The Great Divorce

C.S. Lewis

Book cover

I didn’t love “Mere Christianity” when I read it earlier this year, but one day while browsing in a bookstore I leafed through “The Great Divorce” and thought it looked pretty good. It’s a short novella or a long story, in which the narrator, Dante-style, visits hell and heaven. CSL’s depictions of heaven and hell are very non-canonical, and he cautions explicitly that he doesn’t mean them to be taken as anything more than allegorical.

I enjoyed this more than “Mere Christianity”, probably because the narrative form gives more room for CSL’s excellence as a fiction author to come through. There are many cool stylistic touches, such as the description of the relative sizes of heaven and hell, and the posited nature of objects in heaven. I also thought he offered some interesting perspectives on concepts of heaven and hell, which are always difficult ideas for me to think about–particularly, the decisiveness of individual choice, and the key role of pride.

One odd observation that came to mind was that the characters in general reminded me quite a bit of Ayn Rand’s characters in “Atlas Shrugged”, with those in heaven being reminiscent of Rand’s heroes and those in hell reminiscent of her villains. CSL portrays a similar asymmetry of self-assurance and clarity, on the one hand, and small-minded vacillation, on the other. It’s much less off-putting in this setting, however, both because the clarity of the heavenly characters is a clarity of humility rather than Randian pride, and because such clarity seems much more justified in one to whom the ultimate truths of the universe have been revealed with finality.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars