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Monday, April 30, 2007

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

I finished reading this book last week. Whatever your views on Lewis' theological stance, there's no denying he's a great writer and has a wonderful ability to expose the human psyche with disturbing accuracy.

The Great Divorce is about a group of people from Hell being allowed to go on a daytrip to Heaven. In Heaven, they are met by acquaintances they knew from earth, and the book consists of the various conversations that take place between each 'Ghost' (from Hell) and 'Spirit' or 'Bright Person' (from Heaven). The book describes the excuses humans make for wanting to do what they want, even when it's blindingly obvious that being in Heaven is a far more joyful experience. I suppose you could say it's about how human beings refuse the best thing they could possibly have, and have for free, because it involves admitting they're wrong.

Whatever your religious beliefs, it's a very good read and very thought-provoking.

Here's a particularly captivating passage:

Almost at once I was followed by what I have called the Big Man - to speak more accurately,the Big Chost. He in his turn was followed by one of the bright people. 'Don't you know me?' he shouted to the Ghost: and I found it impossible not to turn and attend. The face of the solid spirit - he was one of those that wore a robe - made me want to dance, it was so jocund, so established in its youthfulness.
'Well, I'm damned,' said the Ghost. 'I wouldn't have believed it. It's a fair knock-out. It isn't right, Len, you know. What about poor Jack, eh? You look pretty pleased wth yourself, but what I say is, What about poor Jack?'
'He is here,' said the other. 'You will meet him soon, if you stay.'
'But you murdered him.'
'Of course I did. It is all right now.'
'All right, is it? All right for you, you mean. But what about the poor chap himself, laying cold and dead?'
'But he isn't. I have told you, you will meet him soon. He sent you his love.'
'What I'd like to understand', said the Ghost, 'is what you're here for, as pleased as Punch, you a bloody murderer, while I've been walking the streets down there and living in a place like a pigstye all these years.'
'That is a little hard to understand at first. But it is all over now. You will be pleased about it presently. Till then there is no need to bother about it.'
'No need to bother about it? Aren't you ashamed of yourself?'
'No. Not as you mean. I do not look at myself. I have given up myself. I had to, you konw, after the murder. That was what it did for me. And that was how everything began.'
'Personally,' said the Big Ghost with an emphasis which contradicted the ordinary meaning of the word, [how brilliant is that!] 'Personally, I'd have thought you and I ought to be the other way round. That's my personal opinion.'
'Very likely we soon shall be,' said the other. 'If you'll stop thinking about it.'
'Look at me, now,' said the Ghost, slapping its chest (but the slap made no noise). 'I gone straight all my life. I don't say I was a religious man and I don't say I had no faults, far from it. But I done my best all my life, see? I done my best by everyone, that's the sort of chap I was. I never asked for anything that wasn't mine by rights. If I wanted a drink I paid for it and if I took my wages I done my job, see? That's the sort I was and I don't care who knows it.'
'It would be much better not to go on about that now.'
'Who's going on? I'm not arguing. I'm just telling you the sort of chap I was, see? I'm asking for nothing but my rights. You may think that you can put me down because you're dressed up like that (which you weren't when you worked under me) and I'm only a poor man. But I got to have my rights same as you, see?'
'Oh no. It's not so bad as that. I havne't got my rights, or I should not be here. You will not get yours either. You'll get something far better. Never fear.'
'That's just what I say. I haven't got my rights. I always done my best and I never done anything wrong. And what I don't see is why I should be put below a bloody murderer like you.'
'Who knows whether you will be? Only be happy and come with me.'
'What do you keep on arguing for? I'm only telling you the sort of chap I am. I only want my rights. I'm not asking for anybody's bleeding charity.'
'Then do. At once. Ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything is here for the asking and nothing can be bought.'
'That may do very well for you, I daresay. If they choose to let in a bloody murderer all because he makes a poor mouth at the last moment, that's their lookout. But I don't see myself going in the same boat with you, see? Why should I? I don't want charity. I'm a decent man and if I had my rights I'd have been here long ago and you can tell them I said so.'


  • Fantastic book - highly recommended. It's one of the places I point people to if they have a problem with heaven and hell - the case it makes doesn't purport to be factual, but does seek to be consistent with the Bible and coherent.

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 12:06 am  

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