An Author Avatar who finds himself in the Grey Town and gets on the bus to Heaven's outskirts.
- Author Avatar: He is C.S. Lewis.
- First-Person Peripheral Narrator: The real plot is the conversations between the ghosts and the Bright Ones, which the Narrator just reports on.
- Heroic BSoD: After talking to the Hard-Bitten Ghost.
- I'm Your Biggest Fan: Very starstruck to meet George MacDonald, whose books were a major influence on his spiritual life. He's not quite Starstruck Speechless but does admit to stammering a bit.
- The Knights Who Say "Squee!": Upon meeting George MacDonald.
- The Nicknamer: He nicknames several of the ghosts.
The Bus Driver
Driver of the bus that ferries ghosts up to Heaven.
- A Form You Are Comfortable With: He'd never save anyone if he showed up as his true self from the beginning.
- Being Good Sucks: Is the only being capable of feeling sorrow for the sinners in Hell, running the bus service constantly, shrinking himself down smaller than an atom to reach them. For his efforts, the hellish ghosts are never pleased to see him. His bus is never full.
- God Is Good: He runs the bus service in order to give damned souls another chance to be redeemed. Most waste the opportunity and use it to go whine at the heavenly beings sent to help them, or totally misunderstand what heaven means.
- God Was My Copilot: Later in the story, George MacDonald states that the only person in Heaven who can get to Hell is God. The Bus Driver is quite clearly a resident of Heaven and his job entails going down into Hell. Do the math.
- Holier Than Thou: Several ghosts accuse him of this, although the Narrator can't see any base to these accusations.
- Sacred Hospitality: He only has one line of dialogue in the entire short novel. He implores the ghosts to stay in heaven as long as they wish.
The narrator's favorite author, who serves as his Spirit Advisor in the afterlife.
- Funetik Aksent: Not as strong as the level of Scots dialect in his actual novels, but he has an obviously Scottish speech pattern.
- Historical Domain Character: George MacDonald is of course a real historical author.
- Spirit Advisor: He plays this role to the narrator, explaining the situation of heaven and how ghosts are saved from hell.
- The Mentor: His books were a formative influence on the narrator's life, as was the case for C. S. Lewis in real life.
- Mr. Exposition: Most of the information we get about how things work in Heaven comes from MacDonald's explanations.
The Big Ghost
A very large ghost the Narrator meets in the queue for the bus, and who he (the Narrator) later sees speak to a Bright One who was once a subordinate of his.
- Bad Boss: Len (his guide) says that he "made it hard" for his employees, who all "felt the same" (as in, dreamed of killing him, in detail).
- The Big Guy: The Narrator bases his nickname off this.
- Domestic Abuse: Len also mentions that he "made it hard" for his wife and children. The Big Ghost waves it off as minor private matters.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: He has a very hard time understanding grace, forgiveness, and redemption.
- Forgiveness: His Fatal Flaw is that he cannot forgive or comprehend why others would do so. It's a severe stumbling block for him, since his guide was a murderer in life and got to Heaven via deathbed conversion.
- It's the Principle of the Thing: He decides that he doesn't want to be in Heaven if they accept people like Len.
- No Sympathy for Grudgeholders: Gets sympathy from the Bright Ones, but refuses to let go of his grudges. He literally cannot comprehend how Heaven would happily admit murderers. note
- Wants a Prize for Basic Decency: He claims that going to Heaven is his right because he was an honest person in life.
The Tousle-Headed Poet
A Wangsty poet who the Narrator meets on the bus.
- Born Unlucky: To hear him tell it.
- Dark and Troubled Past: If his account is to be believed (though it probably shouldn't).
- Driven to Suicide: After a bad breakup (which he describes as 'the last straw').
- Entitled Bastard: He believes he deserves recognition for his intellect and to be admitted into Heaven.
- Insufferable Genius: Oh, of course the other people on the bus are fine with Hell. After all, it's not like they're intellectuals like he is. They have movie theaters and fish-and-chips shops, and what else would the common folk want?
- Unreliable Narrator: It's very likely that he was not as ill-used by the world as he said he was.
- Wangst: Quite prone to whining about his First World Problems.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The narrator does not see his confrontation with a Bright One.
An economically-minded ghost with a bowler hat and a bulbous nose who the Narrator meets on the bus. He explains a lot about how Hell works, and the Narrator later sees him trying to take an apple from Heaven.
- The Determinator: Manages to pick up a small apple, when even a leaf is described by the Narrator as being "heavier than a sack of coal". Of course, it's All for Nothing since nothing in Heaven can be taken to Hell.
- Mr. Exposition: He tells the Narrator why the Grey Town is so empty and a good deal about its mechanics as a lead-up to why he's going to Heaven- he wants something that can be called a real commodity so he can use economics to force people to stay together. He also hints that everything's going to get worse once darkness sets in.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: An odd fellow who only wants Hell to have a sense of community and belonging, believing apples from Heaven can accomplish this. Its through this he's actually able to lift the apple, despite the terrible agony it causes him, but it can't be taken to an non-existent state that is Hell.
- You Fool!: Is rebuked by an angel (in the form of gigantic waterfall) for undertaking the Sisyphean task of trying to take a single apple to hell. The fruit alone, is impossibly vast in size compared to the infinitesimal grey town.
The Episcopal Ghost
A preacher who doesn't believe in Heaven, Hell, or the Second Coming- despite being damned to Hell and taking a trip to the outskirts of Heaven. Was apparently a bishop in life, and rather famous.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: Persists in thinking that Christianity isn't really true, despite being in the Christian afterlife and talking to a resident of Heaven who offers to take him to see God right then and there.
- Children Are Innocent: Dick notes that when he was a kid, he only asked questions because he honestly wanted answers, and didn't blind himself to reality (which is what damned him in the first place)
- Completely Missing the Point: He thinks Christianity would be better had Jesus not been crucified (since he thinks Jesus would have preached differently when he was older), despite Christian theology being very clear that had Jesus's crucifixion is the only way sinners (i.e. everyone ever) can enter Heaven.
- Insane Troll Logic: He actually expresses surprise that his guide believes in an Objective Reality or that it could render one's opinions and beliefs objectively correct or incorrect.
- Secretly Selfish: His guide undermines his claim that his apostasy was the result of "honest opinions fearlessly followed" by pointing out that it was neither: he didn't become an apostate because he truly thought Christianity was false so much because as he wanted the material benefits that came with atheism, and he didn't really follow his beliefs fearlessly because there was nothing to fear- there was no real chance of persecution, and the most likely result of going apostate was gaining wealth and fame.
- The Treachery of Images: Near the end of his talk with Dick (his guide), he's gone so far off the deep end that he's admonishing Dick for "implying some sort of static, ready-made reality which is, so to speak, 'there,'and to which our minds have simply to conform."
- Unreliable Narrator: Paints himself as a heroic figure who fearlessly followed his beliefs even when they meant persecution, but his guide points out that his beliefs weren't really honest and that he took no risk in following them.
The Hard-Bitten Ghost
A conspiracy theorist who believes that Heaven and Hell are on the same side and faking the War to exploit the ghosts.
- Conspiracy Theorist: He thinks that Heaven is a scam, and that the idea that ghosts can get more solid if they say is merely propaganda. On Earth, he thinks that all wonders of the world (the Forbidden City, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, et cetera) are all run by a World Combine that, in his words, "just takes an Atlas and decides where they'll have a Sight."
- God and Satan Are Both Jerks: He thinks that they're on the same side and just faking being mortal enemies to torment the ghosts. It's pretty clear that this is not actually the case, though- he's just too cynical to accept that God Is Good.
- Jerkass Has a Point: He notes that when it does rain in Heaven, it'll drill through ghosts like bullets.
- Mundane Afterlife: Complains that Hell is this rather than "red fire and devils and all sorts of interesting people sizzling on grids".
- Seen It All: He's seen a lot of beautiful things- and thinks they're meaningless and the work of an Ancient Conspiracy.
- Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!: The Hard-Bitten Ghost deconstructs cynicism and the idea that cynical views are more reliable. He is in sight of eternal happiness, but he'll never get it because he doesn't believe that it exists.
