The fellowship: C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and The Inklings
Topic: Christian Education
12 Things You Might Not Know About The Screwtape Letters
JUNE 1, 2015
C.S. Lewis’s most popular non-Narnia novel is a delicious, perceptive treatise on the weaknesses of human nature. Here are 12 little-known facts about The Screwtape Letters, its development, and its enduring impact.
- It Took Lewis A Little Over Six Months to Write All 31 Letters.
In July 1940, Lewis came up with the idea of a senior demon named Screwtape mailing trade secrets and frank pointers to his greenhorn nephew, Wormwood, who has been charged with corrupting a human soul. Inspired, the author worked at breakneck speed, frequently knocking out an entire letter in one sit-down session.
- Originally, These Dispatches Ran as a Serial.
Having already submitted material to a now-defunct Anglican gazette called The Guardian, Lewis was in good standing with its editor, who released the first “Screwtape Letter” on May 2, 1941. Every week, another hellish correspondence would appear, until the last one hit the stands on November 28. Readers devoured them en masse, and before long, publisher Geoffrey Bles converted Lewis’ series into a book.
- The Newspaper Proceeds Helped a Charitable Cause.
The Guardian offered Lewis two pounds per letter. Refusing payment, he insisted that a fund dedicated to the widows of Church of England clergymen receive this money instead.
- One of the Human Characters Was Probably Based on a Woman Lewis Lived With.
Lewis wasn’t the sort who would go back on a promise made to a fallen friend. In WWI, he and a comrade named Paddy Moore agreed that if either man should perish, the other would take care of his surviving parent (both had already lost one—Lewis’s mother succumbed to cancer in 1908). Paddy ultimately died on the French front, leaving Janie King Moore behind. After the war, Lewis moved in with and tended to her.
The overbearing Mrs. Moore could be a very difficult person. Lewis’ older brother, Warren, was disgusted by her manipulative, “insincere” personality. “She … interfered constantly with his work,” Warren recalled, “and imposed upon him a heavy burden of minor domestic tasks.” In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis’ fiction clearly borrowed from his reality. Wormwood’s mortal “client” has an exacting mother who’s described as “a positive terror to hostesses and servants.” Almost every C.S. Lewis biographer under the sun believes that she was also, in fact, a caricature of Mrs. Moore.
- Some Readers Didn’t Understand That the Letters Were Satirical.
During their run in The Guardian, one angry clergyman canceled his subscription. Evidently, this fellow mistook Screwtape for an actual (and terrible) theologian doling out sincere spiritual tips. The outraged church official wrote the editor to complain that “much of the advice given in these letters … [seems] not only erroneous but positively diabolical.”
- The Author Didn’t Enjoy Writing Them.
“Of all my books,” Lewis admitted in a 1963 interview, “there was only one I did not take pleasure in writing.” He found The Screwtape Letters “dry and gritty going. At the time, I was thinking of objections to the Christian life and decided to put them in the form ‘That’s what the devil would say.’ But making goods ‘bad’ and bads ‘good’ gets to be fatiguing.”
- Their Success Prompted Lewis to Hire His Brother as an Aide.
Screwtape’s newspaper premiere triggered a typhoon of fan mail. Since Lewis couldn’t keep pace with it all, the novelist asked Warren if he’d consider becoming his paid personal assistant. This turned out to be an excellent job for Warren, whose responses to these admirers were so clever and so well-composed that they could easily pass for his sibling’s handiwork.
- The Book Version Is Dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien, Who Didn’t Appreciate the Gesture.
Published in 1942, it turned into a runaway bestseller destined for eight reprints before the year’s end. Crack open any copy today, and you’ll find “To J.R.R. Tolkien” inside. But truth be told, Lewis’ longtime friend found the story disturbing. Plus, Tolkien knew just how little his colleague personally thought of it. It should come as no surprise, then, that he was less than thrilled with this particular shout-out.
- Lewis Considered Writing a Companion Novel from An Angel’s Perspective.
At first, the concept of some new messages detailing “archangelical advice to the patient’s guardian angel” delighted Lewis. But his standards were too high and that project never took off. “Mere advice would be no good,” Lewis lamented, “every sentence would have to smell of Heaven.”
- A Brief Sequel Appeared in The Saturday Evening Post.
Lewis never penned another devilish letter, but when asked to do so by the Post, he did churn out a speech on behalf of his most sinister creation. In 1959's “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” the demon gives a mealtime speech at the Tempter's Training College for Young Devils somewhere in Hell. Topics addressed include democracy, education, and—of course—religion.
