Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Great Divorce

Not my usual read. In fact, this is the first C.S. Lewis book I have ever read other than "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe." Of course, being LDS, I have read and heard innumerable quotes of his from articles and talks. We are a C.S. Lewis loving society. I read this because this book was chosen for the bookgroup I belong to this month. Dread is much too strong of a word but I admit that I wasn't really looking forward to reading this book. And it isn't because I choose to read fluff either. I like a deep novel. Perhaps intimidated is the closet description of what I felt. After all, if general authorities quote him, how readable could it be?

Overall, I really liked this book. The text was easy to read and the story flowed. That surprised me. Not that I wasn't expecting Lewis to be a great author but this book is definitely not limited to advanced readers. It begins with an unnamed man in line for a bus ride to somewhere unmentioned. His fellow passengers don't seem to be the kind of people anyone would enjoy being seated next too -- each with an obvious character flaw. The bus takes them to what is described at first as obviously Heaven but we later learn is just the "Valley in the Shadow of Life" or kind of the intro to Heaven. The grass is too hard to walk on for the newbie feet and each who has arrived is greeted by an angel who pretty much tries to convince them to follow them into the mountains where the real Heaven lies. In Lewis's afterworld, there are many who see what Heaven is like and decide not to be there. It is too hard or too different than what they want it to be like. They don't want to be different from who there were on earth and can't understand why they must let go of certain characteristics.

I think my favorite paragraph in this book is when this unnamed man's angel tells him, "...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."

Isn't that great? There were many moments in this story that I wanted to get out my highlighter pen and get busy. It was a very quick read: it only took a little over 2 hours to read. Of course, if you want to get serious and really ponder it would take much longer. But I read it like a novel...wanting to get a sense of the whole story. In that way, it was a bit disappointing. He doesn't do much creating a whole story as he does put a narrator in to eavesdrop on different peoples' first experiences with Heaven. When that person was clearly past convincing he moved on to the next "ghost" struggling. In the end, the book floundered a bit (I can't believe I am actually using that word in critiquing the great C.S. Lewis but then is my blog!). His angel leads him on and eventually he sees a big chess table and suddenly real experience, time, space and all that is into question. Just for the last chapter, mind you. I found myself being a bit Sethesque and thinking, "what the..." something about lenses and visions and dreams and eventually he woke up. So we never were able to see what Lewis's deeper Heaven was like. And he scolded him to not report this experience as anything more than a dream. His angel says, "....see ye make it very plain. Give no poor fool the pretext to think ye are claiming knowledge of what no mortal knows. I'll have no Swedenborgs and no Vale Owens among my children....He has forbidden it" I guess in Christian theology, there have been experiences where visions were to go untold. It just didn't sit well with me. And that was the end. He woke up. To what end for this man? Did it make him better? More ready for the glory of God? I don't feel that unanswered question was necessary for the story.


Barb said...

Not at all what I thought this book was about. With that title? I have only read Mere Christianity, besides the obvious Narnia books.
Screwtape letters gets a lot of attention, I've been thinking of trying that one.

Amy said...

I love this book, but never spent too much time thinking about the end. You're a better critic. I must be a better sinner because I get totally muddled up in all the "ya, I need to work on that"'s!