I’d really give Abolition of Man four stars, and The Great Divorce five, so I’ll go with 4.5 for the combo.
A speaker at a gala we went to recently mentioned The Abolition of Man, and I realized I’d never read it. It’s very short, but rather like a very scholarly expansion on an idea that I believe Lewis put forth in “Mere Christianity” about why there must be such a thing as a moral code and an absolute reality outside of our own beliefs and perceptions. But it wasn’t just about this… I had a hard time following the point he was trying to make in a number of places, probably because he was arguing against something that was I guess very common in his day and age and he assumed it would be familiar to his readers. Best I could follow, the argument was that people kept trying to make everything in life a means to an end rather than ever an end in itself, and if they go on that way forever, they will end up conquering humanity itself–but in the act of doing so, they will have rendered themselves obsolete. Or something. I couldn’t quite see how this could be managed in anything like concrete terms though.
The Great Divorce was far more entertaining, told as a fantasy. The main character fell asleep and went on a trip first to hell, and then on a field trip to heaven. This I listened to because at Sunday school last week, our teacher showed us a video on the five historical views on hell, and I realized based on this book that CS Lewis takes the metaphorical view of hell, with a little bit of purgatory thrown in (though not really the classical conception of it.) I knew that one of Lewis’s heroes of the faith was George MacDonald, who appears as a character in this story too, and it’s mentioned that he takes another of the views of hell: that of universalism (didn’t know anybody truly held that position.)
I disagree with all of these positions, but it wasn’t really the point of the story, as Lewis made it very clear that he’s by no means arguing what heaven and hell are or are not – it’s entirely a work of his imagination. What I found so fascinating about the story was both the psychological perspective on what it means to be in a unique hell of one’s own making, and also the contrast of the super-reality of heaven to the mere wisp and vapor of hell. This was very similar to the way he depicted heaven in “The Last Battle” in the Chronicles of Narnia as well.
My (combined) rating: ****1/2
Sexual content: none
Political content: none