- Multiple Authors Have Written Unofficial Follow-Ups.
A certain fiend opines on everything from gossip to pornography in Screwtape Writes Again (1975) by Martin Walter. Then there’s The Screwtape Email (2006): a self-explanatory postscript courtesy of Arthur H. Williams Jr. But perhaps the best-regarded of all is The Snakebite Letters: Devilishly Devious Secrets for Subverting Society as Taught in Tempter’s Training School (1998) by Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft. “I’m sure Lewis wanted such ‘plagiarisms,’” proclaims Kreeft’s introduction. “The Screwtape Letters invented a new genre, a new species; all I’m doing is breeding another specimen.”
- Calvin and HobbesIncluded a Recurring Player Named After Screwtape’s Nephew.
Bill Watterson has acknowledged that Miss Wormwood (Calvin’s long-suffering teacher) was named for the naïve tempter, “as a few readers have guessed.” Lewis himself probably borrowed the moniker from a Biblical star mentioned in Revelations 8:11.Books
C.S. Lewis and the Art of Disagreement
May 23, 2018
As a fellow of one of the colleges at the University of Oxford, I have the responsibility of being senior member (faculty supervisor) of two student-run societies, the C. S. Lewis Society, a literary and theological discussion group, and Oxford Students for Life, a group that aims to promote a culture in which the unborn, the disabled, the terminally ill, and other vulnerable minorities have a place.
In recent years, the pro-life group has discovered how deeply people at Oxford disagree not only with its viewpoint but also with its very right to exist and hold meetings. On one occasion, the group had permission to stage a debate on abortion rescinded at just a few hours’ notice because of a threat of disruption from students who objected to their college hosting such a discussion.
On another occasion, the opposition was subtler. We were interrupted halfway through a meeting and advised by a college official to draw the curtains so that the female Member of Parliament addressing us on gender-selective abortion should not be visible from the quad. Our opponents outside the room felt it would be easier if we were required to hide ourselves from them, rather than that they should avert their eyes from us.
The other society of which I’m faculty supervisor, the C. S. Lewis Society, has experienced no such run-ins with these opponents of free speech on campus. But I mention the Lewis Society because Lewis is a helpful example to consult when considering how to interact with people one disagrees with in an academic environment.
Lewis relished disagreement and debate. George Watson, who attended Lewis’s lectures at Oxford and later worked alongside him at Cambridge, recalls how “Lewis was a Christian conservative from around the age of thirty, which is to say before I knew him; and since I am neither one nor the other, there was never any question of doctrinal influence. If I was not exactly a friend, still less was I a disciple. That in no way altered my sense of admiration and affection. . . . We both thrived on dissent. . . . The best teacher I ever had, and the best colleague, he did not ask or expect me to share his convictions.”
Another student, Derek Brewer, remembers how Lewis would sometimes say, in the course of a tutorial, “I couldn’t disagree more!” but not in a way that indicated he was offended or that Brewer was somehow unjustified in holding an opinion Lewis considered mistaken. He did not indulge in “moralizing exclusiveness,” Brewer observes. Though they often differed, this led to a “fruitful dichotomy of attitudes,” not to a chilling of their pedagogical relationship.
Lewis’s aim, so W. J. B. Owen avers, was to help his students make their points better, not principally to change their views so they accorded more nearly with his own. The nonsocialist Lewis selected John Lawlor for a scholarship to Oxford (Lawlor recollects), despite having “my clamantly socialist papers before him.”
And as with living students, so with dead authors: he was open-minded to authors whose work he considered morally objectionable (e.g., Marlowe and Carlyle) and never told his students not to read them. “There was nothing paranoid about him,” says Brewer.
Roger Poole observes how this open-mindedness reflected not just a personal moral preference but also a deliberate intellectual strategy in Lewis’s approach to the study of literature. Literary criticism was not a quantifiable skill; it couldn’t be “modularized.” Therefore, a lot of dialogue was needed, with many diverse perspectives: “He kept on enquiring, both of himself and of his hearers, how it could be learnt about, entered into or existentially grasped.”
“Rational convictions were what he sought,” Brewer remarks. “He was always ‘thinking for his life,’ to use the phrase he once used approvingly of Professor Gilbert Ryle, the great Oxford atheist philosopher of his day.”
