In the book, The Great Divorce, author C.S. Lewis envisions himself on a bus travelling from Hell to Heaven.
Along the way, the places and people that he encounters tell a story of good and evil, and reveal Lewis’s theory on the connections between freedom, morality, and final destiny.
Upcoming Inklings Institute Event
TWU alumnus Richard Bergen presents his research on symbolic geography in C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce.
Date: Nov. 16, 7:00–8:30 p.m.
Location: Norma Marion Alloway Library, Glass Room
Trinity Western University (22500 University Dr., Langley)
Like all of Lewis’s books, The Great Divorce is imbued with figurative meaning. TWU alumnus Richard Bergen has discovered new dimensions that some readers and literary critics may have overlooked.
“Almost everyone who writes about The Great Divorce writes about characters, characterization, and dialogue—important, valuable topics, but they’re not everything that Lewis was getting at,” he begins.
Notable yet oft unnoticed material for consideration includes the book’s landscapes.
As Bergen reveals, “The landscape literally speaks in two chapters; this same landscape symbolically communicates all throughout the book.”
In fact, many of the key paradoxes in the book are embedded within details of space, time, and geography.
“The extent to which space is an obstacle, hospitable or inhospitable, ‘literally’ changes based on the moral status of the travellers in the story,” Bergen observes.
Lewis also depicts several of the characters having conversations about the meaning of travel, asking whether pilgrimage is necessary to meet God, whether it is possible for souls to come out of Hell, and whether it is possible and meaningful to go from "here" to "there" and become a different person because of a commitment to transcending the places already familiarly known.
Recalling another of the book’s mysteries, Bergen notes, “Hell is an ‘endless town,’ a vast infinitude, but it is also smaller than one single apple from Heaven.”
Finally, in the closing vision of the story, "immortal presences" control chess pieces thousands of times smaller than their arbitrator: the chess pieces represent men and women in this world who see too little about the implications of their choices, and their eternal valence.
“This vision is about scale,” Bergen explains, “our distorted sense of self, and being able to see choice and eternal light shining on the possibilities of God's presence in all places.”
Bergen will illuminate Lewis’s use of these symbolic devices, and more, at the upcoming Inklings Institute event.
About Richard Bergen
Richard Bergen completed an Honours English degree and a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Humanities at Trinity Western University. He served as a Research Assistant for the Inklings Institute of Canada from 2013-14. As a PhD candidate at UBC, Bergen’s research and dissertation is on topographical and architectural metaphors. Bergen has contributed a chapter in the volume, The Inklings and Culture: A Harvest of Scholarship from the Inklings Institute of Canada, co-edited by TWU faculty members Dr. Monika B. Hilder, Dr. Sara L. Pearson, and Dr. Laura N. Van Dyke, published with Cambridge Scholars Press.
About the Inklings Institute of Canada (IIC) at Trinity Western University
Cofounded and codirected by Dr. Monika Hilder and Dr. Stephen Dunning, faculty members in the Department of English and Creative Writing, the Inklings Institute of Canada is an interdisciplinary research effort that formalizes, strengthens and advances Trinity Western University’s contribution to international research on the works of the Oxford Inklings group—including C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as friends such as Dorothy L. Sayers, and their literary mentors, earlier writers such as George MacDonald and G.K. Chesterton. IIC advances Inklings scholarship through literary criticism and related collaborative research across the disciplines; investigates how these authors critiqued their own cultures and therefore help us to respond to our own historical/cultural context; promotes the publication of research and scholarship in peer-reviewed journals, books, and other suitable venues appropriate to the various disciplines; fosters undergraduate and graduate student involvement in such research and scholarship; seeks funding for Inklings research; contributes to the current return of religious language to public discourse—and does so within the campus, with associated members nationally and internationally, and with the general public.
For more information on the Inklings Institute of Canada, please visit their webpage.
About Trinity Western University
Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University is a global Christian liberal arts university. We are dedicated to equipping students to discover meaningful connections between career, life, and the needs of the world. Drawing upon the riches of the Christian tradition, seeking to unite faith and reason through teaching and scholarship, Trinity Western University is a degree-granting research institution offering liberal arts and sciences as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. It has four locations in Canada: Langley, Richmond-Lansdowne, Richmond-Minoru, and Ottawa. Learn more at www.twu.ca or follow us on Instagram @trinitywestern, Twitter @TrinityWestern, on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Banner illustration by TWU alumnus Daniel Giesbrecht.