A female ghost who doesn't want to go to Heaven because she's ashamed of her ghostly body and afraid of how the Bright Ones will react to it. When her guide can't get her to stop focusing on her shame, he calls out a unicorn stampede to hopefully distract her from thinking about herself.
- No Name Given: The narrator doesn't even give her a nickname.
- Pride: In her, it manifests as acute shame about her ghostly nature. She's unwilling to face this shame by going to Heaven with her guide.
- Wangst: Spends most of her time angsting about her ghostly state and worrying that she'll be judged for it, despite her guide's assurances that it's heaven and no one will care.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The Narrator doesn't see the end of her conversation, though George MacDonald does give an educated guess about what will happen to her- she might be saved, if the stampede could make her stop focusing on herself.
The ghost of an old lady who complains a lot- in fact, she complains so much that her guide can't get a word in edgewise.
- Motor Mouth: She fits a lot of complaints into a small amount of time.
- No Name Given: Not even a nickname.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The Narrator doesn't see what became of her, although George MacDonald tells him that if she is still a grumbler (and has a bit of personality left under the grumbling), than she will be saved, but if she's just a grumble that keeps going and won't stop, she won't.
The Seductive Ghost
The ghost of a woman who has grown so obsessed with sex that she is unable to see conversation as anything but a means to seduction. Unfortunately, her techniques don't really work now that she's a ghost.
- Failed a Spot Check: Hasn't yet noticed that she's phantasmal.
- Fan Disservice: The Narrator thinks her flirtation attempts are appalling.
- Lust: Her flaw.
A former famous artist who desires to paint less to depict what he sees and feels and more as an end in and of itself.
- Pride: His Fatal Flaw. Even when it started off as something more noble, all he wants is to be respected and only to associate himself with people who think exactly like he does.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: When he hears that he and his work are about to be rejoiced in Heaven, but forgotten on Earth, does he run back to Hell in a rage.
- The Treachery of Images: He and his celestial guide discuss whether the purpose of art is for its own sake or to depict particular matters; he's obsessed with the paint while his friend is trying to get him to focus on a far worthier Subject.
A controlling woman who was ambitious by proxy- she made absolutely sure to keep complete control over her husband Robert's life and make sure he had the lucrative career she wanted him to have.
- Ambition Is Evil: She wanted her husband to be well-off and have a good career, heedless to the fact that that wasn't what made him happy.
- Control Freak: She had to have control of every part of her husband's life, and what she hates most about Hell is that no one there will let her "help" them.
- Domestic Abuse: Towards Robert, who she eventually drove to a nervous breakdown.
- Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Averted. There's a reason she's in Hell and Robert's in Heaven.
- Never My Fault: Denies that her abusive control of Robert's life was what caused his nervous breakdown.
- Point of No Return: She flares up like a candle and then vanishes (presumably returning to Hell) after she's started begging to see Robert again so she can have someone to control.
- Secretly Selfish: Her interest in "helping" Robert was less because she genuinely wanted him to be happy and successful and more because she wanted someone that she could control. Though this isn't much of a secret to everyone except her.
- Ungrateful Bastard: She accuses Robert of being this, since he didn't appreciate her attempts to 'make his life better'.
- Unreliable Narrator: She paints herself as a diligent wife who sacrificed everything for her ungrateful husband. In reality, she was an abuser and he had a very good reason to not appreciate what she did.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: She says she only took the actions she did because it was in Robert's best interests. See the tropes above for how truthful she's being.
A mother who was very possessive of her son Michael and neglectful towards the rest of her family. She's very eager to see Michael again, but she's not willing to give up her monomaniacal obsession with him to do it.
- Evil Virtues: Her maternal love for her son. MacDonald notes that because it's more like heavenly love, when it falls it's worse than just an appetite would be.
- Excessive Mourning: She "lived only for [Michael's] memory" for ten years after he died young. Her guide (who in life was her brother Reginald) says that she kept his room exactly like he left it, kept anniversaries, and refused to leave their house despite her husband Dick and her daughter Muriel hating it there.
- She dislikes Winifred Guthrie, who's in Hell for much the same reasons as she is (the only difference is that Winifred's son Bobby is in Hell with her).
- For all her talk about her maternal love, she neglects her daughter Muriel in favor of her son.