The fact that Lewis could approve of atheists like Ryle, as well as enjoy the company of liberals like Watson and socialists like Lawlor, reinforces Brewer’s point that Lewis would not allow disagreement to become personal. He could always distinguish the man from the man’s opinion, and he knew the difference between an argument and a quarrel. He would not allow himself to be betrayed into aggression, but would, where necessary, draw rein on a dispute with a wry smile and an agreement to disagree.
His public written controversy on literature with E. M. W. Tillyard (later published as The Personal Heresy) was conducted with pugnacity but without personal animus. And though Lewis laid into the arguments of another colleague, F. R. Leavis, with great forcefulness in the pages of An Experiment in Criticism, he never named Leavis within those pages, but covered his opponent in a thoughtfully woven cloak of pseudonymity.
Watson again: “His twin passions . . . were people and arguments, but he did not often make the mistake of confusing them. Good people can believe in wicked things . . . like race war and class war. Lewis could be polite, even friendly, to such people. What aroused his trenchancy was evil opinion. A capitalistic robber baron, he once told J. B. S. Haldane, the Communist scientist who had acclaimed the Soviet Union for abolishing Mammon, is at least better than an Inquisitor, since greed is easier to satisfy than dogmatic certainty. . . . He had once lived unhappily as a school boarder, he told Haldane, in ‘a world from which Mammon was banished’ and where favours were gained by cringing servility or brute force. ‘It was the most wicked and miserable I have yet known.’ The analogy between communism and an unreformed boarding school is instructive, but the point is potent without being offensive; it is about communism, not about a Communist called Haldane.”
Lewis reviled many dogmas but seldom, to Watson’s knowledge, those who held them. He had “vigour without venom; he was generous.”
Brewer confirms this view: “One of his most notable characteristics as a man as well as a tutor was his magnanimity, his generous acceptance of variety and difference, sure of his own standards but tolerant of others, and of others’ failings.”
But this magnanimity did not come naturally or at once. At the start of his career, Lewis could be something of a bully, and a number of his first students (most famously, the future poet laureate John Betjeman) did not flourish under that regime. By his early thirties, however, Lewis realized he was in danger of becoming “a hardened bigot shouting every one down till he had no friends left” (as he wrote to his friend Arthur Greeves): “You have no idea how much of my time I spend just hating people whom I disagree with.”
Alistair Fowler notes that “by the time I knew him, he usually remembered to avoid bigotry. His contentiousness was joy in debate; he never bullied me.” So Lewis went from pugnacity to magnanimity by way of corrigibility. He made the painful discovery that he had flaws and learned both how to concede when he made mistakes and how to correct himself publicly. In a back-and-forth with Dr Norman Pittenger, Lewis not only admitted “some truth in his charge of Apollinarianism” but also held up his hands to having used “the word ‘literally’ where I did not really mean it, a vile journalistic cliché which he cannot reprobate more severely than I now do myself.”
The most notable example of Lewis acknowledging error is the rewrite he made to his book Miracles after the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe dissected its deficiencies in debate at the Socratic Club, the Oxford discussion group of which Lewis was president.
The fact that he could proclaim mea culpa indicated, in the view of Anscombe, his “honesty and seriousness.” Though he loved to engage in a “contest of wit” (according to colleague Adam Fox), Lewis was not interested in disputation for its own sake. Truth was ultimately at stake and truth mattered to him; a bottomless urbanity he found very tiresome.
His tolerance, then, for opinions he thought mistaken cannot easily be derided as facile or woolly. Rather, it can be attributed to his belief that “my own eyes are not enough for me” (as he put it in An Experiment in Criticism). He knew that he needed other perspectives to supplement, relieve, and correct his own. And this big-hearted attitude was not just a persona he adopted for professional purposes; it informed his closest friendships too. Let the last word go to George Watson:
“He did not even share the views of friends like Tolkien in matters concerning literature or religion, or not always, being content to understand the fruitful nature of their disagreements. . . . But then agreement would have spoiled the game, and Lewis in debate tried to keep disagreement going for as long as he reasonably could, and sometimes longer. If I were ever to be asked what I learned from him, that would be my reply: the art of disagreement. . . . I loved argument before I knew him, but knowing him helped me pursue it with firmer purpose and better grace.” ♦
Michael Ward is a fellow of Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford, and professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University, Texas. His newest book is C.S. Lewis at Poets’ Corner. He can be found online at www.michaelward.net.
