and see. We shall have no NEED for one another now: we can begin to love truly.”

In response, Drama-King-Who-Has-A-Compulsion-To-Be-Needed-Rather-Than-Love-Others has a royal meltdown. As he melts down, he literally shrinks in stature. And the Lady has the best response ever. “Stop it at once.” “Stop what?” “Using pity, other peoples’ pity, in the wrong way. We have all done it a bit on earth, you know. Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity. You see, I know now. Even as a child you did it. Instead of saying sorry, you went and sulked in the attic… because you knew that sooner or later one of your sisters would say, ‘I can’t bear to think of him sitting up there alone, crying.’ You used your pity to blackmail them, and they gave in in the end.”

The more of a tantrum the man throws, the smaller he grows. But she doesn’t give in. ”If it would help you and if it were possible I would go down with you into Hell; but you cannot bring Hell into me.” I think I reread that line about twenty times. This perfectly summarizes every proper response we should have to sacrificing ourselves for others. Help as much as we can. Definitely. But we don’t have to set ourselves on fire to keep them warm. We can retain our joy without giving in to miserable manipulation.

Some of the last snatches of conversation between MacDonald and Lewis solidly ended the book.

“All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of THIS world, the Real World. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste.” “It seems big enough when you’re in it, Sir.” “And yet all loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies and itchings that it contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could even be registered at all. Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good is good. If all Hell’s miseries together entered the consciousness of yon wee yellow bird on the bough there, they would be swallowed up without trace, as if one drop of ink had been dropped into that Great Ocean to which your terrestrial Pacific itself is only a molecule.”

Amazing book.

I’d rate this book a PG.
Profile Image for Kris.
1,374 reviews179 followers
August 3, 2023
October 2021 Review
I am much more comfortable with this one now. It's such a jumble of fascinating ideas thrown together in a dream-like vision: Salvation, sanctification, time and eternity, purgatory, the last judgment. A fictional MacDonald entreats us and the narrator: “Do not ask of a vision in a dream more than a vision in a dream can give” (pg 144). So as an "imaginative supposal" we're not supposed to take it seriously? "Ye cannot know eternal reality by a definition," you say? Yet, Mr. Lewis, by the very act of writing this novel you are creating a definition. I see what you did there.

This book is vaguely heretical, but gets away with it in a twist of irony and sarcasm. And I love it.

May 2020 Review
In this reread much more stuck with me. I could definitely see parallels with Lewis's other works, particularly The Last Battle -- like the Dwarfs that refuse to see the new Narnia, and in Till We Have Faces -- with Orual's possessive love of Psyche. There's a bit of Miracles and Mere Christianity in here too.

I realize now that this one really needs to be treated as a dream, or a thought experiment, in a completely different way than his apologetics, devotional works, or other fiction. I think in my first read I tried to take it too literally -- as if he were really trying to teach us solid truths about heaven and hell. And while, yes, it's not as if he's trying to teach untruths, this is more wild speculation than anything. It gets uncomfortable in places because he seems to be talking about universalism, and Pelagianism, and Purgatory, and perhaps some denial of total depravity -- but then toward the end he plays around with time and uproots the whole thing. And then you find this quote:

"'These conversations between the Spirits and the Ghosts -- were they only the mimicry of choices that had really been made long ago?'
'Or might ye not as well say, anticipations of a choice to be made at the end of all things? But ye'd do better to say neither. Ye saw the choices a bit more clearly than ye could see them on Earth: the lens was clearer. But it was still seen through the lens. Do not ask of a vision in a dream more than a vision in a dream can give.'"

Other Quotes:
'No,' said the other. 'I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at all. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God.'"

"That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, "No future bliss can make up for it," not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And some sinful pleasure they say "Let me have but this and I'll take the consequences": little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death."

"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."

January 2014 Review
Beautiful, simple, symbolic... I still struggle for words to describe this story. Fictional, metaphorical... supernatural? It was easy enough to understand, but I feel as if I'd need a theological doctor to explain to me what it really means. I look forward to discussion, and maybe coming back to this review. Lewis made certain good points about the nature of heaven and hell, people's reactions to final judgment, and the manifestation of love in relationships. But I feel he left more unsaid than said in this text.
Profile Image for Cherisa B.
521 reviews43 followers
March 1, 2023
In an allegory or a dream, Lewis takes us on a bus ride to Heaven. Our protagonist finds himself in what appears to be the afterlife. We see other souls attempting to make sense of where they are and what choices are before them. Their sins have stuck with them, those habits or vices that kept them from finding joy on earth--e.g., pride, cynicism, intellectual arrogance, vanity, obsession, control through passive aggressive behavior, and how many of them can't let go or get out of their own way to attain Heaven. A thought-provoking and gentle read allowing us to consider what might be blocking our own path to Heaven, or even finding it here on Earth in this lifetime.