- Irony: Michael, the son she's so fixated on, was conceived by accident.
- Love Makes You Evil: She's in hell because she exalts her "mother-love" for Michael above all other things, including love of God. George MacDonald notes that that's how it is in Hell, since all things are good when they align with God and evil when they turn away from him.
- Love Redeems: Not quite Averted. MacDonald also notes that even as perverted and warped as her love for her son has become, there is still a little spark there of something that is not just herself, and that might yet be fanned into a flame.
- Motherhood Is Superior: Her fanatical belief in this trope (at least insomuch as it refers to her son Michael) is why she's in Hell.
- My Beloved Smother: She was this towards Michael.
- Parental Neglect: She was so fixated on Michael that she ignored her husband, daughter, and mother.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The Narrator doesn't get to see the end of his conversation, though George MacDonald guesses that she might demand to take Michael down to Hell.
- Yandere: A maternal variant.
The Ghost with the Lizard
A ghost troubled by uncontrollable lust, which is manifested as a lizard on his shoulder. While he recognizes that the lizard is quite unsuitable for heaven, he is unwilling to give it up- until he does.
- Bond Creatures: Whether its earthly lust, or heavenly desires, the lizard or the reincarnated stallion is a part of him.
- Foil: To Pam. While she allowed something normally considered a good thing (Maternal love) to fall and become evil, he let something normally considered a bad thing (lust) to turn towards God and become good.
- Lust: His sin. His redemption also shows the flip side of this- even the deadly sin of lust is based on a desire humans are supposed to have, and when it submits to God and is killed and reborn, it becomes a beautiful thing.
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent: His lust is manifested as a lizard. When killed, it returns as a stallion.
- The One Who Made It Out: He is the only (confirmed) Ghost who accepts redemption and becomes a Bright One.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: He allows an angel to kill the lizard- causing it to rise again as a stallion and help him to go to Heaven.
- White Stallion: His sins purged transform into a giant horse.
The husband of Sarah Smith. His ghost looks like a dwarf leading a tall figure that the Narrator dubs "The Tragedian" by a chain. The Tragedian represents Frank's overdramatic and emotionally manipulative side, and speaks for the Dwarf whenever the Dwarf rattles his chain. The more precedence the Tragedian takes, the smaller the Dwarf (who represents Frank's real self) grows.
- Achilles in His Tent: The reason Frank is damned is because he refused to lose gracefully, instead going off and sulking until people felt sorry for him and gave him his way.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: The Tragedian is a personification of Frank's tendency to emotionally manipulate people using pity.
- Becoming the Mask: Played with; Frank "became" the Tragedian all right, but only because the Tragedian has consumed him, and as a personality without substance, this destroys the Tragedian.
- Domestic Abuse: He abused Sarah's pity to make her miserable many times when they were married.
- Large Ham: The Tragedian is quite melodramatic. The Dwarf, by contrast, has a rather small voice.
- Ignored Epiphany: The narrator notes that after Sarah confirms that she's here for him and not the Tragedian, he realizes how silly the Tragedian is and exactly what Sarah is talking about- but then he rejects it because it's not the meeting he was picturing (which was presumably his 'pity me' shtick actually working and him going back to emotionally abusing Sarah).
- No-Sell: The Tragedian cannot make Sarah feel sorry for Frank.
- Point of No Return: Eventually the Dwarf shrinks so much he's effectively invisible, and the Tragedian disposes of the chain, completely taking over.
- Pride: Part of the reason he won't go with his wife is because he wanted their meeting to be on his terms, and he can't accept that people can be happy without or in spite of him. In Frank Smith's worldview, people should only be happy when he lets them be.
- Split-Personality Takeover: The Dwarf eventually disappears completely and the Tragedian takes over.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Even as a boy, Frank would selfishly use other people's pity; Sarah sees through the ruse and calls it out for what it is, and while Frank would literally go to hell than repent he no longer has any power over her.
There are multiple ghosts that the Narrator mentions only in passing. They include a husband and wife leave the bus line quarreling, a teenaged couple were too absorbed with each other to care for a place in the bus, a group that wants to tell the Bright Ones about Hell, some that want to get the Bright Ones to make Heaven more like Hell, ghosts who just went to heaven to tell it how much they hate it, and some ghosts who are fully conscious of their state and have embraced their status as scary boogeymen so they won't scare themselves.
