The great divorce : a dream

by C. S. Lewis

Paper Book, 2001



Call number



[San Francisco] : HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.


A symbolic fantasy which finds a busload of condemned ghosts faced with the choice of giving up their cherished sins to enter the gates of Paradise.

User reviews

LibraryThing member bell7
In this novella, C.S. Lewis investigates the eternal choice between Heaven and Hell, joy and despair. He structures the story as a dream: the soul of a man takes a journey, stopping at a place where there is a lot of empty space, where houses can be literally dreamed out of the ground and as people get into arguments they move farther and farther away from each other. Souls can choose to stay in this increasing wasteland or travel away from it. As the journey continues, the soul is met by George MacDonald, who becomes his teacher and explains more of what is going on.

I generally love C.S. Lewis. He has an interesting mind, and an interesting way of explaining things. I have loved the Chronicles of Narnia since I was a kid; I loved his more grown-up story Till We Have Faces when I read it for the first time two years ago. Just about any time I have a chance to buy one of his books, I do, so when I came across this in the bargain books several years ago, I snatched it. The Great Divorce, though short and easy to read, was a heady trip. I liked, but did not love it; I'm not sure I understood half of it. I had a similar reaction to this story in its entirety that I did to the end of Perelandra - the points he were making became so philosophical and over my head that I lost track of the argument and what I even thought about it. Still, it passed an afternoon pleasantly.
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LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
I can appreciate the quality of Lewis's writing - his visions of hell and heaven are both very well conveyed, and give more body to the ideas that many possess of these two places. The picture he draws of hell is particularly convincing, especially for us Brits - there is certainly something of hell in many of our lonely grey towns.

The writing also falls down in places; one instance would have delighted Freud, when Lewis writes, 'Every young man or boy that met her became her son - even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door.' But I digress.

By examining the idea of evil in our everyday actions, Lewis comes a long way on the road of self-help and a kind of spiritual psychology. This is all spoilt by this being a book about heaven. His thesis is to prove the kinds of behaviour that lead to eternal salvation and those that don't; but this presumes that Christianity is right, and that there is a hell and a heaven for people to go to.

He is also enormously judgmental, as so many firm believers tend to be. This line sums up his beliefs perfectly, and further provides a reason that I can never subscribe to religious beliefs. 'You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God.' No such statement could ever be uttered, no such judgment could ever be passed, by an atheist.
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LibraryThing member lauranav
I read this book again every few years. Even the Preface is a treasure, reorienting my thinking about God and Heaven.

Is Hell a real place or a state of mind? Is Heaven a real place? Will we like what we find in Heaven? What if there is no further intellectual pursuit because we finally meet the real and complete Truth? What is we have no further service to provide and in fact we are not needed there at all? Is Mother-love truly the most honorable of all emotions? Is it wrong to evoke pity in others?

This is a great book with some very challenging images. When I get into a grumbling mood, I have to stop to see if I am becoming one big grumble. Reading this book always makes me pause and rethink what I mean when I love someone. How much of that is a craving to be loved? I have to admit many of my relationships (or lack of relationships) are colored by my fear and concern that I be loved rather than an honest love of the other person.

And what would I hesitate to give up for joy? How can I hold those things, needs, and fears loosely, ready to let them be torn away, killed, and replaced by something so much better?

Highly recommended
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LibraryThing member Erika.D
C.S. Lewis is always a favorite of mine so I enjoy most everything I read by him. This story started off well but was sort of boring in some parts and hard to follow. But I still walked away from the story with good points to think about and moments where I evaluated my own beliefs and ideas about the afterlife. Glad this was a short read and I still enjoy Mr. Lewis' writings.… (more)
LibraryThing member thinkpinkDana
I have read several things by the great C.S. Lewis including his children's fiction and some of his theological works, but reading The Great Divorce was my first foray into his "adult fiction." I have to say that Lewis absolutely does not disappoint.
From the back cover:
C. S. Lewis takes us on a profound journey through both heaven and hell in this engaging allegorical tale. Using his extraordinary descriptive powers, Lewis introduces us to supernatural beings who will change the way we think about good and evil. In The Great Divorce C. S. Lewis again employs his formidable talent for fable and allegory. The writer, in a dream, finds himself in a bus which travels between Hell and Heaven. This is the starting point for an extraordinary meditation upon good and evil which takes issue with William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In Lewiss own words, "If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven then we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell."

While I have no doubt that this is not the scenario that I will find after death, it is none-the-less an extremely thought provoking story of God's justice, and man's stubborn inability to let go of earthly things when reaching for the things of heaven. Lewis is brilliant in portraying humanity in it's most redeemable and dispicable forms. On more than one occasion I found myself identifying with those who simply refused to become less themselves in order to become more of God.

" 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 those 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."