C.S. Lewis and “Learning in Wartime”—Dr. Joel Heck
In 1938, Somerville College English Fellow Helen Darbishire told the Somerville Council in Oxford that “it would be advisable to ascertain, if possible, whether in the event of an international emergency, university education would continue, and, if so, on what basis.” One can imagine conversations between Darbishire, Lewis, and other English Fellows in Oxford that addressed this topic during a time when war seemed imminent. That the possibility of war had been on everyone’s mind for quite some time, including Lewis’s, is clear from many sources, one of them a letter published by E. L. Mascall in Theology in January 1939, to which Lewis responded in May 1939.
In “The Christian and the Next War,” Mascall set forth six conditions for a just war. In his response, “The Conditions for a Just War,” Lewis argued that determining the justice of war was a complex issue best reserved for government officials who knew the full international political story. Then war broke out on September 1, 1939 with Germany’s invasion of Poland. England declared war on Germany on September 3, and the question of learning in war-time became prominent.
Since the fall term, Michaelmas, began in October, this sermon was delivered by Lewis, a veteran of World War One, quite early in the term. The wartime BBC broadcasts that would eventually become Mere Christianity were still a couple of years away. Lewis preached the sermon “Learning in War-Time” at St. Mary the Virgin Church, Oxford, on Sunday, October 22, 1939. “Learning in War-Time” presented Lewis’s defense of traditional humanistic learning at a time when many thought that educational pursuits were unnecessary in the light of the war, or worse, irresponsible. The sermon attempted to answer the question, “What is the use of beginning a task which we have so little chance of finishing?” When the world is advancing to heaven or hell, when the liberties of Europe hang in the balance, Lewis wrote, how can students and faculty spend time on what seem to be trivialities in comparison?
The larger issue is not learning in war-time, but learning at any time, especially when our eternal destiny is at stake. The title of the sermon suggests us its basic thesis: we should not stop learning during war-time. Lewis states that if mankind had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until all of life was secure for everyone, the search would never have begun. There has never been a time when there were no crises, alarms, difficulties, and emergencies. And, after all, learning is part of our nature. In fact, no one can live a life exclusively devoted to war or, on the assumption that the spiritual life is most important, to religious activities. Even the person fully engaged in war is doing many things characteristic of normal life. Furthermore, to surrender oneself fully to a single cause, even one’s country in the time of war, is to remove that person from God.
The problem with war is that it aggravates the human situation, which is that we were not made for this world, but for eternity, and one day we will leave this world for our real destination. But that is good, and it explains why a time of war causes many people to think more seriously about their spiritual lives. The larger number of people in American churches after 9/11, though temporary, is one example.
In fact, the Scriptures do not ask a person to set aside normal activities. Instead, they invite the Christian to engage in normal activities and offer them to God. Lewis cites 1 Cor. 10:31 as the solution to this problem: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Any natural activity, if offered to God, is accepted by God; all activities, if not offered to God, will be sinful. He could have cited Rom. 14:23b, “Everything that does not come from faith is sin.” No natural activity is intrinsically meritorious. That includes learning. Learning is one of those normal and natural activities that can be offered to God. Whether he knew it or not, Lewis was reflecting Luther’s theology of vocation with the words, “The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly ‘as to the Lord’” and even more so with his emphasis on each person having his own vocation, or calling.
Lewis goes on to suggest those factors that serve as a tolerable index of one’s vocation: one’s upbringing, one’s talents, and one’s circumstances. Having been sent to Oxford by one’s parents and having a country that allows one to remain there during war-time are among the circumstances that suggest that the learned life is the best life we can lead to the glory of God. That learned life will also at times be necessary to address mistaken ideas in our culture. “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” And Lewis says something similar about the study of history, which can show us what basic assumptions of our day are unique to our time period and ought not to be taken for granted.
Finally, Lewis offers three mental exercises that may help the scholar against the current predicament of the war. He offers self-control in place of excitement, faith in place of frustration, and sobriety in place of fear. Favorable conditions will never come, and the scholar must learn to seek knowledge under unfavorable conditions. That is self-control. No one has time to finish the tasks of life, so the scholar must in faith entrust the future to God. No one will escape death, so the scholar must accept the human condition soberly and yet humbly offer the life of learning to God.
In short, yes, we can and should learn in war-time.
Since 1998, Rev. Dr. Joel D. Heck has served Concordia University at Austin as Professor of Theology. He teaches courses in Old Testament, New Testament, Reformation history, and the life and writings of C. S. Lewis.
