In The Great Divorce, the narrator suddenly, and inexplicably, finds himself in a grim and joyless city (the "grey town", representative of hell). He eventually finds a bus for those who desire an excursion to some other place (and which eventually turns out to be the foothills of heaven). He enters the bus and converses with his fellow passengers as they travel. When the bus reaches its destination, the "people" on the bus — including the narrator — gradually realize that they are ghosts. Although the country is the most beautiful they have ever seen, every feature of the landscape (including streams of water and blades of grass) is unbearably solid compared to themselves: it causes them immense pain to walk on the grass, and even a single leaf is far too heavy for any of them to lift.
Shining figures, men and women whom they have known on earth, come to meet them, and to persuade them to repent and enter heaven proper. They promise that as the ghosts travel onward and upward, they will become acclimated to the country and will feel no discomfort. These figures, called "spirits" to distinguish them from the ghosts, offer to assist them in the journey toward the mountains and the sunrise.
Almost all of the ghosts choose to return instead to the grey town, giving various reasons and excuses. Much of the interest of the book lies in the recognition it awakens of the plausibility and familiarity, along with the thinness and self-deception, of the excuses that the ghosts refuse to abandon, even though to do so would bring them to "reality" and "joy forevermore".
The narrator is met by the writer George MacDonald, whom he hails as his mentor, just as Dante did when encountering Virgil in the Divine Comedy; and MacDonald becomes the narrator's guide in his journey, just as Virgil became Dante's. MacDonald explains that it is possible for a soul to choose to remain in heaven despite having been in the grey town; for such souls, their time in hell has been a...
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