- Card-Carrying Villain: Easier to save than you'd expect, since it can be easier to save those who hate goodness than those who don't know what it is and think they already have it.
- Flat-Earth Atheist: The narrator mentions that some ghosts refused to give up their materialism despite being in the Christian afterlife, instead insisting that basically everything around them is just an elaborate hallucination.
- The Masochism Tango: The husband and wife who leave the bus line at the beginning.
- This is also the obvious future of the androgynous couple who leave the line immediately after.
The Big Ghost's guide. Len was a former subordinate of the Big Ghost, and at one point killed a man named Jack. He still got into Heaven via deathbed conversion. This is a severe stumbling block for the Big Ghost, given how obsessed he is with fairness.
- HeelFaith Turn: By his own admission, Len was hateful and even committed murder, then repented and turned to God. Gods mercy being what it is, this was enough to get him into heaven.
- Karma Houdini: He is a murderer who later repented and converted on his deathbed. The Big Ghost can't get it through his head why Heaven let Len in.
- Spirit Advisor: His job is to get the Big Ghost to realize that no one has a right to Heaven, and that anyone can get there by accepting God's forgiveness.
The Episcopal Ghost's guide, and former friend and fellow apostate. He's in Heaven because near the end of his life, he began to believe again.
- Not Listening to Me, Are You?: He tries repeatedly to get the Episcopal Ghost to listen to reason and abandon theologian triviums. After making appeals to happiness, he fails and gives up.
- Spirit Advisor: His job is to get the Episcopal Ghost to accept that the Christian theology is a matter of reality, that no amount of philosophy is going to make the situation any different from what it is, and that answers are as important as questions.
The guide to Robert's Wife. Doesn't get a chance to say much in between complaints about Robert.
- Spirit Advisor: She is one, but doesn't get to do much as her conversation with Robert's Wife mostly consists of Robert's Wife ranting.
Pam's brother and guide.
- No-Sell: Points out to Pam that she can't hurt the residents of Heaven, which kind of takes the wind out of her.
- Spirit Advisor: He's supposed to teach Pam that the "mother love" she idolizes really isn't the be-all and end-all, and that she isn't really being loving towards her son.
A saintly woman who's now a very important figure in Heaven. She's accompanied by a retinue of everyone whose lives she touched, and she is the guide to her husband Frank Smith.
- All-Loving Hero: She was a mother to every child she knew, but not in a way that stole them from their own parents, and she was a lover to every man she knew, in a way that allowed them to return to their own wives and love them more. The only one this failed with was Frank, as she admits that her love for him was mostly a desire to be loved, though now that she's in Heaven she's ready to put that behind her.
- Friend to All Living Things: She's accompanied by a lot of animals because of this.
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness: She's not swayed even a bit by the Tragedian's attempts to manipulate her. No doubt being a blessed soul in Heaven has something to do with it.
- No-Sell: None of the Tragedian's attempts to manipulate her and drag her down to his level work, and they just leave the Tragedian looking ridiculous.
- Special Person, Normal Name: Since she was a normal person on Earth and is special in Heaven because of how good she was.
- Spirit Advisor: She's here to teach Frank how to leave behind his pride and accept joy instead of deliberately rejecting it and then dragging others into misery as well with his sulking.
The Waterfall Angel
A waterfall in Heaven is also this angel. It serves as a guide of sorts to Ikey, telling him to give up trying to take the apple back to Hell and to stay in Heaven instead.
- Foreshadowing: It says that there's no room for the apple Ikey takes in Hell. Later on, George MacDonald shows the Narrator that Hell is actually very small, so there's no room for anything that's not a ghost in Hell.
- Crucified Hero Shot: The Narrator notes that it stands against the rocks "like one crucified".
The Firey Angel
This angel is the guide to the Ghost with the Lizard. It offers to kill the lizard for the Ghost, but can only do so with the Ghost's permission.
- God's Hands Are Tied: He can do nothing to the Lizard without the Ghost's permission.
- Playing with Fire
These angels are part of the retinue of Sarah Smith.