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September 2000
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Only A Grumble

After a passage of many years I recently reread C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce. It's quite a short book, written in a time when authors were permitted to write short books. Seemingly they aren't nowadays. The size of the average paperback is twice what it was some decades ago. No doubt it is an economic issue. In the days when a stamp cost three cents paperback books cost 25 cents for the thin ones and 35 cents for the thicker ones. If the price of paperbacks had followed the inflation of the price of stamps a paperback book would cost in the neighbourhood of three dollars. They do not; they cost about six dollars. Since the size of paperback books has doubled it seems that the price of words as a consumer good has remained much the same over the years when corrected for inflation. Perhaps the public, perceiving that the price of paperbacks is too high for short novels, demands long novels in compensation. I surmise that the publishers profit more by the sale of one thick six dollar paperback as versus two thin three dollar paperbacks. Likewise authors may find it less taxing to write one long novel rather than two short novels.

But I digress....

As I say The Great Divorce is a short book which is all to the good. It also is a Christian parable written by a Christian apologist. It is quite a good little book and one of my favorites. Now that is an odd thing. I am not, you see, a Christian, not at all, not even approximately. Some people are violently allergic to Christianity, its trappings, and its omni-present messages, so much so that some of them break out into violent hives when they pass a church. I suspect that that is very much a minority reaction rather like being allergic to peanuts.

I rather fancy that I am not alone in being areligious and yet enjoying The Great Divorce and other works of that ilk. TGD is engagingly written which suffices for enjoyment. The oddity, however, lies in that, while reading the work, one accepts the arguments and viewpoints without question as a matter of suspended disbelief. Such suspended disbelief is normal whilst reading fiction. While reading a novel featuring Horatio Hornblower I do not, while reading, consider the fact that there never was such a person. However the suspended disbelief required TGD is a subtler matter than that required for ordinary fiction which asks only that we ignore the non-existence of a particular set of people in a particular time and place. TGD is a fantasy and as such it asks use to ignore the non-existence of a kind of place. It does more than that, though. It asks that the reader accept for the nonce an entire world view.

This is not difficult for the non-Christian reared in EuroAmerica. The Christian viewpoint is omni-present in literature and in daily life. It is as familiar as an old shoe. Even if one doesn't wear that particular old shoe, still it is a familiar old shoe and comfortable by dint of familiarity.

And yet there are jarring dissonances - not within the work but upon occasion in passages through reality....

One of the notable passages in TGD concerns an old woman who grumbles. She is, if you have not read the work, one of the potentially damned who is on holiday visiting the outskirts of Heaven. She has, if she will but make it, the choice of leaving Hell and continuing on into Heaven. The passage reads:

"Aye, but ye misunderstand me. The question is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble. If there is a real woman - even the least trace of one - still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again. If there's one wee spark under all those ashes, we'll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear. But if there's nothing but ashes we'll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever. They must be swept up."

"But how can there be a grumble without a grumbler?"

"The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing. But ye'll have had experiences ... it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticising it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, may embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticise the mood, not even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine...."

Now all of this is quite eloquent; one embraces one's damnation, one becomes enslaved to it, and in the end it replaces you. It is persuasive just because it accords with our experience. Who does not know someone so enslaved to their vice, their addiction, or their monomania to the point where there is little self left. And yet ...

The other day I was visiting my mother in the nursing home where she resides. She is fortunate - her mind is not affected - and not so fortunate - her lungs are shot. Many of the residents are less fortunate than she - their minds are more or less gone, some to the point where they are vegetables who must be fed.

As I left there was an old woman in a wheel chair sitting by the door, an old woman less fortunate than my mother but not a vegetable.

She was grumbling ...

Dissonances ...


This page was last updated September 3, 2000.

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