– Pauline Adams. Somerville for Women: An Oxford College 1879–1993. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996, 193.
– Walter Hooper, ed. God in the Dock, 325. Mascall responded to Lewis in June 1939.
– Originally titled “None Other Gods: Culture in War Time,” the sermon was reprinted for the Student Christian Movement as “Christian in Danger” and then finally as “Learning in War-Time,” when it was reprinted with other collections of essays.
C.S Lewis and Three Wars: 1941—Dr. Joel Heck
The Second World War had begun in 1939, and the world was turned upside down. As normally happens during a war, people began to think more frequently about ultimate issues, life and death, good and evil, suffering and eternity, and the nature of reality. C. S. Lewis was not immune to such thinking, and during 1941 he addressed some of those ultimate issues in his writings. The Second World War began a year before the publication of The Problem of Pain (1940) and three years before the publication of The Screwtape Letters (1942). Justin Phillips commented, “But what is transparent is the parallel of Lewis writing his most convincing books dealing with evil, pain and the devil and all his works at the moment in the war when Britain was taking its biggest battering and was most at risk of enemy invasion.”
Lewis did not cease to be an English Fellow, and, as he had advised in his essay “Learning in War-Time,” he continued his academic pursuits in the area of his discipline. Like all of the war years, Lewis published a significant number of pieces this year, including two books and seven essays, in part, because the number of students dwindled, especially during the later part of the war. The papers or talks that Lewis gave which were most directly related to the Second World War were “The Weight of Glory,” “Evil and God,” and the first series of BBC talks which later became part of Mere Christianity. But Lewis waged two other wars at the same time, one within the larger circle of the Christian faith and one within the circle of his academic discipline of English.
Since some were advocating another political party through letters to The Guardian, Lewis wrote his brief essay, “Meditation on the Third Commandment,” for the January 10, 1941 issue of The Guardian. Some wanted a Christian political party, but Lewis cited Jacques Maritain’s Scholasticism and Politics (translated in 1940) against this idea because of two problems. First, Christians were not united on the means to accomplish various ends, some seeing democracy as a monster, others as the only hope, and still others seeing the need for revolution. Such a party could not speak for Christianity, but only for a part of Christianity. Then, by calling itself the Christian Party, it would claim to represent all Christians. The second problem was that a Christian Party would be tempted to justify whatever it wanted to do, utilizing its theology to justify even treachery and murder. Far better, Lewis argued, for Christians to influence politics by writing letters to Members of Parliament, and, best of all, by witnessing to their neighbors. The timing both of the letter and of Lewis’s article and the mention of both Fascists and Communists in the article suggests that the war heightened the issue in the minds of many Christians and resulted in this exchange of letters and article in The Guardian.
Lewis’s article for the Feb. 7, 1941 issue of The Spectator, “Evil and God,” carried the same title as that of Dr. C. E. M. Joad, whose article had appeared the previous week on January 31, 1941. In the face of the evil of Nazi genocide, the reality of evil, previously underestimated by Joad, came to the forefront of British life. In his article, Lewis anticipated some of the arguments that he would deliver over the BBC and that would later appear in Mere Christianity, such as the attraction of monotheism or dualism above creeds and the emergent evolution of Henri Bergson, both of which Joad had rejected in his article. Evil is parasitic, a corruption of the good and therefore not on the same level as good. Therefore, dualism should be rejected also. Although a rationalist and a socialist who once rejoiced that clergymen would be extinct by 1960, Joad himself later returned to the Christianity of his youth. That happened in part due to the influence of Lewis, including this exchange of articles in The Spectator.
Lewis carried on his own war against Freudianism in his March 29, 1941 essay in Time and Tide, “Bulverism,” or “The Foundation of 20th Century Thought.” With an allusion to “looking at,” which he later articulated more fully in his essay, “Meditation in a Toolshed,” Lewis challenged the perception of the Freudians, who “discovered” that people were bundles of complexes; the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach who “discovered” that religion was mere subjective feeling; and Karl Marx, who “discovered” that people were simply members of an economic class. Each of these three thinkers rejected the existence of God without offering any evidence for their position. These are the ones who “have had it all their own way,” as Lewis later wrote. They made these discoveries, including the assumption that they knew the real story behind the story, without refuting the systems of thought they challenged. From these discoveries, they proceeded to explain the errors of Christianity without demonstrating logically and rationally the alleged errors of Christianity. Bulverism, named after an imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, is the name Lewis gave to this system of thought that assumed, without proof, the error of another position. Lewis argued that before you can explain someone else’s errors, you must show that he is wrong. Bulverists don’t do this.