One notion that really struck me was perspective on the conditions of your life. Lewis posits that though we can't understand eternity, good or evil, we can get some sense of it, and retrospective understanding once we get past it. If we are saved (choose Heaven), we understand our life as almost a proto-Heaven; those who are damned will see it always as Hell. Sins and sorrows, pleasure and forgiveness, take on qualities that work backwards and can turn agony into glory. The idea goes beyond an apologia for temporal suffering, and shifts it somewhat over to how we think actually helps create our reality.
Profile Image for Cindy Rollins.
Author 20 books2,160 followers
April 30, 2020
#theliterarylifepodcast #20for2020reads

This review is for the audiobook. My son introduced me this recording; he listens to it on autoplay. Julian Rhind-Tutt is one of the best narrators I have heard and this book is a perfect place for his talents with so many personalities and characters taking the stage.

We are talking about this book on The Literary Life Podcast. Join us.

Profile Image for Gabriel.
46 reviews1 follower
September 13, 2007
As a story, this isn’t that amazing, as very little “happens.” As a collection of images about theology, and especially about sin and how it can keep one away from union with God, it is very insightful. Lewis, in my view, provides the best explanations of how heaven works, or more specifically how it can be that a loving God and hell can coexist. The “dwarves in the stable” from The Last Battle are the best depiction of this; reading them I first understood how one could ever choose to reject God, even when honestly given a choice in light of the possibility of truly seeing God as God is. What happens is that when one is presented with God, one says: “That’s not God! I know what God looks like, and that’s not it! No thanks.” In any case, in the Great Divorce the various encounters illustrate ways people can put other things in the way of God, ways to deceive oneself or preoccupy oneself away from God, away from what is most important. True idolatry, and quite real even today.

There is a definite clarity to Lewis’s vision of things; the truth is to be had by anyone who will listen, yet the problem is that folks over- or under-think it, and manage to miss out. I wonder if it really is that simple. Lewis writes at a time when the certainly of the Enlightenment framework has fallen apart, and Lewis fits into the group which insists that the correct response is to move back, to return to what theology had already figured out, to shake off the “gains” of the “enlightened mind.” This position remains very attractive today: that all the fancy theories and of course chaos of recent years are simply a symptom of abandoning the truth that has always been securely held by faith; the only thing novel these days are new ways to avoid that truth and to seem very smart yet smarmy in doing so.

But there is another alternative, one that is truly on the other side of modernity, that isn’t so quick to throw away the penetrating gains of the modern mindset, only its onetime certainty. And it is from this perspective that I suspect Lewis makes it too simple, that Lewis calls us back to a universe that never really did hold it all together, even if it did once exist.

