The Great Divorce

George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Scottish author (in real life, as well as in The Great Divorce) who wrote a series of highly popular children’s books and fantasies, many of which had a strong Christian flavor. MacDonald’s books had a major influence on the childhood of C. S. Lewis, and partly inspired Lewis to pen Christian-themed children’s books of his own. In the novel, MacDonald appears as a huge, powerful Spirit who (much like Virgil in Dante’s Divine Comedy) guides the Narrator through the afterlife, explaining the intricacies of Christian morality. Ultimately, MacDonald teaches Lewis the most important Christian lesson of all: there are some facets of Christianity that human beings are not meant to know, especially concerning the redemption of souls. MacDonald is both the Narrator’s guide and his “discussion partner,” allowing Lewis to stage intelligent discussions of the book’s difficult theological concepts.

George MacDonald Quotes in The Great Divorce

The The Great Divorce quotes below are all either spoken by George MacDonald or refer to George MacDonald. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the HarperOne edition of The Great Divorce published in 0.
Chapter 9 Quotes

“But I don't understand. Is judgment not final? Is there really a way out of Hell into Heaven?”
“It depends on the way ye’re using the words. If they leave that grey town behind it will not have been Hell. To any that leaves it, it is Purgatory.”

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), George MacDonald (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Grey Town
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

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Hell is a state of mind—ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind—is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly.

Related Characters: George MacDonald (speaker), The Narrator
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

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There was nothing more to prove. His occupation was clean gone. Of course if he would only have admitted that he'd mistaken the means for the end and had a good laugh at himself he could have begun all over again like a little child and entered into joy. But he would not do that. He cared nothing about joy. In the end he went away.

Related Characters: George MacDonald (speaker), Sir Archibald
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

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This put me in mind to ask my Teacher what he thought of the affair with the Unicorns. “It will maybe have succeeded,” he said. “Ye will have divined that he meant to frighten her, not that fear itself could make her less a Ghost, but if it took her mind a moment off herself, there might, in that moment, be a chance. I have seen them saved so.”

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), George MacDonald (speaker)
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 11 Quotes

“Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is. And if it finally refuses conversion its corruption will be worse than the corruption of what ye call the lower passions. It is a stronger angel, and therefore, when it falls, a fiercer devil.”
“I don't know that I dare repeat this on Earth, Sir,” said I. “They’d say I was inhuman: they'd say I believed in total depravity: they'd say I was attacking the best and the holiest things. They'd call me . . .”
“It might do you no harm if they did,” said he with (I really thought) a twinkle in his eye.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), George MacDonald (speaker), Pam
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:

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Ye must ask, if the risen body even of appetite is as grand a horse as ye saw, what would the risen body of maternal love or friendship be?

Related Characters: George MacDonald (speaker), The Narrator
Related Symbols: The Lizard
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 13 Quotes

“The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”

Related Characters: George MacDonald (speaker), The Narrator
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

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All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste.

Related Characters: George MacDonald (speaker), The Narrator
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

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For every attempt to see the shape of eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom. Witness the doctrine of Predestination which shows (truly enough) that eternal reality is not waiting for a future in which to be real; but at the price of removing Freedom which is the deeper truth of the two. And wouldn't Universalism do the same? Ye cannot know eternal reality by a definition.

Related Characters: George MacDonald (speaker), The Narrator
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 14 Quotes

Ye saw the choices a bit more clearly than ye could see them on Earth: the lens was clearer. But it was still seen through the lens. Do not ask of a vision in a dream more than a vision in a dream can give.

Related Characters: George MacDonald (speaker), The Narrator
Related Symbols: The Chessboard
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

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George MacDonald Character Timeline in The Great Divorce

The timeline below shows where the character George MacDonald appears in The Great Divorce. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 9
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
...soul. In reply, the Narrator says he doesn’t know. The man introduces himself as George MacDonald (in real life, a famous author). The Narrator is overjoyed to meet MacDonald, one of... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
George MacDonald, addressing the Narrator as “Son,” thanks the Narrator for his enthusiasm and respect. He explains... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
The Narrator, trying to understand MacDonald, asks if it’s true that Heaven and Hell are only states of mind. MacDonald explains... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
The Narrator is confused. He asks MacDonald about his Roman Catholic friends, who claim that the souls in Purgatory are already saved,... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
The Narrator asks MacDonald about the role of choice in the afterlife. The souls who leave the Valley of... (full context)
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
The Narrator asks MacDonald about vice and sensual sin. MacDonald explains that some people go to Hell because they... (full context)
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
MacDonald remembers a man named Sir Archibald. During his life, Archibald was a diligent researcher who... (full context)
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
The Narrator asks MacDonald why the Spirits don’t go down to Hell to rescue the damned. MacDonald explains that... (full context)
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
MacDonald and the Narrator turn to see a ghost talking to one of the solid Spirits.... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
MacDonald invites the Narrator go for a walk—the Narrator grabs MacDonald’s arm, and MacDonald carries him... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
The Narrator tells MacDonald about the herd of unicorns who frightened away the ghost earlier. MacDonald explains that the... (full context)
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
MacDonald brings the Narrator to a group of ghosts who have gotten close to Heaven only... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
The Narrator discovers that many of the ghosts he meets with MacDonald have tried to “bring Hell to Heaven.” Some of the ghosts have tried to convince... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
...years just to visit the Valley of the Shadow of Life and criticize it. Surprisingly, MacDonald tells the Narrator that some of these ghosts eventually enter Heaven, while there are many... (full context)
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
MacDonald brings the Narrator to a ghost whom the Narrator recognizes—in life, the ghost was a... (full context)
Chapter 10
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
George MacDonald continues carrying the Narrator around the Valley of the Shadow of Life. They come to... (full context)
Chapter 11
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
The Narrator recalls another discussion he overheard while he was with George MacDonald. He saw a woman’s ghost talking to a Spirit, her brother, whose name was Reginald.... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
MacDonald carries the Narrator away from Pam and Reginald, explaining that their conversation will go on... (full context)
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
MacDonald leads the Narrator on to another ghost, who’s carrying something on his shoulder. The ghost... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
MacDonald explains to the Narrator that the lizard was lust—a creature who has no home in... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
...was less of an obstacle to entering the mountains than Pam’s love for her son. MacDonald explains that Pam loved her son too little, not too much—she only thought that she... (full context)
Chapter 12
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
As George MacDonald walks with the Narrator, the Narrator sees light flashing in the trees, as if reflected... (full context)
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
...and realizes that the Spirits are singing and dancing to celebrate her. The lady is beautiful—MacDonald explains that her name is Sarah Smith. In the afterlife, Sarah has a large “family,”... (full context)
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
As Sarah approaches the Narrator and MacDonald, she stares off into the distance. Following her gaze, the Narrator sees two old ghosts,... (full context)
Chapter 13
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
As Sarah moves away, the Narrator asks MacDonald about Frank—he can’t help but think that it’s wrong for Sarah to be untouched by... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
...visit Frank—she could have gone to the bus station to keep him company. In reply, MacDonald lets the Narrator to the ground, and the Narrator remembers how painful it is to... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
The Narrator asks Macdonald what happens to human beings who remain in Hell instead of choosing to go to... (full context)
Chapter 14
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Suddenly the Narrator, still with MacDonald, finds himself surrounded by a “great assembly of gigantic forms.” The Narrator gradually realizes that... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
The Narrator asks MacDonald about freedom and fate. Were the choices that the ghosts made—choices which sometimes led them... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
The Narrator notices that MacDonald is becoming brighter. He hears voices singing, “Sleepers awake!” The sun rises high in the... (full context)