C. S. Lewis is known throughout the world for his ability to tuck theology into fantasy. He’s the author of many books such as the Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity. One of his less popular books, but one that he considered among his favorites, was The Great Divorce. The title refers to the separation of Heaven and Hell. Although a relatively thin book, it is packed with thought provoking questions concerning ones faith. In this story, the narrator and main character, embarks on a bus ride from the twilight of Hell to the outskirts of Heaven.
Here he encounters any people, called ghosts, who have also been in Hell. The narrator observes their struggle with whether to stay in Heaven, or hold onto their petty sins and return to the lonely darkness of Hell. C. S. Lewis’ descriptions and characters are what really make this story incredible. The main character of the story never receives a name. This was done in order to make him seem less like another character, and more like a mirror image of oneself. He is the character that the reader seems to relate with the most. Not only does the audience relate to him but so do the other characters in the book.
One such example of this is on Page 14, while the narrator is getting on the bus. “I thought you wouldnt mind my tacking on to you . . . for I’ve noticed that you feel just as I do about the present company. ” This is interesting because the narrator has neither seen nor spoken to this character before. Another case is on page 29, “What’s the sense of allowing all that riff-raff to float about here all day. Look at them. ” Here again, another ghost seems to be drawn to the narrator and speaks to him as if they had already met. Those people who were already in Heaven the main character referred to as solid people. He called them this because, unlike the ghosts, they were not transparent.
The narrators solid person, or teacher as he calls him, is George MacDonald and is introduced at the beginning of chapter 9. George MacDonald is a famous writer and C. S. Lewis has never tried to hide the fact that he admires Mr. MacDonald. On page 65 C. S. Lewis mentions MacDonalds book Phantastes and explains how much this book and his other works influence him. Georges character is the mentor type, put into the story to explain the divine, and he uses many analogies to help the main character understand he ways of Heaven. Ye can call it the Valley of the Shadow of Life. And yet to those who stay here it will have been Heaven from the first. And ye can call those sad streets in the town yonder the Valley of the Shadow of Death: but to those who remain there they will have been Hell even from the beginning. ” (67).
The narrator asks many questions about the other ghosts he observes and about what he remembers from earth. “Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is. ” George MacDonald says about earthly love on page 97, “It is a stronger angel and therefore, when it falls, a fiercerdevil. ” C. S. Lewis mentions other well-known people in this story. On page 20 a ghost mentions seeing Napolean, the French military leader, in Hell. While talking to George MacDonald about why people return to Hell after visiting Heaven Macdonald mentioned Sir Archibald who, “In his earthly life. ” had been know for writing many books on Survival. He returned to Hell simple because, “This country was no use to him at all. Everyone here had survived already. ” (70). Lewis also mentions a painter who was quite famous on earth. He never mentions the name of this painter; however, he does say that he painted landscapes.
The sin that this ghost was holding onto was his fame, when he discovered that he was no longer famous on earth he immediately headed back to the bus to remedy the situation. Other than Mr. MacDonald the only other solid person that the narrator meets, and actually gives a name to, is Sarah Smith. Although not famous on earth, in Heaven Sarah is a saint. Lewis picks the name Sarah Smith for this very reason, to emphasize her plainness. “Every beast or bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them. 109). Lewis uses her to show goodness, truth, love and all the virtues that draw us closer to God. The narrator observes many other ghosts that are all stereotyped. There is the big, rough, unforgiving ghost; the over loving mother ghost; the vain ghost, and many others. He uses these stereotypes to help the audience relate these personalities to those they see in their own lives.
He also uses these stereotypes to point out the sins that hold people back. This is also why the narrator, who is the one the audience sees as themselves, is a ghost as well. Like his name, C. S. Lewis never lets on to what the narrator’s sin is. Allowing ones imagination to take over. The Great Divorce is an incredible, captivating fantasy trip. C. S. Lewis tackles many tough topics in a to-the-point and honest manner. With the use of analogies and characters he takes the fairytale story and twists it to help the reader understand and relate. Although written 50 years ago Lewis’ ideas are timeless because basic human nature doesn’t change. He forces one to reevaluate their cherished beliefs of good and evil, one last time. As Mr. Lewis said, “For what is this faith if not one of questions? “