But yes, the Lizard image is quite wonderful. And apt. What I would give for a nice stallion!
Profile Image for Abigayle Claire.
Author 9 books222 followers
June 29, 2017
I had a misconception about what this book was actually on, and a dream of Heaven and Hell was not it. It was fascinating the way Lewis demonstrated some strong philosophies and thought-provoking points through the medium of allegory yet again. While he intentionally states that he's not trying to provide an accurate picture of the afterlife, this was still very different from anything I've ever dreamed Heaven and Hell to be like. I enjoyed the story all the more for it being a less traditional presentation. I'd have to read this several more times, I think, before I'd have a good concept of everything he says about this world while (once again) telling of another. But it kept my attention on a storytelling level, and also kept my mind working to understand the purpose behind his presentation. There's some moderate language, but otherwise I would recommend this as a conversation piece between those who believe in a Heaven and Hell particularly.
Profile Image for Mark.
393 reviews306 followers
October 12, 2011
This is one of the cleverest and yet simplest explorations of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory that I have ever read. There is a day trip up from hell, the travellers get off and meet people who have come to talk to them, to help them on their journey. This journey is expressed in all sorts of ways, with one it might be the need to step out into the public gaze when they feel unattractive or unprepared and so to move on from fear and the need for acclaim , for another the need to accept that your understanding has been flawed and incomplete, for another the image of having to step onto the grass of heaven which is so much more real than previously experienced and therefore it, initially at least, hurts and stings. This pain is short lived but, Lewis intimates, it is necessary. Those that can accept and step out into the new situation stay and for them their stay in hell was temporary, it was a purging, a preparation for their entry into Heaven; for those that cannot accept or will not accept, well they get joyously back on to the bus and go back to hell; their choice, their decision. Therefore what I love about the Great Divorce vision is it offers an inkling of an answer to a couple of, for me, difficult theological sticking points. The people in hell can come up on the bus as often as they choose, hell thus is not eternal in the sense that ' inmates' can be continually challenged by the Grace of God, their decision is never irrevocable, the residents of hell make their own choice to go back, to stay. Continually, in Lewis' parable, they have the opportunity to make a different decision. He cleverly shows Hell as a place of argument and unrest but one from which all can freely move if they are prepared to accept and face up to their previous errors or mistakes. Now of course this exposition only makes sense to one who believes in an afterlfe in which resides a loving God. As i do on both counts this book is hugely significant to me. I do not mean Lewis has sorted out the question of the afterlife, he never claimed to, he is simply putting forward an extended image and inviting his readers to contemplate it. I think it is well worth the effort.
Profile Image for Mel.
99 reviews153 followers
June 12, 2023
“Those that hate goodness are sometimes nearer than those who know nothing at all about it and think they have it already.”

This has got to be one of my all time favorites of C.S. Lewis. A different aspect of the story stands out to me every time I read it. Absolutely 10/10
41 reviews1 follower
March 30, 2009
Almost without exception, whatever CS Lewis writes is fine with me. The Great Divorce is my 2nd favorite CS Lewis book (I am not counting the Narnia series), and what I thought was most interesting about it was the people who were in hell did not know they were in hell. This is a familiar concept to me, I remember my dad and his minister friends discussing it. It was also interesting that people didn't get to heaven in the way they thought they would.

Obviously, no one has actual answers for these types of questions. But CS Lewis comes close as I can see to having answers, without turning his vision into some Chicken Soup For the Soul self-help bull crap that is corny while being extremely boring to read.
Profile Image for Kailey (Luminous Libro).
3,065 reviews458 followers
April 21, 2015
Oh my goodness, I'm in shock! I feel like I have been hit with a ton of spiritual bricks; not an uncommon feeling after reading any of Lewis' books. How wonderful! The best part is that no matter what the subject or plot, Lewis always turns the focus back to Christ.

This book reminds me a bit of his book, "Pilgrim's Regress", and John Bunyan's book too. It follows that sort of pattern- wandering in a strange land, meeting allegorical people, having philosophical conversations with angels and men that illustrate great truths in an easily digestible way.

This is a fantasy story of a man who is confronted with the choice between Heaven and Hell, as we all are, and as he watches others make the choice, he realizes that people who go to Hell WANT to be there. They chose it. "Hell is locked from the inside." He also quotes one of my favorite passages from Milton's Paradise Lost; that some think it is "better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." People choose to endure misery rather than submit to Joy. People choose to be proud and suffering rather than admit they were wrong and accept forgiveness.

The reason for the title is that the book proves there is no middle ground. You must choose one or the other. There is a complete and total division between Heaven and Hell. Sound theology, beautifully expressed!

When George MacDonald showed up as a character, I gave a little holler of happiness! And his dialogue is so delightfully Scotch. Just lovely writing!
There are some enchanting descriptions of Heaven, and imaginings of what it could be like there, that brought me some joyful thoughts and a holy longing to be in my True Home. It really lifts the focus onto the things of God!

As all of Lewis' writing does, this book gives me the uncomfortable feeling that I'm dealing with concepts way too deep and unknowable for me to even begin to think about; but as I read, I find that I understand his points very well. I can't always hold them in my mind later, but at the moment that I am reading, I can follow his logic perfectly. That is his genius! He speaks to the common man in common language, and unfolds eternity as something we can know because it lives inside us.

Maybe the thing I like best about Lewis' writings is that he doesn't let anybody hide behind their intellectualism or false humility or assumed religiosity. He demands complete honesty from the soul, because that is what God demands.

There is some shady theology with some stuff about purgatory that I'm not sure I understood, but hey, it's a dream fantasy. I'm not taking it too literally here! haha!

I really loved what he wrote near the end about seeing everything through a lens of Time. We can't truly understand the mysteries of God or of our own eternal souls, until we are taken outside of Time. Right now Time is distorting our understanding, although it is certainly useful to protect us for now. Eventually, we won't need it, because we will "see Him as He is." Wonderful thoughts!

Profile Image for Jim.
195 reviews36 followers
July 20, 2023
But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on Earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death.”

This is my second CS Lewis book, and the first I’ve read of his works of fiction. He tells a story of a bus of people who leave hell and arrive in the foothills of Heaven, where they explore and interact with the people there. Each of the visitors is dealing with something that is creating a barrier between them and what they need - pride, indignation, sorrow.

The book does a great job bringing light to the idea that our present world (and hell) is so small and insignificant compared to the reality of God’s kingdom - the people who arrive on the bus are ghosts who can’t even move the blades of grass, they come from a world that seems so infinite to them but is in reality a crack in the ground compared to the “real” world.

I don’t read a lot of allegory and metaphor, but it really worked for me here - the horse from the man’s shoulder, the dimly lit sky that might be the sign of dawn or might be the edge of night. The story of Sarah Smith and the tragedian are going to stick with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Jacob Aitken.
1,587 reviews285 followers
August 4, 2011

(or how to obtain infinite joy by abandoning your-self)

This book is truly one of Lewis’ masterpieces. Lewis tells a parable of a bus ride from heaven to hell in order to show us why people choose hell. Lewis is not saying that somebody, once in hell, have a chance for “do-overs.” Lewis is showing us why some people, even suffering in hell, when (hypothetically) offered a chance to get out, would still choose hell over heaven.

In this book Lewis comes very close to the ancient Eastern view of the eschaton suggested by St. Gregory of Nyssa. All men are raised up on the last day (1 Corinthians 15), and all men will experience God: some will experience his divine energies as light and life; others as fire and loss. Of course, Lewis doesn’t explicitly say that, but he does note, quite rightly I think, that hell is God saying to us, “Thy will be done,” and heaven is our saying to God, “Thy will be done.”

Lewis lists a number of scenarios where men and women are offered eternal joy but refuse it because they cannot let go of their-selfves. The self has become an idol, but it is a subtle idol. It can be self-respect, our understandings of the world, love, and the market.

There is a particularly interesting scene where a man meets up with his wife and through his refusal to accept God’s love, he becomes smaller and smaller, until he is unable to be seen. This fits in with the ancient view of sin and evil as a privation of being. Hell is not a real fire pit that God dug with a real metal shovel. Hell is a shadow of reality (which implies eternal loss; Lewis is not a universalist).

Lewis offers a disturbing halt on hyper free-market economic reasoning. An angel tells one ghost that there is no longer a difference between meum and teum. Communion is not the competition of goods and services, but the expression of love for the Other. It is abandoning self for the sake of the Other (be it God or my neighbor).

The book is a masterpiece. It makes one long for heaven and eternal joy.
Profile Image for Joanna.
75 reviews11 followers
January 19, 2021
This was the first of C.S. Lewis' adult fiction that I've read, and I really enjoyed it. I could definitely see George MacDonald's influence on Lewis' writing, and he even shows up as Lewis' guide in the story! Very thought-provoking and much wisdom!

A few of my favorite quotes...

"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'."

"You cannot love a fellow creature fully till you love God."

"Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried."

"No natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God's hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods."
Profile Image for Clare.
1,460 reviews307 followers
August 22, 2011
This little book is too powerful to read only once. It is important to note that it has nothing to do with the impression given by its title - it is not about divorce. It is an allegory about the choices we make during life and where they will take us afterwards, though it is not strictly a 'religious' book. It offers a most startling contrast between the consequences of living for oneself or living for others, of trying to 'look out for number one', or emptying oneself in order to be able to receive much more. I cannot recommend it highly enough, I'll be sure to read it at least once a year.
Profile Image for Kells Next Read .
533 reviews538 followers
December 27, 2016
I've finally decided to read through as much C.S. Lewis works as I can and decided to start with The Great Divorce. I was by no means disappointed, in fact my appetite has been aroused and I'm hungry to devour more of this authors works.

Actual ratings 4.25
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