Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"The Screwtape Letters": 2nd Preface

I find one of the most important  aspects to consider when reading or analyzing a work is what an author has to say about it himself. It sets the mood. So, without further ado,

In his "new", or relatively old at this time, preface to his book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis determines to expound upon his book and create a preface that perhaps reflects the public's reaction to it as a whole. He not only reflects on this response is duly indicated. Questions that also may have risen he also explains and puts to rights, in a manner only Lewis is capable of, while remaining wholly honest and approachable to a wide audience.

He explains first and foremost the circumstances of his work's first being published in the Manchester Guardian, and the reaction by the general public, to this he comments,

"Reviews were either laudatory or filled with that sort of anger which tell an author that he has hit his target"(SL, pg. iv).

I find this statement not only fascinating given its affiliation with this particular work, but also as it generally relates to all authors as a general whole, and their works. Food for Thought?

Lewis then goes on to explain the sales as well as giving an amusing epithet for why readers choose to read and pick up his book.

Personally I find his explanations of matters/issues in the book most entertaining and thought provoking.

Lewis answers the most common question asked by his readers of his book- that is- if his belief in Satan, the devil, is genuine.  In his answer he not only affirms his belief in the devil, but also he rebuts a common misconception that the devil is "opposite to God and, like God, self-existent from all eternity"(pg. vii):

"There is no uncreated being except God. God has no opposite. No being could attain a 'perfect badness' opposite to the perfect goodness of God; for when you have taken away every kind of good thing (intelligence, will, memory, energy, and existence itself) there would be none of him left"(pg vii).

My personal favorite activity to do whilst reading is an attempt to glean little non-specific truths that capture aspects of life. This quote answers that, and I think, presents much Food for Thought.

To continue my important truth gleaning I will now jump to the next one I felt was very important, esp. as it concerned objective truth( one of my very personal fav. existences) and faith. On his interpretations/explanations and pretty much downright speculations on God's other creations Lewis comments,

"My religion would not be in ruins if this opinion were shown to be false"(vii).

I think this phrase verifies and stands as a firm witness/testimony to objective truth. Lewis clearly here is differentiating between his conclusion about absolute truth, his "religion" in this circumstance, which hear I must input is well reasoned and logically arrived at, and his own speculations and opinions, which he outright calls an opinion. I think this is just an indication and hint, perhaps you could call it 'forshadowing' of a theme I think he most definitely touches upon in his book, that is, reason.

To be thorough in his task Lewis touches sets up an explanation for the devils, or depictions of angels in his novel. To my amusement at least he says, concerning his angels, which reflect traditional view,

"In Scripture the visitation of an angel is always alarming; it has to begin by saying 'Fear not.' The Victorian angel looks as if it were going to say, 'There, there.' "(ix).

He also references and comments on other literary depictions of demons, as in Dante's Inferno("the best"), Milton's works("grandeur, and high poetry"), and Goethe's Faustus("pernicious image").

And important human nature, truth reflecting statement from this section, which struck me,

"The humorous, civilized, sensible, adaptable Mephistopheles has helped to strengthen the illusion that evil is liberating"(ix).

And it is a common misconception I find. That somehow throwing off all morals will free you from all worries, a sickening delusion, but a delusion that is easily corrupting, as it plays into our own selfish thoughts, desires, and its easy appeal to human kind's fallen nature.

Moving on, as much as I would love to discuss the fallen nature of man...

There is not a paragraph in this introduction that I come upon and do not find that it is a jewel. An important aspect in bettering yourself, and separating your own high self image from reality would be to look at yourself from the outside,

"For humor involves a sense of proportion and a power of seeing yourself from the outside"(ix).

Beautiful. How often our own self image and worth causes us to fall, and ultimately could be our fall. Lets venture then into consequence. More specifically lets venture into one of the last things, that is, hell. Hell, a very touchy subject among all Christians, and non-Christians, is a reality. Lewis accepts this and discusses it in           several of his works[great chapter on it in The Problem of Pain]. In this work he says,

"We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment"(ix).

Ouch. We "must" picture. Notice the imperative. C.S. Lewis isn't dictating due to his superior intelligence and arrogance. Here he dictates - he orders - to stress the utter importance of not deluding ourselves. It is a warning.

Personally, my favorite[I have lots of favorites, as self contradictory as that is : ) ] part of the chapter was his discussion of the motives of demons, which previously might be attributed to boredom. The delusion, as he points out  is "the absurd fancy that devils are engaged in the disinterested pursuit of something called Evil"(xi).

He goes on to explain this, defining several motives. One, he calls "fear of punishment". The other, "a kind of hunger"(xi).  A kind of hunger he elaborates on in full in two beautiful well crafted paragraphs that follow,

"Even in human life we have seen the passion to dominate, almost to digest, one's fellow; to make his whole intellectual and emotional life merely an extension of one's own- to hate one's hatreds and resent one's grievances and indulge one's egoism through him as well as through oneself. His own little store of passion must of course be suppressed to make room for ours. If he resists this suppression he is being very selfish"(xi).

A little part of me, perhaps not a good intended part of me, is tempted to call Lewis out on this one. Shenanigan's Lewis! How dare you judge and offer judgement, establish that this occurrence is a wrong! Suggest that the way I am living my life is completely and wholly wrong and immoral. How dare you judge my neighbor!

Just as quickly as this little part jumps at this statement, another one, perhaps connected to my reason, and more importantly, my conscience, offers the rebuttal, condemning my momentary lapse from reason. Perhaps, and lets be honest, honestly I at the core of it all I know this statement to be true. I just don't want it to be because of the implications; that is, what it would mean for the way I live my life.

This phenomenon, though perhaps a deviation from the specific topic at hand, is a major theme in this work, and really any Lewis work.

To continue along the theme is some "love" from Lewis, and we're not talking the mushy gushy lovey dovey kind. We're talking about the delusional kind, which perhaps we are all guilty of having partaken in,

In relation to the aforementioned "hunger",

"On Earth this desire is often called 'love'. In Hell I feign that they recognize it as hunger"(xi).

Delusion - illusion - not able to name a thing as it is- This is the terminology Lewis incorporates in this work. A theme he follows throughout as it were. "What is" is  what truth is. Falling away, being blinded is a major tactic of the demons portrayed in this book, and as an analogy of temptation, is a warning from Lewis to be wary of this fact.

To put it more perfectly,

"It is for this that Satan desires all his own followers and all sons of Eve and all the host of Heaven. His dream is of the day when all shall be inside of him and all that says 'I' can say it only through him"(xii).

After a brief reflection on more trivial matters, like the naming of his characters, Lewis offers one more word of warning,

"But though it was easy to twist one's mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp. The work into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst, and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness, and geniality had to be excluded. I would have smothered me before I was done. It would have smothered my readers if I had prolonged it"(xiv).

"Easy" - a word that instantly alerts me and reminds me how easy it is to stray from right, and sin.

But this also serves a warning as a reader to be wary of how easy it is to be sucked into the demon's arguments, and accept the "diabolical argument".

And that is the note I will end on. Please comment and add your thoughts, well thought out and supported by reason please. Feelings excluded. I hoped you enjoyed this, and feel free to leave any recommendations or critiques in comments( well thought out please).

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