On Friday, May 2, the first Screwtape letter appeared in The Guardian. For thirty-one consecutive weeks one letter would appear every Friday through November 28. That these letters, imaginatively portrayed as letters of advice on the art of temptation from a senior devil to a junior devil, appeared during the war is no accident. One is tempted to say that the battles being fought on the Continent between the Allied powers and the Axis powers brought to the minds of many people another battle, a spiritual battle, that was daily being fought in the minds and hearts of every human being.
The university church, St. Mary the Virgin, where Lewis spoke on at least two occasions, held a weekly Sunday evening service. Lewis delivered his famous talk, “The Weight of Glory,” at St. Mary on Sunday evening, June 8, 1941, at a time when the Second World War was in full swing. In that talk, he held up the infinite worth of the individual human soul and our responsibility to care for it and to witness to it. Beauty turns out to be a pointer to something not yet experienced, an expression of a desire for heaven. There are no ordinary people. Since heaven is the ultimate goal, we need to recognize that every moment of every day, we are helping people toward that goal or away from it.
“The Weight of Glory” was delivered less than a month after the end of the London Blitz. During World War Two, the London Blitz of 1940-1941 was Germany’s attempt to bring England to its knees. In July 1940, Hitler had given Hermann Goering the task of destroying British air power before invading Britain. In August the Battle of Britain began, and on September 7 German bombers struck London. The Blitz struck London for fifty-seven consecutive days and then off and on until May 10 and 11, 1941, the worst part of the Blitz, just a few days after Lewis had his microphone test in preparation for his first series of BBC broadcasts. Beginning in April, Lewis had begun to lecture on weekends for the RAF, giving theological talks to pilots on a lay level, a practice which continued through July 1945. These pilots were crucial to the defense of the British Isles, and Lewis helped maintain their morale.
Lewis began his BBC radio talks on August 6. Lewis had been invited by Rev. James Welch, Director of Religious Broadcasting for the BBC. Welch had been so impressed by Lewis’s book The Problem of Pain that he concluded that Lewis was the clear voice he had been seeking to champion Christianity. Welch wrote to Lewis on Feb. 7, 1941 to ask him to consider a series of radio talks on the BBC. Lewis agreed and gave five talks under the title “Right and Wrong: A Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” The second series “What Christians Believe” was arranged in 1941 and given in the following year. These two series were published together under the title Broadcast Talks and later as the first half of Mere Christianity.
In the fall of 1941, Lewis’s essay “Religion: Reality or Substitute?” again took aim at Freud’s theories. Lewis admitted that the psychologists appeared at first glance to have a good case. But a closer look at realities and substitutes suggested that it was often difficult to tell the difference between the reality and the substitute. His own experience as a boy with the gramophone, in comparison to a live orchestra, taught him that musical miseducation could lead one, as it did him, to think the reality to be a substitute and the substitute to be a reality. A father could just as easily be a substitute for God, who is the reality, instead of Freud’s view that God is a substitute for a father figure. One must learn from one of three sources—authority, reason, or experience—and link that source to faith.
On Dec. 1, 2, and 3, 1941, Lewis gave the Ballard Matthews lectures at the University College of North Wales in Bangor, Wales (now Bangor University). If World War Two was the first war going on at this time and theology was the playing field for the second war, this was Lewis’s third war, the one that was taking place in the field of English literature. These lectures were later published as A Preface to “Paradise Lost.” Lewis had been lecturing on Milton for some time, so this series of lectures in Wales was a revision of those Oxford lectures.
In these lectures, Lewis challenged the notions that Satan was the hero of Paradise Lost (as Blake and Shelley held), that Adam and Eve were naïve in Eden, and that Paradise Lost was a monument to dead ideas (as Sir Walter Raleigh thought). In addition, Lewis further responded to I. A. Richards. Richards taught that literature produced “a wholesome equilibrium of our psychological attitudes,” and Lewis agreed, and Richards regarded literature that drew out stock responses as bad literature, but Lewis disagreed. Lewis said that certain stock responses were “the first necessities of human life,” coming from “a delicate balance of trained habits, laboriously acquired and easily lost.” Those stock responses are a part of the education that young people need, because they develop trained emotions, virtue, and morality, something that Lewis especially encouraged in The Abolition of Man. In The Abolition of Man Lewis later defended the value of classical literature and philosophy, thereby supporting traditional ideas of the Beautiful, the Good, and the True (all characteristics of the Tao) and opposing the errors of Richards and others that would lead to men without chests and, indeed, to the end of man as we know him.
