MR: Death Is Lighter than a Feather: A Review of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce

February 5, 2011 | 17 comments
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Mormon ReviewA new issue of The Mormon Review is available, with Adam Greenwood’s review of The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis. The article is available at:

Adam Greenwood, “Death Is Lighter than a Feather: A Review of C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce,” The Mormon Review, vol.3 no. 1 [HTML] [PDF]

In this essay, Greenwood reads The Great Divorce as an instance of theological fiction, and theorizes the genre in relation to its sisters, science fiction and fantasy.

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17 Responses to MR: Death Is Lighter than a Feather: A Review of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce

  1. Adam Greenwood on February 4, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    This essay by (really good) SF author John C. Wright touches on the same issue as the first half of the review does. I recommend it.

    http://www.scifiwright.com/2011/01/science-fiction-and-wonder-and-humbug/

  2. Alpha Echo on February 4, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    I thought Christ did appear in The Great Divorce. I always assumed he was the bus driver, hiding his face. The one who descended below all things.

  3. Russell Arben Fox on February 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Adam, this is a beautiful, thoughtful, and thoroughly serious look at my favorite of all of Lewis’s writings; I’m better for having read it. (I never thought twice before about the fate of the Artist, but your comparison of the choice before him with that of the fate of the Lustful Man is really apt, and will change the way I read the whole work.) Thank you for this; it’s much appreciated.

  4. larryco_ on February 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    I am crushed. I thought that “death is lighter than a feather”, duty is heavier than a mountain came from Robert Jordan’s Wheel Of Time series. I even own several of Lewis’ books! I am such an iliterate dunder-mifflin.

  5. Adam Greenwood on February 4, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    Larryco,
    Its a bushido slogan. I first ran across it in Benedict’s book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, but you find it all over these days. Lewis doesn’t use it in his book, that’s just me being cute.

    Alpha Echo,
    You could be right. That would be a typically Lewisian way of bringing Christ in–who has ears to hear, let him hear.

    RAF,
    Was it Dr. Johnson who said that anyone who didn’t write for pay was a fool? After your comment, I feel paid.

  6. larryco_ on February 4, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Adam:

    Now you made me go look up “bushido”. Wow, I done be gettin’ literate fast!

  7. AndrewJDavis on February 4, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    larryco_ — you’re not alone. I also thought of Lan speaking to Rand first, and was wondering if RJ stole from Lewis too. thanks Adam for straightening us out!

  8. Zen on February 4, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Just a small point, I have long felt that Aslan = Christ in Narnia. At least that was what I got out of the end of The Final Battle and a comment he made in…Prince Caspian? that knowing him in Narnia would prepare them to know him better in our world.

    Regarding the scene with the mother, I am reminded of a line from Lewis’s The Four Loves, that when any love becomes a god, it becomes a demon, and he is quick to remind us, that demons do not keep their promises. In essence, if we don’t put proper things first, it becomes a noxious idol, instead of a true love.

  9. BHodges on February 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    You recommend Lewis’s book as a potentially fruitful model for LDS writers. Steven Peck (LDS biologist) self-published an awesome little book I recently read called A Short Stay in Hell. I strongly recommend it, as I happened to read it about a week after re-reading The Great Divorce. Peck tips the cap to Lewis.

    http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/a-short-stay-in-hell/6046835

    At the risk of being overly-self-promotional, I wrote a quick blog post a while back when I was working with a lot of Lewis materials about his use of Christian themes in his fiction. He refers to his indebtedness to George MacDonald, who appears as a prominent character in TGD.

    http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/2009/04/cs-lewiss-religion-through-sneak-attack.html

  10. Jeff Parkin on February 4, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Adam,
    Great post. I also reread “The Great Divorce” recently and gave a copy to a friend. I am one of the producers of “The Book of Jer3miah” and had not considered the show in quite this way before. Like others above, TGD has had a profound impact on me, and your insights on it have deepened my appreciation of it. Thanks.

