Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Great Divorce by C S Lewis


The Great Divorce by C S Lewis seemed a natural choice after reading Richard Matheson’s What Dreams May Come.  Both deal with the soul’s experience after death but from different perspectives.  I remembered reading and very much liking this book and, for that reason, I dreaded rereading it because I wondered what I would think of it now.  I have already been disappointed with some of Lewis’ other writings up rereading, after all, and yet I wanted to give it one more try because I feel drawn to reread Julian of Norwich but am loathe to do it lest I turn from love to dislike.

So poor Lewis became my litmus test, if you will.  Before daring to profane my fond memories of Julian I went ahead and threw The Great Divorce under the bus and hoped I would come through to the other side still liking it.

And I do.  Whew!

In the allegorical tale, the narrator (Lewis himself) is in a dismal town where there is nothing but sadness.  He boards a bus, along with some other people, and they soon find themselves ascending to another place where there is light and beauty.  They themselves, however, remain insubstantial and moving around is painful.  On the bus and in the new place, Lewis participates in and is witness to various conversations that address different eschatological issues.

The story itself is obviously giving nods to other literary devices and figures.  Drawing on everyone from Dante to Bunyan, including directly or by reference other figures like George MacDonald (a sort of literary inspiration and mentor to Lewis) and Julian of Norwich (aha!), there is much to ponder and discuss in this rather slender volume.  The ending is a throw away, derivative at best and academically insulting at worst but the last chapter is so brief that it hardly outweighs the merit of the rest of the text.

Let me once again sigh with relief (whew!) that I still appreciate and like this book very much.  Now my fingers are crossed that, during 2011 when I am only reading books by women and am hoping to revisit Julian of Norwich, this appreciation does not begin and end with this book by Lewis.  One can most certainly hope . . .

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