Book #13: “The Screwtape Letters” (1942) /”The Great Divorce” (1945) — C.S. Lewis
Somehow, I never read “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Lord of the Rings, the Earthsea Trilogy, A Princess of Mars, Judy Blume — all the fantasy you’re supposed to read when you’re young, I read. But not C.S. Lewis’ best-selling epic. Not the series that J.R.R. Tolkien’s best friend is best known for. No, in our house, we skipped right over the kid’s stuff and went to straight to his adult sci-fi trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength), before moving on to his earnest religious allegories.
“The Great Divorce” is Lewis’ run at creating a modern day Divine Comedy. As in Dante’s “Inferno,” the protagonist gives the reader a tour of Hell — in this case with suitable, and sometimes humorous, updates. Lewis’ damnation is a tad different from the pit of eternal fire we’ve been pitched; his Hell is always rainy and gray. Hitler waits at a bus stop for a ride that never comes, while Napoleon lives in a mansion with an infinite number of rooms and still isn’t happy. In Lewis’ Hell, you can take a bus to visit heaven, but no one ever goes because all those happy people annoy them. The protagonist eventually takes the bus, but finds the sun too bright and the grass hurts his feet. His angel tour guide explains that anyone can leave hell at any time, but they’re all too stubborn and refuse to let go of their hate. As with most of Lewis’ work, there are some lovely metaphors for love and faith and looking at Christianity and the universe in a different light.
C.S. Lewis applies similar modern-day metaphors — and sly humour — in “The Screwtape Letters,” a religious tract disguised as a work-place satire. Written as a series of memos from the “home office” to a salesman in the field (in this case, a devil who having trouble corrupting a good christian and keeping up his quota of hell-bound souls), the book is an exploration of both theology and human nature. Originally dedicated to his BFF, J.R.R., “The Screwtape Letters” has been turned into several stage plays, and has even been recorded by Andy Serkis, bringing the Tolkien connection full circle.