I am sure that The Great Divorce will invoke either a "love it" or "hate it" response in the reader. It can do nothing else because it's subject matter is so very black and white. Either you see what is True in it and embrace it, or you call what is True utter nonsense and walk away in search of more palatable answers.

It took me less than twenty-four hours to devour this book from cover to cover. My book came away underlined, annotated, dog-eared and the worse for wear. In short, it was a book much loved, and one which I am sure I will visit time and again.

" 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 of Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or have any taste... All the lonliness, angers, hatred, 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 very least in Heaven, would have no weight that could 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 conciousness of wee yon yellow bird on the bough there , they would be swallowed up without a trace, as if one drop of ink had been dropped into that Great Ocean to which your terrestrial Pacific itself is but a molecule."
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LibraryThing member ben_a
A vivid imagining of the visit of souls in hell to the outskirts of heaven. Read at the suggestion of my friend Tim, and thinking on it, perhaps 15 years after his first, implicit, suggestion. Lewis is of course known as a defender of the Faith. This he of course is, and that aspect of Lewis is on fine display here. What is less known about Lewis , and should win him more secular readers, is his surpassing skill as a plain moralist. Lewis has thought deeply about the ways we go bad, and the lies we tell ourselves to hide our rotten behavior. It's hard to imagine the person who will not gain from this smashing book. (8.26.06)… (more)
LibraryThing member A.J.Lumaren
Some very interesting theological ideas and a brilliant allegory.
LibraryThing member theokester
In the preface, Lewis suggests that this book is a sort of response to Blake's "Marriage of Heaven and Hell." Now, I haven't read that particular book, so I can't say how adequate this particular response is, but overall, I really enjoyed the themes, presentations and thoughts brought out in this book.

The basic premise is that Lewis finds himself in a strange gray town where he boards a bus with a number of other passengers. After a somewhat strange trip, he finds himself in a beautiful, but strange location. He follows some of the other passengers as they explore the new land and are met by the inhabitants. TO "spoil" the premise a bit, the "gray town" represents HELL and the shining land at the end of the bus ride represents HEAVEN. The passengers are ghosts who have taken a trip from Hell to Heaven...and as they are greeted by the brilliant beings in Heaven, we learn that the inhabitants from Hell are given the option of staying in Heaven. Naturally there are some rules in order to stay (they must give up remaining vices, pride, animosity and embrace the everpresent and all important love of God).

The book is broken into a series of vignettes as the narrator watches the behavior of the visitors from Hell and their interactions with Heaven and with the angels they find there.

At first, the narrator wanders alone through Heaven but after a time he encounters an angel who engages him in conversation. The remaining chapters then reminded me a bit of the interaction between Dante and Virgil while Dante wandered through the various levels of Hell/Inferno and made observations on the inhabitants there.

This book is another great example of Lewis's thoughtfulness and insight into religion, heaven, hell, God's love and other elements of Christianity. It's not as scholarly as "The Four Loves" and isn't as allegorical as his Narnia series. It's more akin to his work with Screwtape and shares many similarities. We are again shown examples of how the human mind gets caught up with pride, offense, lust, greed and other elements that hold us back from attaining our eternal potential. Where Screwtape is very tongue in cheek and has the humorous voice of a devil, Divorce is humorous at times but also has a certain sadness in its poignancy. In Screwtape we were distanced from the actual temptation and fall of humanity. Here we get to see individual humans who have fallen from Grace and (sadly) hold fast to their fallen state even while sitting on the borders of Heaven itself.

I really enjoyed this book. It had a lot of very thoughtful segments and passages. I found real examples in each of the character sketches he presented. There are a few points of religion on which I vary quite significantly from Lewis's proposal, but from a high level, I found this exploration very intriguing, well crafted and (although certainly a fiction) of the general feeling and spirit of the concepts of Heaven and Hell.

I want to share one particular passage really stuck with me in pointing out the importance of our own agency and choice:

"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."

In God's plan for us, He truly wants us ALL to return to Heaven to partake of His presence, but He will not force us. The choice is always ours. But He cannot modify the laws that dictate who may and may not enter Heaven and His presence. If we choose the path that takes us away from Heaven, that is our choice. He will present us opportunities again and again to repent of our choices and choose His path. But in the end, it is a matter of choices and the consequences of those choices.

I found this book very thoughtful, insightful and inspirational. It shows great insight into the human mind with relation to the eternal. It also does a great job of illustrating how our own failings may hold us back even if we don't acknowledge them.

