I am often asked what my favorite C. S. Lewis book is. It is such a difficult question to answer. Therefore, I often say, “Whatever C. S. Lewis book I happen to be reading at the time.” However, The Great Divorce has to be in my top five favorite Lewis books. I enjoy the story for Lewis’ picture of heaven, for the vignettes that reveal so much about our choices in this life, and for what Lewis teaches through this tale about Christ’s descent into hell.
Because Lewis is such a favorite author of mine, Lewis illustrations naturally find their way into my sermons, perhaps too often for the taste of some in various congregations I have served. However, for others, these little tit-bits from Lewis have encouraged them to read Lewis for the first time. I remember one parishioner who started reading The Great Divorce because of my frequent references to Lewis. However, I think she gave up part way through her reading because she was put off by certain phrases and references she could not understand.
Now, David Clark has provided a solution to that problem with his book, C. S. Lewis Goes to Heaven: A Reader’s Guide to The Great Divorce. This book may not have helped my friend unless she was willing to persevere with Lewis and have her mind greatly stretched. However, for the reader who loves Lewis and wants to penetrate more deeply into the meaning of one of his greatest books, Clark’s volume is a real treat. Despite having studied Lewis’ work in depth for quite some time, I learned many new things through reading Clark’s book.
Clark examines The Great Divorce from almost every conceivable angle: literary, theological, historical, biographical, dramatic and biblical. This 180-page study is divided into three major sections: on the Sociology, Geography and Theology of The Great Divorce. By “sociology”, Clark denotes his study of the characters and their various relations in Lewis’ story, and by “geography” he refers to the landscapes of Lewis’ book and how these landscapes illustrate spiritual principles. My favorite part of the book, however, is the examination of the theology of Lewis’ tale. I especially appreciated Clark’s presentation and defense of Lewis’ teaching on Christ’s descent into hell and the hope that offers for every person who has ever lived or will live to make an informed choice to follow Christ.
In addition to these three major sections of the book, Clark offers a glossary of terms (something that would have been most helpful to my stumped parishioner), some notes on Lewis’ sources, and three appendices offering a summary of characters, a guide to biblical references and a guide to historical personages and literary references. Some of Clark’s guesses as to historical persons lying behind Lewis’ fictional characters in the book were most intriguing.
While Clark’s volume may provide more information and background to The Great Divorce than most readers would want, for others (like me) this work may not go far enough. Regarding the theology behind The Great Divorce, I would have appreciated an exploration of Lewis’ leaning toward annihilationism in his thought on hell. Furthermore, Clark fails to clearly distinguish Lewis’ stance as an inclusivist in contrast to George MacDonald’s tendencies toward universalism. At points, Clark lacks accuracy when he touches on some biographical details related to Lewis and MacDonald, but these points are so slight, they do not detract from the overall contribution of this work to Lewis studies.
In summary, I found C. S. Lewis Goes to Heaven to be both intellectually expanding and even at points devotionally edifying. I recommend this book to all readers who want to learn more about the meaning of one of Lewis’ greatest works and the wealth of literary sources that fed Lewis’ wide-ranging imagination.
To learn more about C. S. Lewis Goes to Heaven or to purchase the book, click here: