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Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marriage

Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marriage

Postby Nerd42 » 06 May 2010, 20:51

I know we're all anxious to start talking about the Grey Town right away but everything Lewis writes seems to be packed with multiple layers of significance and the preface to the Great Divorce is certainly no exception. Lewis makes several important points in the preface:

1. An acknowledgment of William Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell." I haven't read that so I can't comment on it. Some light on this subject from someone acquainted with Blake's work would be much appreciated.

2. The assertion that the choice between good and evil is an absolute "either-or." Our freedom is not the freedom to embrace mutually exclusive alternatives but to embrace the one or the other.

3. The assertion that reality branches out in ever increasing separation rather than coming together to ever increasing oneness. This is made through the parable of reality as being like a tree as opposed to being like a pool, of life being like an ever-forking road, not streams joining a river to become the sea.

4. The assertion that good is different from other good. This would suggest that the Bible's statement that the believers were "of one heart and of one soul" (Acts 4:32) does not mean the saints will all be carbon copies of one another but that they will be different as branches but will all connect to the larger tree.

5. The assertion that wrong can be overcome only through reversal, not through further development.

6. The likening of heaven and hell to tourist destinations - a theme developed further in chapter 7 - in order to make the point that absolutely no souvenirs from Hell are allowed into Heaven.
C. S. Lewis wrote:"You cannot take all luggage on all journeys."
...
"If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell."
On reaching Heaven, we must go through an airport scanner and possibly even be strip searched to detect anything and everything we may have picked up in Hell for absolute destruction. Our "I was damned to Hell and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt" merchandise must be thrown away, (Don't bother trying to sell it - there is no exchange rate and they won't let you take demonic currency out of the country anyway) our "I Heart Hades" stickers must be scraped entirely off our suitcases, leaving absolute no residue and we must hope we didn't get any tattoos. The way I just stated it sounds humorous but this is a serious matter - these "intimate souvenirs" represent the secret sins we have that no one else knows about - only ourselves, God and the Devil know about them. Or perhaps not even sins, but temptations. For some, throwing away their souvenirs will be a joyous occasion like Christian finally being rid of the weight on his back at the cross in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress or Estuace's baptism in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. But for some it will be difficult, like Odin giving up his right eye or the various ghosts giving up the things they are clinging to later in this book. Or perhaps these are two sides of the same coin that we must pay Charon to get us the hell out of Hell. Or maybe I'm just reading way too much into it.

7. The assertion that what we give up to gain Heaven (what I just likened to the fee given to Charon and Lewis likens to the sacrifice of Odin's eye) will be worth to us precisely nothing. I think there is a deep significance here. I think Lewis is saying that if we could really see our sins for the rubbish that they are, we would realize that we are clinging to trash when gold and jewels are all around us. We're eating week-old reheated McDonalds food when a feast prepared by the world's greatest chefs is available to us. Wickedness never was happiness.

8. The assertion that the kernel of what we were always really seeking, even in our most depraved wishes, will be there in "the High Countries." This theme runs through many of Lewis's books as it is a form of his main argument for Christianity - the argument from desire. Peter Kreeft's web site makes a statement about an experience that Augustine had which is applicable here. There is no way I could adequately cover this subject in the middle of a post like this - that would be like trying to scoop out an ocean with an eyedropper. Let me just say that I think what he said here is true and leave it at that.

9. The assertion that Earth will not be seen as a very distinct place, that whatever destination a soul reaches will work backwards through their life making them to have always been in Heaven or Hell. This is touched on again in chapter 9. I think I get it in some ways, but in other ways, I don't. I wonder if Lewis himself understood what he was really saying. I think he's trying to express the world without time, which is sometimes necessary to talk about God but is always on somewhat dangerous ground. I think it is safe to say that compared to what the things we regard as Heaven and Hell will really be like, anything that happens to us in this life will seem small and momentary.

10. He warns against trying to anticipate the retrospective vision of Heaven while in the middle of doing it himself. This part is a bit tricky but I think he's just asserting what I said earlier, that trying to look at the world without time is sometimes necessary but always on very dangerous ground. I don't think it only leads to the error he points out but can also lead to the opposite error of saying nothing is good or has value except in "Heaven" - of ignoring the responsibilities of this life in a Don Quixote-like devotion to a pure abstraction while the fallen world around you goes to seed. This type of fallacy is warned against in Screwtape Letter #3 but I think it's also relevant here.

C. S. Lewis wrote:"There are only two things more to be said about this small book."

11. An acknowledgment of the contribution of a forgotten science fiction writer in suggesting the nature of heavenly matter used in The Great Divorce, which we will talk about when we get to Chapter 3. (Let's not derail this thread with a premature discussion of it at this point) We all get to LOL @ his use of the antiquated term "Scientifiction" when he himself was an established science fiction writer with Out of the Silent Planet, which by the way I think inspired James Cameron's "Avatar" more than anyone will admit. He asserts "quite properly" that the past cannot be altered, which I find interesting given his assertion that the consequences of choices "work backwards" articulated elsewhere in the book. I think this little comment is meant to help us understand that when the characters speak of the consequences of their choices "working backwards" they are speaking of the value or worth of past events changing rather than the physical facts. Without this enlightening comment, some doors to certain alternative interpretations of the metaphysics of his work would have been left open that I think Lewis preferred to leave closed.

12. Lewis asserts that this is a fantasy, not meant to be taken literally.
C. S. Lewis wrote:"The last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the details of the after-world."
I know why Lewis said what he said, but if I'd written this book I might have been a bit more bold in asserting that the moral message here really does correspond to a reality, if not the details. As the Bible says:
KJV 1 Thessalonians 4 wrote:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
Amen. :)

Any other thoughts on the preface? Has anyone read The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and can tell us about it and how relevant it is to The Great Divorce?

Don't worry, pretty soon I'll start the "Grey Town" thread and things can really get rollin' :) And I don't plan on going through the whole book in such excruciating detail. When you're reading Lewis, you can find mountains of meaning in a single turn of phrase.
Last edited by Nerd42 on 17 May 2010, 15:44, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marr

Postby JDMalament » 08 May 2010, 04:15

This is more of a side note, but has anybody heard Lewis's abridged, spoken version of the Preface? I know it can be found, for purchase, at: http://episcopalonline.org/Products/All-Audio-Resources/The-C-S-Lewis-Recordings-The-Four-Loves-and-C-S-Lewis-Speaks-His-Mind. It's a pleasure to hear Lewis's actual voice, but I've only heard his recordings of The Four Loves.

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Re: Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marr

Postby Sven » 08 May 2010, 14:34

I have that CD. It records Lewis introducing a BBC radio dramatic presentation of The Great Divorce, aired on 27 February 1948.

Changes from the Preface as written:

"But in some sense or other people are always trying to make that marriage."

The next sentence starts with "Reality presents us..."

In the same sentence, instead of "that, granted...enough, some way" he says "they think that some way"

Same sentence, after saying "embracing both alternatives" he adds "both Good and Evil"

Instead of "This belief I take to be a disastrous error." he says "I think they're wrong."

Skips over the next couple of sentences, then makes a slight change "Even on the biological level, life is not like a river, but like a tree."

The second paragraph skips and starts with the sentence "If we insist on keeping Hell..." continues as written until "...who reaches Heaven will find what he has abandoned has not been lost, but we must not try to anticipate that retrospective vision."

Skips all the way down to "There's one more thing to be said about this program, that it is a fantasy, not even a guess or a speculation about what may be awaiting us. The last thing I wish to arouse is curiosity about he details of the after world."
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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Re: Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marr

Postby JDMalament » 08 May 2010, 19:26

Thanks Sven!

How's the quality of that recording? Also, do you think that CD set is worth purchasing?

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Re: Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marr

Postby Sven » 08 May 2010, 19:39

The quality is very good.

Most of the time Lewis speaks in the expected Received Pronunciation. On some of the longer pieces, like The Great Divide, you can occasionally hear a bit of the Ulster Irish coming through.

Whether it's worth buying or not depends on the individual, for myself it was an easy decision.

By the way, several (but not all) of the recordings are available here in the Wardrobe. Click on the tab at the top of the page titled 'multimedia', once there click on 'audio files'.
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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Re: Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marr

Postby Matthew Whaley » 09 May 2010, 05:36

I've been reading and rereading The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and have been having a rough time of it; but what I see Blake saying is ; that Heaven is good, wise and passive, and that Hell is energetic, agressive, cunning. Milton's characterization of Satan in Paridise Lost is a good demonstration of this. When I read this poem it's very hard for me not to admire Satan because he is such a strong, dynamic character even if he is evil to the core! But all the other characters seem to pale in comparison. Milton's Satan reminds me of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Goodness seems unimaginative, flat, and predictable. Yet maybe what Blake is saying is that you can't have one without the other. Heaven cannot exist in our minds apart from Hell, and Hell cannot exist in our minds apart from Heaven.
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Re: Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marr

Postby nomad » 09 May 2010, 12:06

Matthew - that's always a challenge for good vs. evil drama. Evil is just so much more compelling than what we usually think of a "good". That's why most heroes have some sort of flaw or a dark past. In TGD, Lewis manages to make heaven and untainted goodness compelling, while hell is blah and uninteresting. I think most of us would agree that in this respect, TGD is probably one of the most accurate depictions of good vs evil and heaven vs hell. Lewis is attempting to overturn centuries of imagery that have left us envisioning heaven as "passive". In Lewis' version, heaven is not passive. It presents a massive challenge of character for the tourists. It really is quite an accomplishment when you think about it.
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Re: Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marr

Postby Matthew Whaley » 09 May 2010, 17:24

It's good to have you back, Nomad! I completely agree with you, the Narnia series is also a great example of Lewis making goodness compelling. I have also read arguments in Milton's defence of the reason why his version of Satan is so attractive; it is that it is our fallenness or sinful nature that finds him fascinating. I don't agree with that. I just think that Milton inbued into Satan abmirable characteristics; tenacity, creativity, intelligence, and resourcefulness. Milton also seems to be telling the story from Satan's point of view. William Blake was a great admirer of John Milton which had a huge impact on everything Blake wrote, particularly The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
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Re: Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marr

Postby Nerd42 » 09 May 2010, 20:17

Oh yeah, I heard that as well but forgot to mention it. You can hear the Great Divorce preface read in Lewis's original voice on the BBC web site. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions ... is_1.shtml
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Re: Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marr

Postby JDMalament » 09 May 2010, 20:29

Nerd42 wrote:You can hear the Great Divorce preface read in Lewis's original voice on the BBC web site. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions ... is_1.shtml

For some reason the audio won't work for me. When I try to play it, it gives me the message: "Not available in your area." Oh well, I just purchased that set, so I should be able to listen to it soon anyway.

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Re: Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marr

Postby Nerd42 » 10 May 2010, 20:13

JDMalament wrote:
Nerd42 wrote:You can hear the Great Divorce preface read in Lewis's original voice on the BBC web site. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions ... is_1.shtml
For some reason the audio won't work for me. When I try to play it, it gives me the message: "Not available in your area." Oh well, I just purchased that set, so I should be able to listen to it soon anyway.

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I can't get the CD set and I think it contains stuff that's not on the BBC site. Is it under copyright? I know alot of old timey radio stuff is in the public domain now or is in a "gray area" since no one's asserted a copyright over it
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Re: Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marr

Postby Sven » 10 May 2010, 20:26

I think whenever a question of copyright comes up, you can take it for granted that the Estate has it locked up in every possible way available under the law.
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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Re: Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marr

Postby Nerd42 » 10 May 2010, 22:07

Sven wrote:I think whenever a question of copyright comes up, you can take it for granted that the Estate has it locked up in every possible way available under the law.
Not necessarily. Spirits in Bondage isn't under copyright.

I've said before I think these laws are really screwed up and don't have much respect for the Lewis estate.
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Re: Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marr

Postby JDMalament » 10 May 2010, 22:50

Nerd42 wrote:I can't get the CD set and I think it contains stuff that's not on the BBC site. Is it under copyright? I know alot of old timey radio stuff is in the public domain now or is in a "gray area" since no one's asserted a copyright over it

I think that it is still under copyright, but it is still available for purchase from a couple different websites that I browsed, looking for the best price. The site that I bought it from is associated with the Episcopal church and is located in Atlanta, GA, if I remember correctly.

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Re: Comments on the book's preface and William Blake's "Marr

Postby paminala » 12 May 2010, 15:31

Lewis opens his Preface by acknowledging Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell. By mentioning this work so prominently he gives the impression that this is a work by which he was greatly influenced, but the fact that Lewis’ title mirrors Blake’s suggests that the two hold a contrary view. This certainly seems to be the case as Lewis describes Blake’s work to be built on beliefs of “disastrous error.” Generally it appears that Blake has fashioned a world where both Heaven and Hell are Man’s of creation and therefore malleable to his intellect. Lewis seems to regard Man as a creation of Heaven and so is directly opposed to the notion set out by Blake.
In contrast to Blake's "Marriage" Lewis does not clearly name the parties to his “Great Divorce.” My own opinion is that, while Blake sees Heaven and Hell joined and therefore one, Lewis sees Man choosing an eternal separation from Heaven and cautions against it. One view gives man’s intellect the ability to have both, and therefore not being forced to choose either. The other places in man’s intellect the seed which can, if not mastered, grow into the unbridgeable divide between Man and Heaven.

It is interesting to note that within Blake’s “Marriage” he mentions the work of yet another writer, Emanuel Swedenborg. While Lewis points to Blake in his Preface, Blake names Swedenborg within his text.
Thus Swedenborg boasts that what he writes is new; tho' it is only the Contents or Index of already publish'd books.
A man carried a monkey about for a shew, & because he was a little wiser than the monkey, grew vain, and conciev'd himself as much wiser than seven men. It is so with Swedenborg: he shews the folly of churches & exposes hypocrites, till he imagines that all are religious, & himself the single one on earth that ever broke a net.
Now hear a plain fact: Swedenborg has not written one new truth. Now hear another: he has written all the old falshoods.
And now hear the reason. He conversed with Angels who are all religious, & conversed not with Devils who all hate religion, for he was incapable thro' his conceited notions.
Thus Swedenborgs writings are a recapitulation of all superficial opinions, and an analysis of the more sublime, but no further.

So if Lewis believes Blake is in “disastrous error” when he says that Swedenborg “has not written one new truth” but has rather “written all the old falsehoods” may we assume that Lewis is directing us to Swedenborg’s writings as valid? It would seem so as they do come very close to what Lewis’ “Divorce” has to tell us. Swedenborg, in his Divine Providence he writes
"There is granted to everyone after death the opportunity of amending his life, if it is at all possible.” Divine Providence 380
“The Lord withdraws no one from their hell unless they see that they are in hell and wish to be led out.” Divine Providence 251

Both of these are statements consistent with Lewis’ ideas in The Great Divorce.
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