Here There Be Dragons
January 22, 2011Posted by on
The Screwtape Letters, written by C. S. Lewis, purport to be the correspondence from a senior assistant named Screwtape, who is working on behalf of ‘Our Father Below’, to his nephew and subordinate Wormwood. They are a series of letters advising Wormwood on methods of securing the damnation of a man known only as “the Patient”. God is always referred to as ‘the Enemy‘, being the antagonist to ‘Our Father Below’. In the introduction Lewis writes; There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.
We seem to be living in a society that, for the most part, has an ambivalence regarding any spiritual angels and demons, being content with their respective analogous representation of good and evil . Nevertheless, there does seem to be an obsession with the ‘supernatural’, which is fed by popular literature, film, and, ultimately, cults. In this obsession, the supernatural is emotionalized and mythologised, while any belief in a supernatural God is eschewed in favour of a supernatural force. It is somewhat paradoxical that a genre popularized by C. S. Lewis and his friend J. R. R. Tolkien, two deeply religious men, should have contributed to this. And yet: in the following (abridged) extract from one of Screwtapes’ letters, this is seen as the devil’s stratagem. First published in 1942, these letters remain relevant today.
MY DEAR WORMWOOD,
I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalize and mythologize their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, belief in us, will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy. The “Life Force”, the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work—the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls “Forces” while denying the existence of “spirits”—then the end of the war will be in sight.
All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged. Some ages are lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep. Other ages, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them. Any small coterie, bound together by some interest which other men dislike or ignore, tends to develop inside itself a hothouse mutual admiration, and towards the outer world, a great deal of pride and hatred which is entertained without shame because the “Cause” is its sponsor and it is thought to be impersonal. Even when the little group exists originally for the Enemy’s own purposes, this remains true. We want the Church to be small not only that fewer men may know the Enemy but also that those who do may acquire the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-righteousness of a secret society or a clique.
Your affectionate uncle
C. S. Lewis became a theist in 1929 at the age of 30, and converted to Christianity in 1931. As Lewis said of his epiphany; “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet”. J. R. R. Tolkien his Oxford colleague and friend is credited with initiating this conversion, which is why perhaps, Lewis dedicated ‘The Screwtape Letters’ to him. However, it may well have been a friendship born out their shared harrowing experiences in the trenches of World War I, rather than any common purpose in their writing. In this regard, the relation was a mix of friendship and rivalry and may have been marred by their religious differences.
In the article Friendship and Disagreements Over Christian Theology written by Austin Cline, he states that: Many fans are aware of that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were close friends. Tolkien helped convert Lewis to Christianity, whereas Lewis encouraged Tolkien to expand his fictional writing; both taught at Oxford, both were interested in literature, and both wrote fictional books which propagated basic Christian themes and principles. At the same time, though, they also had serious disagreements – in particular, over the quality of Lewis’ Narnia books.
The book Tolkien and C S Lewis: The Gift Of Friendship by British author Colin Duriez is reviewed as J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: A Legendary Friendship at Christian History. The book tells the story of how these two brilliant authors met, discovered their common love for mythical tales, and pledged to bring such stories into the mainstream of public reading taste. Tolkien and Lewis shared the belief that through myth and legend—for centuries the mode many cultures had used to communicate their deepest truths—a taste of the Christian gospel’s “True Myth” could be smuggled past the barriers and biases of secularized readers. [Reviewed by Chris Armstrong ]