In A Preface, Lewis also expressed his dissatisfaction with the quest for the historical Jesus, which created a Jesus completely different from that of the Gospels. In addition to agreeing with parts of the writings of Richards, Lewis also wrote affirmatively of David G. James (1905-1968). James agreed with Richards, that poetry produced a wholesome equilibrium of our attitudes, and offered his own idea that poetry produced a secondary imagination, which gives us a view of the world.
One of Lewis’s chief objections to the interpretation of Paradise Lost came in Prof. Denis Saurat, who had suggested that it was necessary to disentangle Milton’s thought from “theological rubbish.” You wouldn’t have John Milton, claimed Lewis, if you removed his theology from his poetry. Saurat was apparently unhappy with the profound Christian theology that appears in Paradise Lost, as also was Dr. F. R. Leavis, whom Lewis mentioned later in the book. Lewis and Leavis differed on the nature of man, Lewis wrote, rather than the properties of Milton’s poetry. Lewis also mentioned Henry More six times in this book for his belief that the writings of the Pagans contained a good deal of truth and that aerial spirits or daemons, which appeared in Paradise Lost, existed. More, a seventeenth-century Cambridge Platonist, was the philosopher about whom Lewis had at one point entertained the possibility of writing a doctoral dissertation.
In A Preface, Lewis also gave a passing reference to several authors. First, he wrote favorably about Charles Williams’s Introduction to the 1940 work, The English Poems of John Milton, which helped readers to understand Milton’s Messiah. Williams wrote that we should see the Messiah in Milton’s work as a cosmic Son rather than the incarnate Lord. Secondly, he mentioned James Joyce’s novel Ulysses for its popularity based on its disorganized stream-of-consciousness technique, stating that Milton must not be criticized for failing to write in Joyce’s manner. In Chapter II, he also disagreed with Eliot’s position that only poets can judge poetry. Thirdly, he mentioned T. S. Eliot’s dislike of epic poetry, stating that Eliot must not conclude that all poetry should have the qualities that Eliot’s has. Finally, Lewis mentioned Mr. Brian Hone (1907-1978), a Rhodes Scholar of New College, Oxford (1932) approvingly for his comment about needing notes for reading Milton much like Milton would need notes if he read a modern book. Hone, later a teacher and schoolmaster, had been tutored in English by Lewis.
Lewis’s short essay, “Edmund Spenser,” later retitled “On Reading The Faerie Queene,” first appeared in Fifteen Poets from Oxford University Press (1941). In it, he discussed the young reader of The Faerie Queene (Lewis first read Spenser as a young reader), the mature reader, and the ideal reader. Spenser was the last of the medieval poets, even though The Faerie Queene was not really medieval, and the first of the romantic medievalists. His hope was to encourage the modern reader to read Spenser, even though it differed greatly from the usual reading fare. By encouraging the reading of Spenser Lewis was helping to rehabilitate the attitude of the Middle Ages with its old school values, including chivalry, the love of God, courage, honor, and hospitality.
The year 1941 was the second most prolific year in Lewis’s life up to this point in his career. Little did he know that in future years he would surpass this total of nine publications in one year twelve times and match it twice. While World War Two would end in 1945, the wars being fought about the Christian faith and various aspects of the academic discipline of English would continue to the end of Lewis’s life.
Appendix I: Lewis Publications: 1941 (nine published pieces in approximate chronological order)
“Meditation on the Third Commandment” from The Guardian on January 10, 1941 (Christian Reunion and Other Essays, 15; also God in the Dock)
“Evil and God” in The Spectator, Vol. CLXVI, on February 7, 1941 (Christian Reunion and Other Essays, 15; also God in the Dock)
“‘Bulverism’” (as “Notes on the Way”) in Time and Tide, Vol. XXII, on March 29, 1941 (God in the Dock, 16)
“Psychoanalysis and Literary Criticism” was published in Essays and Studies, Vol. XXVII (1941, probably June; originally delivered on Jan. 28, 1940 to the English Adventurers Society) (Selected Literary Essays, xix) Originally read to a literary society at Westfield College and elsewhere.
