In the preface, C.S. Lewis says this is a work of fantasy. I usually see it categorized in bookstores under Christian nonfiction so it’s important to make the distinction. This fantasy novel is written in the first person, but the narrator is not necessarily Lewis. The narrator arrives at a bus station in what is referred to as the “grey town.” It’s sort of like a purgatory between heaven and hell. The narrator meets characters throughout this short book who are either making their way towards heaven or hell. Additionally, the narrator is guided through this grey town by George MacDonald, Lewis’ favorite author in real life.
This was a fascinating book and Lewis does an amazing job of making you think of life (and the afterlife) in a unique way. Here are some ideas that stand out to me:
- In the grey town, as one moves towards the mountains signifying heaven, every part of the landscape becomes substantial, as in composed of strong substance. The grass is so strong and hard that a “decent man” would not be able to walk on it. “Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows.” The question is posed – “Will you come with me to the mountains? It will hurt at first, until your feet are hardened.”
- Life on earth contains “glimpses” of heaven. “When you painted on earth–at least in your earlier days–it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was the it enabled others to see the glimpses too. But here you are having the thing itself. It is from here that the messages came. There is not good telling us about this country, for we see it already. In fact we see it better than you do.”
- Regarding making a decision one way or another (towards heaven or hell), Lewis hits on a theme I saw in Mere Christianity where one of the characters trying to get another character to come towards the mountains says “This moment contains all moments.” The character wants to go back to consult his doctor about a question. But he must move towards the mountains now. In Mere Christianity, Lewis says that with every decision, we’re moving either towards heaven or towards hell. Every moment contains all moments.
There is also a very poignant section where a mother is describing her love for her child and how that is the most pure thing. However, viewed from another perspective, it was not love but rather smothering. This book has that power to help you see seemingly good things in a new light.
C. S. Lewis is my favorite author and this is one of my favorite books by him. It’s short enough where I should read it every year or every other year. It’s so rich and so good.