Screwtape and The Great Divorce (A Comparison)

An obvious difference between The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters is the layout. One is a fictional journey on which there is a narrator, interactions with many other characters, and a chronological beginning, climax, end (no matter how unsatisfying you may think it is). The Screwtape Letters are just a bunch of letters thrown together; Lewis even says that there is indeed no certainty on their chronology. But there are many similarities between the two as well. In both he uses very real ways (no matter how silly) that believers and non-believers are diverted from Christ to non-sense. And finally there does not seem to be any punishment for those in Hell; though, in Screwtape he does in passing seem to mention some sort of torment inflicted on the individual.

            In this book Lewis tells a story of an amazing adventure in the afterlife. There are, of course a few things that I would have to disagree with in this book, such as the whole of purgatory. But, there is no other way I could imagine this book being written. Without the use of a purgatory scenario how could you reflect on many different people’s lives? And if you can’t reflect on many different people’s lives then there would not be a wide enough margin of excuses people make, not without making the characters seem overly winey and annoying.

            In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis has comprised a few letters that are mostly straightforward and pointed works about hell and demonic activity. The book is somewhat of a comedy about damnation and the efforts of demons to influence men. The “letters” are correspondence between a senior demon named Screwtape, who has centuries of experience in the art of tempting humans, and his younger nephew, Wormwood. The younger demon is a fresh graduate from The Tempters Training College and is on his first assignment. His task involves attempting to block, by any means necessary, a certain individual from becoming a Christian.

            The Great Divorce, which was written just three years later, deals with heaven and hell and continues the sarcastic/comedic style of The Screwtape Letters. In this story Lewis speaks as the narrator in the middle of a dream about a bus ride to heaven. The story opens in hell, where Lewis is preparing to leave with several people who actually live in Hell. And as we travel through the story we meet people in various stages of damnation, very much like Dante’s Inferno.

            There does not seem to be any real punishment in his Hell. The damned who were very evil in life, and deserve to be there as much as anyone does, are not made to pay for their deeds. They are not made to see the wrongness of what they did. Maybe I didn’t fully understand this part because the idea of purgatory confuses me. However, Lewis states clearly (p.131) that this book is an allegory not meant to be taken as literal description of the afterlife, so I wont press it.

            These two books both contain issues concerning salvation, damnation, heaven, hell, the free will of men, and other practical matters which in the end force me to conclude, C. S. Lewis is a literary genius.

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3 thoughts on “Screwtape and The Great Divorce (A Comparison)

  1. I think the punishment that the characters in hell experience is the absence of Christ and of the common grace afforded to us by the Holy Spirit. Left to their own devices, these characters seem to spiral into worse and worse versions of themselves–we don’t get to see those who have gone into advanced stages of this, but they are aluded to in the mention of those who have moved further and further away from the arrival point in hell. One of the things I love about the Great Divorce is how is paints the absence of Christ as a terrible punishment–much worse than flames and the proddings of demonic pitch forks. There are some clear connections here to Randy Alcorn’s vision of hell in Deadline–albeit, Alcorn does not court the idea of purgatory as Lewis seems to.

    These are two great books, indeed! Thanks for bringing the books, and some comparison points to my attention.

  2. An interesting discussion is worth comment. I think that you should write more about this subject, it might not be a taboo subject
    but typically people don’t discuss these topics. To the next! Many thanks!!

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