The Great Divorce – by C.S. Lewis

28 03 2021

I was thinking about what books I should aim to read this year, and having had this set of C.S. Lewis books for several years, I thought I should aim to read at least one each year, and I remember a friend saying how good this one was a long time ago, and at under 150 pages, it seemed like a doable step into “clever” books.

The book is essentially an illustration of Heaven and Hell, expressed in the first person of someone who’s in a grey town, and gets on a bus to a bright country. It feels very much like someone telling you about a weird dream they had, and takes some work to get your head around until they explicitly say what those places represent (around halfway through!), but once that’s happened, it makes a bit more sense!

When he reaches the bright place, everything is so much more solid than those who have arrived, so much so that he describes those from the bus as Ghosts in comparison. There are several stories where Ghosts are met by Solid People who they maybe knew in life, and we see examples of different ways people have lived, which they think are fine and good, but maybe weren’t so much.

Towards the end of the book I think I started to feel out of my depth again, I imagine cleverer people would get more out of it than I did, but certainly I enjoyed it and it gave me plenty to think about from the rest of the book!

A few lines that made me think:

  • “A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that pint, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good.”
  • “Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you had found them.”
  • “Do not fash yourself with such questions. Ye cannot fully understand the relations of choice and Time until you are beyond both.”
  • “There have been men before now wo got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself. […] There have bene some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ.”
  • “I am in love. In love, do you understand?”





The Screwtape Letters – by C.S. Lewis

10 04 2020

Many years ago I got my Grandpa’s very old copy (I think late 1950s, early 1960s?) of this book, which obviously was rather delicate and fragile, so I have kept it safely in a box ever since. A few years later I got the C.S. Lewis Signature Box Set which had a much more robust copy as part of it, and a few years after that, I’ve finally got around to reading it!

The book is a collection of letters from Screwtape (a senior devil) to his nephew Wormwood (a junior devil) – we can clearly tell that there are replies between, but we’re not privy to those. Wormwood has been assigned a ‘patient’ and the letters contain advice, critique and general feedback about how he is doing, what he needs to do differently, and what opportunities to look for.

It’s a confusing read to start with to get your head around the terminology. As a Christian, the phrase “the enemy” would normally mean Satan, and “Our Father”, God, but in this book the roles are of course, reversed! It’s very cleverly written and ends up challenging you in all sorts of areas. There’s a hugely strong warning against luke-warmness, they are excited when the patient is starting to head in the wrong direction, but thinks things are OK so long as he is still a church-goer.

I occasionally found it hard to read, the sentences got quite long in places, and C.S. Lewis is a very clever man, so I think sometimes it was just a bit beyond me, but mostly it’s readable, the content is good and the premise is superb. Definitely worth a read.

At the back is a section which I believe was previously published separately, called “Screwtape proposes a toast”, which is a 20ish page speech that he gives at the graduation at The Tempters Training College for young Devils. It was written maybe 20 years later, and again had good content but was a bit hard going at times – good to see Screwtape in another setting though!

Some of my favourite quotes are below (and remember to bear in mind, these are all written from a devil’s perspective):

  • “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
  • “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle sloe, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
  • “Let him think of [humility] not as a self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind o opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character.”
  • “We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land with favoured heroes attain – not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”
  • “Here were vermin so muddled in mind, so passively responsive to environment, that it was very hard to raise them to that level of clarity and deliberateness at which mortal sin becomes possible. To raise them just enough; but not that fatal millimetre of ‘too much’. For then, of course, all would possibly have been lost. They might have seen; they might have repented.”