Friday, April 29, 2011

Not actually about Heaven or Hell

Justin Taylor interviewed N.D. Wilson who is writing a screenplay for a film of C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, one of my favorite Lewis books. From the interview:
Tell us a bit about The Great Divorce. When did Lewis write it and why?

Lewis wrote the book near the end of WWII, and it was serialized by a Christian periodical. The title is Lewis' potshot at William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. (Lewis humbly claimed that he wasn't even sure what Blake meant—but he was apparently sure enough to contradict him.)

The book is set in the afterlife, but it isn't about the afterlife. In a series of episodes, we follow the narrator through Hell and onto a bus headed for the outskirts of Heaven.

The stories are fundamentally comedic and zoom in on the pettiness of sin, the narcissism of Hell, and the impossibility of goodness apart from Grace (among other things).

Lewis' genius also comes out in how he upends traditional Christian perspectives on Heaven and Hell—Heaven being radically physical and dangerous (as opposed to ethereal and fuzzy), and Hell is a boringly spiritual place full of soft—but false—comforts (whatever house you want, but it won't keep the rain out). ....

The Great Divorce has been referenced a fair bit lately in the Christian blogosphere, with the suggestion that there are similarities between Lewis's "supposal" and Rob Bell's "proposal." And Bell himself recommends the book in Love Wins. Any thoughts on that?

At times Rob Bell (like in the Love Wins video) sounds exactly like the kind of character that one could expect to find in the pages of The Great Divorce. He seems to enjoy chasing and massaging ideas and questions for the sake of the journey of it all and not for the arrival. Landing on objective concrete answers isn't exactly the goal. That's not meant as a comment on whether or not Bell is regenerate (we're graciously saved by faith not works, luckily enough), but it is a comment on where Bell would sit with Lewis in this whole discussion.

And, of course, Lewis put the universalist George MacDonald in Heaven and made him watch the unrepentant damned get back on the bus to Hell. A little wink and gloat at one of his favorite authors.

As for us, like Lewis, we should laugh at the absurdity of squishy thought wherever we find it. .... [more]
Lewis, from his Preface to The Great Divorce:
...I beg readers to remember that this is a fantasy. It has of course—or I intended it to have—a moral. But the transmortal conditions are solely an imaginative supposal: they are not even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us. The last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the details of the after-world.
An Interview with N.D. Wilson on Screenwriting The Great Divorce – Justin Taylor

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