Well worth reading.
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LibraryThing member eschator83
The book is a wonderful image of Heaven, despite the unfortunate title, which refers instead to the multitude of weaknesses and issues that humans can cling to (and cannot repent and divorce) rather than to seek the Model that Jesus gave us. The book describes a dream of leaving earth and traveling to Heaven, where Lewis sees old acquaintances. Highly recommended, you will enjoy thinking of Heaven this way,… (more)
LibraryThing member Sean191
Always thought-provoking, C.S. Lewis delivers again. A short tale about souls in Hell getting one last chance at redemption. They visit Heaven, but it's surprisingly not as straightforward as you would think for these souls to make their choice between Heaven and Hell. Not as good as the Screwtape Letters, but still worth a read, plus at just over 100 pages, it's a quick read.… (more)
LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
In this slim allegorical tale, Mr. Lewis illustrates the idea that "no unclean thing can enter the kingdom of God" in a very concrete way. Over and over we see "ghosts" who are bid to enter heaven but will not if it requires them letting go their earthly attachments. I especially liked the introductory passage by the author and how he conceives of this idea. Lots to think about.… (more)
LibraryThing member Venqat65
I've read this book many times and given many copies of this book away as well. In my opinion, this book is wonderful. It truly shows just why some people would prefer hell over being with the Lord---it does a great job of illuminating all the sinful traps that we can get caught in and end up turning away from accepting the Lord's greatest gift to us. Eye-opening and insightful. I think it is as good as the Screwtape Letters, if not better!… (more)
LibraryThing member KirkLowery
I'm not a great fan of allegory...
LibraryThing member ctpress
Few can stir the imagination as C. S. Lewis. Here he is at his best drawing for us images of heaven and hell to ponder upon. The point he makes is a sobering one: The people in hell really do not want to go to heaven. They somehow believe God is trying to rob them of something. They want to control there own lives. And God says: 'Thy will be done'.… (more)
LibraryThing member gfreewill
This book is a book of allegory where a man takes a bus trip and ends up at the gates heaven where he sees lots of interactions between what I would describe as saints, those who are damned and those who eventually can be saved. This book is a favorite to many people, but I honestly have liked other things that Lewis wrote much more. I probably need to read it again to give it a real chance, but I wasn’t really impressed. I guess it seemed to me like it was trying to be fantasy-fiction, but wasn’t quite there, so was just kind of preachy instead. George MacDonald, who was one of Lewis’ great inspirations, and whom he even references in this book did a much better job of navigating the fantasy-allegory path in his Lilith. As far as Lewis goes, I liked Till We Have Faces, The Narnia Books and even his autobiography Surprised by Joy much more.… (more)
LibraryThing member yahonk
This is my favorite fiction book of all time, hands down. Lewis' talent for articulating spiritual truths in fiction is amazing, as evidenced in his other works, like Narnia. However, The Great Divorce is on a whole different level. I think Lewis has forever altered my perception of the union of Heaven and Hell.
LibraryThing member ToDieToTruth
Why should there be a heaven and a hell? This book attempts to answer these questions from a fictional, nonreligious point of view. It does a helluva a job of it, too. The dialogue is invaluable.
LibraryThing member krull
In a way, this is a Protestant version of The Divine Comedy. Lewis tells of a bus ride taken by occupents of hell from hell to heaven. Heaven is so real, that the visitors seem like ghosts. The occupants are dead set on returning to hell even though they see the beauty of Heaven. It might not be the most theologically sound story, but Lewis gives insite into the thought that "the gates of Hell are barred from the inside." This is one of my favorite books.… (more)
LibraryThing member rybeewoods
Lewis is so intruiging. Sometimes I'm not sure where his theology comes from, but his perspective is crutial for me. I love it.
I need to reread this book.
LibraryThing member afderrick
A great book. I flew through this book in about three days and could've gone through it more quickly had I the extra time. The Great Divorce was written as man who found himself in this town and then went up to this other country. It ended up that the town he started in was Hell and the country he was in later was Heaven. It was very neat to see the conversations that went on of how people who were in Hell would choose to remain there simply because of their lack of desire to sacrifice everything of themselves and rely soley on God. A neat book that I would recommend to others to read… (more)
LibraryThing member artnking
The essense of the human condition captured in a great story. The most re-read book in my library.
LibraryThing member vernazzablue
One of the best introductions into Lewis' work. A much more engaging and fun read than the more serious "Mere Christianity." Lewis is a master of dialogue and crafting complex characters who are memorable beyond their brief appearances.
LibraryThing member GilbertStaples
If you've never read Lewis, this is a great place to start. Almost all the themes which wind their way through his work are referenced here. It is a short read based on an intriguing premise; a bus tour from hell to heaven. Insights on both locations abound. When you're finished you will have both, more questions and more answers than when you started.That is, I think, one of the signs of a great book.… (more)
LibraryThing member SherryKaraoke
One of my favorites for many years, this is the greatest allegory of Heaven and Hell ever written.
LibraryThing member mull9292
SO MUCH we can let keep us from the divine or even just our own hopes and dreams.



Original publication date

1944-11-10 to 1945-04-13 (in The Guardian)
1946 (book)

Physical description

x, 146 p.; 21 cm


0060652950 / 9780060652951
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