Chapters 1-3: From Heaven to Hell.
Lewis opens the book with an image of Hell we are not expecting. It is somewhat reminiscent of Seaside (a part of Eastbourne where many of the group live). Run down, raining; it is dismal rather than terrifying. Here Shades are tormented by drizzle! It is a pointless place, empty where every promise is dashed. There are good railway stations but they have no trains and the bookshops, where there might be some relief, sell nothing of any worth. Lewis quickly finds himself in a bus queue and, being English joins it, even though he doesn’t know where it is going. There are many individuals in the queue and arguments break out quite quickly. Lewis falls into the self-centred mentality of all the other characters. Some give up easily over some small thing. Lewis is pleased that the queue moves up, even without knowing where he is going!
It is easy to get fed up of these argumentative people. God is the Trinity, a communion of self-giving love. In Hell God is not here and so individuals are estranged from one another, they are brutal and critical. In every day life we don’t know ourselves. How well can we know others? When we judge them without knowing them, we move further away from each other.
When the bus arrives, it is a huge contrast with the dull town around. Bright and colourful with a friendly driver it is immediately a source of irritating for all those queuing. They resort to be judgemental. In life we need good judgement about all sorts of things. However here in Hell this has been twisted to something mean and nasty.
On the bus, Lewis’ character talks to several of the other passengers, who reflect certain attributes or take on particular philosophies.
The bus itself is a literary device for getting the Shadows to Heaven. In Hell there is no goodness left in these people but in the dull town it cannot be seen properly. Only in the light of heaven can these individuals be seen for what they truly are. In fact as they get closer to heaven and the real light starts to filter through, Lewis sees all his fellow passengers as they really are:
“I shrank from the faces and forms by which I was surrounded. They were all fixed faces, full not of possibilities but impossibilities…all, in one way or another, distorted and faded…Then-there was a mirror on the end wall of the bus- I caught sight of my own.”
In Chapter 3 the bus finally arrives in Heaven.
“I had the sense of being in a large space, perhaps even a larger sort of space, than I had ever known before: as if the sky were further off and the extent of the green plain wider than they could be on this little ball of earth. I had got out in some sense, which made the Solar System itself seem an indoor affair.”
Heaven is more real than anywhere the characters have experienced before. All those from the bus are just shadows here, “man-shaped stains” Everything is hard around them
This picture of heaven is a useful image, which reminds us that one aspect of Purgatory is not being able to experience heaven because of our deficiencies. The ghosts cannot partake of Heaven’s goodness for they are not solid enough.
By contrast, the people of Heaven are very solid. There is a freedom and a realness about them that is frightening for the Shades. Fear is very much a part of Hell. If the Ghosts cannot enjoy all the goodness Heaven has to offer, they can’t spoil it either and, as we shall learn later they can’t take any goodness back with them either.
This opening part of Lewis’ fantasy sets up some interesting images with which we can explore both Heaven and Hell nad most importantly the choices people make. We quite quickly realised that this fantasy can’t be used as theology or doctrine and this isn’t Lewis’ intention. It is a personal investigation of matters which will enable us to look at our own relationship to God and others.