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Posts Tagged ‘The Screwtape Letters’

No time tonight to really sit down, read, and ponder–I had to write this week’s contribution to While We’re Paused.  As a result of my studies over here, I decided to review John Cleese’s version of The Screwtape Letters (check out WWP Thursday for the review, if you like).

That did put me to mind of something I’ve really been thinking about off and on this week: Screwtape prefigures Surprised by Joy in some pretty significant ways.  Much of what I read of Wormwood’s attempt to wrest his patient out of “the Enemy’s” grasp lines up almost perfectly with Jack’s own description of his fall from grace.  The feelings of intellectual superiority and the forced manufacturing of emotion as a sign of the efficacy of prayer are very clear points.  In fact, even the very language in one is reminiscent of the other.

That makes me wonder precisely how much of Screwtape is really disguised biography–though not in the postmodern sense.  Lewis used his own life as the theoretical springboard for much of the fodder Screwtape and Wormwood discuss.  That means that there is a virtual treasure-trove of insight into Jack himself hidden in the wit and irony that is The Screwtape Letters.

Of course, due to the method of production, that trove is hidden throughout a mass of completely imaginative information, and there may be no clear way to tell the one from the other at this point in time.  I don’t know of anyone who has made a specific study of the topic, but I think it would be a worthy one for the students of Lewis to consider–with care.  I know that when I first started this project of blogging through Lewis’s life, I didn’t not think of Screwtape as any more useful than I did Narnia for identifying specific biographical facts about Lewis.  That was clearly a mistake.

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I mentioned several things last night about the bearing Jack’s childhood spiritual feelings might have had on The Screwtape Letters and after my drive in to work this morning, one needs amending and another can be taken a step further:

  • I was wrong when I remembered Lewis’ comment on where he got his inspiration for Screwtape coming from.  I listened to the Prologue of the book today (read by John Cleese) on the way to work and it wasn’t in there.  I’ll most a further amendment when I remember where I read that!
  • There is a definite parallel between Jack’s experience with willfully forcing a spiritual, mystical experience in his prayers at Cherbourg and Screwtape.  In Letter 4*, Screwtape discusses the process, and in Letter 9** he says further that,
You have only got to keep him out of the way of experienced Christians (an easy task now-adays), to direct his attention to the appropriate passages in scripture, and then to set him to work on the desperate design of recovering his old feelings by sheer will-power, and the game is ours.
Apparently, I need to break out my copy of Screwtape too.  I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to look there for insight on Jack’s personal experience of temptation away from the faith.  Some of us are, perhaps, thicker than others!
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*In the Cleese narrated audio version–it’s abridged and I don’t have a copy of the book here at work to check to make sure it is the same in the original.
**This one I found, in detail here:  C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (originally 1942; this edition: Harper Collins, 1996) 43, 45-46

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