This summer, EPIC students are reading The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis and blogging about it together. This week’s post comes from Halley Egnew.
Chapter six tells the story of the bowler-hatted ghost, Ikey, going after one of heaven’s golden apples. Our narrator recounts how he witnesses Ikey struggling across the piercing grass toward a tree laden with heaven’s golden apples. Ikey darts as fast as he can between trees, as if he were sneaking up on the tree, looking to steal a golden apple.
Ikey is struggling so much to retrieve one of the apples, just like we all struggle to find contentment. He is so obviously in pain as he journeys to claim one of the apples. Our narrator describes how the ghost Ikey would “clasp its hands and writhe in the agony of its frustration.” And nonetheless, Ikey persists towards his goal. Once he has received one of the apples, he slinks away in shame and the booming, liquid voice of an angel declares “Fool, put it down… There is not room for it in Hell. Stay here and learn to eat such apples. The very leaves and the blades of grass in the wood will delight to teach you.” Still, Ikey ignores the voice of the angel, and painfully and guiltily he makes his way out of the grove.
What do these golden apples represent? They could be material wealth—they are gold, after all. They could be prosperity. Or, they could be true happiness and fulfillment. The latter is what I’m inclined to believe. Why else would Ikey go to such literal pains to retrieve one? He won’t even be able to eat it—it’s so heavy I doubt he could lift it to his mouth.
I see Ikey as representing one who uses material means to try and achieve true happiness, while ignoring his spiritual self. He must work doubly—triply—hard to retrieve the apple than if he were able to just walk over and pick it up. This is because he isn’t doing so with a faithful heart. If he were to “learn to eat such apples” and grow in faith, he would find that he can enjoy pocketfuls of them, instead of hauling away the smallest one shamefully and with such pain. You can’t really achieve fulfillment if you don’t accept it with your spirit, no matter how many golden apples you drag around.
Jesus has told us that the world “will delight” to teach us to grow in the Spirit. Why then do we insist on dragging our burdens with us? Ikey’s story shows how painful, and fruitless, it is to try and achieve happiness without acknowledging our spirituality. Let us realize the opportunity offered in learning how to harvest the fruits of our lives—the good times, the love, and the fulfillment. Let us accept our spirituality and turn with an open heart to God to let God develop it, and us, in the way that God wishes. Let’s learn how to have our golden apples, and eat them too!
Chapter seven details a conversation between our narrator and someone he calls the “Hard-Bitten Ghost.” I found this conversation to be very familiar, covering details that I can recall discussing with other college students.
Basically, this Hard-Bitten Ghost is a big “Debbie Downer.” Our main character states that, on first glance, the ghost appeared as a man with “a gruff but not uneducated voice … the kind of man that I have always instinctually felt to be reliable.” We’ve all met someone like this, an “everyman” whose words seem to echo our own thoughts in ways that we never thought to express them, and whose statements have been put to the test. By all accounts, he seems to be a preacher of common truth. But as our hero begins talking with him, his sweeping statements about life begin to show a little pessimism.
When our hero expresses how he is considering staying in Heaven, the Hard-Bitten Ghost replies, “That’s all propaganda … of course there never was any question of our staying.” He points out that not only are Heaven’s grasses piercing and the food and water inedible, but in fact the rain will shoot the unsuspecting ghosts full of holes. “All that idea of staying is just an advertisement stunt.” What a woeful outlook! The Hard-Bitten Ghost goes on to complain that, all of his life, he’s been sold short. Authority figures keep telling him to hold out for the next thing and he’ll grow to like it, but he never does.
It’s easy to fall into the Hard-Bitten Ghost’s mindset. The beginning of critical thinking is questioning everything, but if you never move on from that you’ll always be unhappy. The ghost’s story is always the same. Wherever he was, he always questioned why, and asked for more, and was disappointed. Like our hero, I have found myself drawn to those who claim to be preachers of truth, people who are quick to call up short the institutions that make up our society. These people seem revolutionary, for a time. But it is easy to point fingers, and true wisdom and truth don’t come merely from questioning what is going on. Sometimes, as our narrator realizes, you need to trust.
True growth, love, and happiness come from relationships built on trust, not relationships built out of mutual hatred. This is why the Hard-Bitten Ghost has never found fulfillment—he isn’t looking for it! He looks to poke holes in every opportunity for the rush that he gets from it. And he is successful. I believe that the lesson of this chapter is that, in order to live a happy life, you have to accept happiness into your life. The Hard-Bitten Ghost has had a hard life and is bitter about it. But I wonder, has he ever asked for help? Has he ever stopped just to enjoy himself without questioning? These are skills that we must cultivate if we hope to live a fulfilled life.