“The Weight of Glory” was preached in St. Mary the Virgin Church, Oxford, on June 8, 1941 (The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, 18)
Broadcast Talks (‘Right and Wrong: A Clue to the Meaning of the Universe’ and ‘What Christians Believe’, given on August 6, 13, 20, and 27, and Sept. 3, 1941) (Bles 1942; as The Case for Christianity, Macmillan 1943) (in Mere Christianity)
“Religion: Reality or Substitute” (Christian Reflections, xiii) appeared in World Dominion (September-October 1941)
A Preface to ‘Paradise Lost’ (“Being the Ballard Matthews Lectures Delivered at University College, North Wales, Dec. 1, 2, and 3, 1941, Revised and Enlarged”) (Oxford 1942)
“On Reading The Fairie Queene” first appeared in Fifteen Poets under the title “Edmund Spenser” (Oxford University Press, 1941) (Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, ix).
Since 1998, Rev. Dr. Joel D. Heck has served Concordia University at Austin as Professor of Theology. He teaches courses in Old Testament, New Testament, Reformation history, and the life and writings of C. S. Lewis.
SCREWTAPE LETTER V
MY DEAR WORMWOOD,
It is a little bit disappointing to expect a detailed report on your work and to receive instead such a vague rhapsody as your last letter.
You say you are "delirious with joy" because the European humans have started another of their wars. I see very well what has happened to you. You are not delirious; you are only drunk. Reading between the lines in your very unbalanced account of the patient's sleepless night, I can reconstruct your state of mind fairly accurately. For the first time in your career you have tasted that wine which is the reward of all our labours-the anguish and bewilderment of a human soul-and it has gone to your head. I can hardly blame you. I do not expect old heads on young shoulders. Did the patient respond to some of your terror-pictures of the future? Did you work in some good self-pitying glances at the happy past?-some fine thrills in the pit of his stomach, were there? You played your violin prettily did you? Well, well, it's all very natural. But do remember, Wormwood, that duty comes before pleasure. If any present self-indulgence on your part leads to the ultimate loss of the prey, you will be left eternally thirsting for that draught of which you are now so much enjoying your first sip. If, on the other hand, by steady and cool-headed application here and now you can finally secure his soul, he will then be yours forever-a brim-full living chalice of despair and horror and astonishment which you can raise to your lips as often as you please. So do not allow any temporary excitement to distract you from the real business of undermining faith and preventing the formation of virtues. Give me without fail in your next letter a full account of the patient's reactions to the war, so that we can consider whether you are likely to do more good by making him an extreme patriot or an ardent pacifist. There are all sorts of possibilities. In the meantime, I must warn you not to hope too much from a war.
Of course a war is entertaining. The immediate fear and suffering of the humans is a legitimate and pleasing refreshment for our myriads of toiling workers. But what permanent good does it do us unless we make use of it for bringing souls to Our Father Below? When I see the temporal suffering of humans who finally escape us, I feel as if I had been allowed to taste the first course of a rich banquet and then denied the rest. It is worse than not to have tasted it at all. The Enemy, true to His barbarous methods of warfare, allows us to see the short misery of His favourites only to tantalise and torment us-to mock the incessant hunger which, during this present phase of the great conflict, His blockade is admittedly imposing. Let us therefore think rather how to use, than how to enjoy, this European war. For it has certain tendencies inherent in it which are, in themselves, by no means in our favour. We may hope for a good deal of cruelty and unchastity. But, if we are not careful, we shall see thousands turning in this tribulation to the Enemy, while tens of thousands who do not go so far as that will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self. I know that the Enemy disapproves many of these causes. But that is where He is so unfair. He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew. Consider too what undesirable deaths occur in wartime. Men are killed in places where they knew they might be killed and to which they go, if they are at all of the Enemy's party, prepared. How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition! And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.
I know that Scabtree and others have seen in wars a great opportunity for attacks on faith, but I think that view was exaggerated. The Enemy's human partisans have all been plainly told by Him that suffering is an essential part of what He calls Redemption; so that a faith which is destroyed by a war or a pestilence cannot really have been worth the trouble of destroying. I am speaking now of diffused suffering over a long period such as the war will produce. Of course, at the precise moment of terror, bereavement, or physical pain, you may catch your man when his reason is temporarily suspended. But even then, if he applies to Enemy headquarters, I have found that the post is nearly always defended,
Your affectionate uncle SCREWTAPE
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