The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
Why I Recommend This Book
Whether you believe in life after death or not, C.S. Lewis has some very interesting ideas of heaven and hell, which will likely lead to a lively book club discussion. The Great Divorce also sheds light on what C.S. Lewis views as behaviors and beliefs that hold us back personally, which will definitely make you think about life.
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A bus full of individuals take a holiday from hell to heaven. Each individual is given the choice to stay if they would like, but the decision doesn’t come as easy to many as one would think.
Quotes and Info about the Author
- C.S. Lewis full name is Clive Staples Lewis. He was born in Belfast, Ireland on November 29, 1898
- C.S. Lewis was baptized in the Church of Ireland, but fell away in his adolescence, partially due to the death of his mother when he was 9.
- After attending Oxford University for a year, he enlisted in the British Army at age 19 during World War I. He was injured in the Battle of Arras in April 1918 and discharged from the army in December 1918.
- In 1925, he is appointed English Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. The same year he published his first book “Spirits in Bondage” under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton.
- Lewis was good friends with J.R.R. Tolkien, fellow novelist, where they both served as English faculty members at Oxford University. Lewis returned to Christianity in 1931 at the age of 32. He attributes his return to Christianity to the influence of Tolkien and other friends.
- Lewis wrote over 30 books. His books have been translated in more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. His faith profoundly affected his work and is often quoted by Christian apologists of many denominations.
- In 1956, he married the American writer Joy Davidman. She died four years later from cancer.
- Lewis died November 22, 1963, from kidney failure one week before his 65th birthday.
Writing in a letter to his brother in 1940, Lewis said: “I begin to suspect that the world is divided not only into the happy and unhappy, but into those who like happiness and those who, odd as it seems, really don’t.”
“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” – C.S. Lewis
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” -C.S. Lewis
“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” -C.S. Lewis
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.” – C.S. Lewis
“Human history is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” -C.S. Lewis
“Joy is the serious business of heaven.” -C.S. Lewis
Narrator: Inquisitive, the eyes for the reader and from C.S. Lewis’s point of view
George MacDonald: Author in life, guide for narrator and has answers concerning heaven and hell.
Book Club Discussion
- Are there any parallels between the grey world and our world? What are some of the differences?
- Are there any similarities in the traditional notion of hell and in Lewis’s hell?
- What sort of society can one expect in Lewis’s hell?
- Why do you think the author used imagery of nature from our earth to portray heaven?
- In chapter two the observation is made: “It’s scarcity that enables a society to exist.” Do you think this is true?
- What were some of the reasons some of the spirits chose not to stay in heaven? Do you see these attitudes in your own life or in the world around you? How do these attitudes hold us back in our everyday lives?
- In Chapter 9, there is a quote: “Those that hate goodness are sometimes nearer than those that know nothing at all about it and think they have it already.” C.S. Lewis is referring nearer to heaven in this quote. What do you think C.S. Lewis is trying to say here?
- In Chapter 10 there is a quote: “Human beings can’t make one another really happy for long.” Do you think this is true?
- In Chapter 11, what do you think the lizard that whispered in the ghost’s ear represent? Once the ghost broke free, what were the consequences of his choice?
- What do you think of this definition of earthly love in Chapter 12: “There was a little real love in it. But what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. In the main, I love you for my own sake: because I needed you.” Do you think this view of love is true?
- In Chapter 12, what do you think the Tragedian represent to the Dwarf-Ghost? What do you feel Lewis was trying to say with this scene? How does using acts/facades get in the way of people having happiness in this life?
- What are the dangers of pity and why was Sarah untouched by her husband’s (the Dwarf-Ghost) choice?
- Hell is very small in comparison to heaven. We learn in Chapter 13 that it is lost in a little crack in the ground of heaven. “All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World.” When learning this in the book, how did it change your perception of the expansiveness of hell versus the expansiveness of heaven?
- According to Lewis, why was Jesus able to descend into hell while others weren’t able to help loved ones?
- How does Lewis present time and reality in heaven? How do they differ from our earthly understanding of time and reality?
- In the book, it is stated that “Hell is a state of mind.” What type of state of mind are individuals in that choose hell over heaven?
- Since C.S. Lewis is a Christian, the outlook of the afterlife is based on Christian beliefs. How do his beliefs compare to your views of life after death?
Quotes From The Book
“I shrank from the faces and forms by which I was surrounded. They were all fixed faces, full not of possibilities but of impossibilities…” (Chapter 2)
“One gets glimpses, even in our country, of that which is ageless – heavy though in the face of an infant, and frolic childhood in that of a very old man.” (Chapter 3)
“You mean that grey town with its continual hope of morning (we must all live by hope, must we not?) with its fields for indefinite progress, is, in a sense, Heaven, if only we have eyes to see it?” (Chapter 5)
“Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful.” (Chapter 5)
“There have been men before … who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God himself… as if the good Lord had nothing to do but to exist. There have been some who were so preoccupied with spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ.” (Chapter 5)
“That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” (Chapter 9)
“Ah, the Saved…what happens to them is best described as the opposite of a mirage. What seemed, when they entered it, to be the vale of misery turns out, when they look back, to have been a well; and where present experience saw only salt deserts memory truthfully records that the pools were full of water.” (Chapter 9)
“Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly.” (Chapter 9)
“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. Those who knock it is opened.” (Chapter 9)
“You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God.” (Chapter 11)
“No natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods.” (Chapter 11)
“That’s what we all find when we reach this country. We’ve all been wrong! That’s the great joke. There’s no need to go on pretending one was right! After that we begin living.” (Chapter 11)
A short video by biography.com about C.S. Lewis’s time at Oxford and his writing group “The Inklings”
George MacDonald was an author and real influence to C.S. Lewis in his life. Share a little bit about MacDonald’s life and discuss why Lewis chose him to be the guide in heaven.
The title of this book was to counter the poem written by William Blake “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”. Read excerpts from the poem that show the different views of the afterlife between Blake and Lewis.
In Chapter 6, there is a scene where one of the spirits tries to steal a golden apple from heaven. For a favor for book club attendees or a gift that goes along with the book, you could give these golden apple ornaments
Or these golden apple stress balls
Golden apples are discussed in Chapter 6 and are symbolic of Lewis’s view of Heaven. Here are some apple recipes that would be great for a book club discussion of this book.