    –Jeff Parkin

    PS Thanks, too, for your post about Jer3miah a year or so ago. It was also extremely insightful. It has given us a lot to think and talk about as we’ve developed season two–which, if we ever find funding–will be pretty cool, and will explore a number of the themes you raised in that post. Keep up the good work.

  11. lyle on February 5, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Adam: You may find of interest a recent post by Jo Walton at Tor.com.
    It goes over what she calls “religious science fiction.” She has taken a different tact and staked out different ground than Mr. Wright. Cheers.

  12. Adam Greenwood on February 7, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Thanks to all for their thoughtful comments.

    A friend emailed me an interesting observation. He said that this statement–

    a determination of the spheres and relations in which a soul will say yes to God naturally accompanying the total remaking of that soul into a being which only acts in those spheres and relations

    –is worth comparing to DC 88:22-24 and to the LDS apothegm: “God gives us as much glory as we can stand.”

    Zen, I agree that Aslan=Christ. My point is that he is only presented as a Christ figure and it is only obliquely that we are told differently, that he is actually Christ.

    BHodges, I will check out that book. Thanks!

    Jeff Parkin, Best of wishes in getting the funding. Your first season was delightful. For those who are interested, my review is here: http://www.jrganymede.com/2009/08/05/the-book-of-jer3miah/#more-775

    Lyle, interesting taxonomy. Walton’s 2nd category is probably along the lines of what I’m talking about. I disagree that lewis’ space trilogy is an analogy.

  13. Brad Kramer on February 8, 2011 at 10:28 am

    If C. S. Lewis taught me nothing else, it was that one of the most fulfilling ways of being a Christian is to engage Christianity with the full breadth and depth of all your intellectual faculties. And nothing he wrote exemplified this principle more splendidly than TGD.

    Very nice review, Mr. Greenwood.

  14. Alison Moore Smith on February 8, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Oh, thank you. The Great Divorce is my #1 favorite CSL book. I also loved A Grief Observed, as it ripped my heart out.

  15. Adam Greenwood on June 22, 2011 at 8:48 am

    I just found that C.S. Lewis rejected or at least complicated The Great Divorce’s all-or-nothing, heaven-or-hell view that I criticized in this essay. In Pilgrim’s Regress, Lewis accepts Limbo as one alternate final destination, where live “men who have kept alive and pure the deep desire of the soul but through some fatal flaw, of pride or sloth, or, it may be, timidity, have refused till the end the only means to its fulfillment.” They live in desire (which is heavenly), but without hope (which is hellish).

    The guide says, “The Landlord [God] does not condemn them to a lack of hope: they have done that themselves. The Landlord’s interference is all on the other side. Left to itself, the desire without hope would soon fall back to spurious satisfactions, and these souls would follow it of their own free will into far darker regions at the very bottom of the black hole.” So here Lewis says something very like what I say in this essay, i.e., that heaven and hell can coexist in the human heart through God’s grace.

    Of course, just a page or two later one of the pilgrims is singing a hymn that says that only God and the Devil exist, nothing else, so it seems that heaven-or-hell dogmatism was Lewis’ default when he wasn’t thinking about the issue.

  16. Adam Greenwood on June 22, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Here’s a poster who discusses the way the Great Divorce reduces us to one choice, heaven or hell, and ties it into platonism (platonism here meaning things that are eternal and outside time)

    http://jaypgreene.com/2011/06/21/neals-eternal-platonic-beauty-queens/

    Certainly the Great Divorce does take a platonic view, especially in the little parable of the chessmen at the end, but also throughout. Its very effective pedogogically and dramatically.

    But, of course, its illogical. One can platonically say yes to God and one can platonically say no, and one can platonically be confronted with the choice, but once you have both the choice and the choosing, you have to have change and time. Plato is no longer in it.

    And once you concede change and time, then you have no reason to limit change and time to just one choice and one moment.

  17. Al'Lan Mandragoran on June 22, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Death is lighter than a feather, but duty is heavier than a mountain.