Friday, October 14, 2011

The Screwtape Letters: Original Preface

In the original publishing of his work Lewis also submitted a preface which he has dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien, the friend who originally brought him to Christianity.

This introduction serves, as the last did, to set the stage for the novel, and offer explanation. It serves as an opener, and more importantly a warning not to misenterpret his intent in writing The Screwtape Letters.

Ultimately I think C.S. Lewis uses The Screwtape Letters to explore the nature of both sin and temptation and more broadly the nature of evil, and the manners it presents itself and makes itself appealing to us, the reader.

To begin, Lewis states that there are two what he calls, "equal and opposite errors"(3) into which humans can fall concerning demons, devils, and satanic powers; first being disbelief, the second being "to feel an excessive  and unhealthy interest in them"(3).

Important points I think he then preceeds to bring up,
"Readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar...There is wishful thinking in Hell as well as on Earth"(4).

An important part that I, as a modern reader picked out came in Lewis' explanation that the letters in the book aren't necessarily in order. To be specific, he mentions the word "rationalizing":

"Number XVII appears to have been composed before rationing became serious"(4).

Though this is certainly a casual reference it hints to the reader that to rationalize will be a key theme, and it will be very important in the understanding of this novel to understand rationalizing. So here will I include some sort of explanation on it, and end on that note.

Rationalization: An Eplanation Brought to you by Changing Minds. org.



When something happens that we find difficult to accept, then we will make up a logical reason why it has happened.
The target of rationalization is usually something that we have done, such as being unkind to another person. It may also be used when something happens independent of us which causes us discomfort, such as when a friend is unkind to us.
We rationalize to ourselves. We also find it very important to rationalize to other people, even those we do not know.


A person evades paying taxes and then rationalizes it by talking about how the government wastes money (and how it is better for people to keep what they can).
A man buys a expensive car and then tells people his old car was very unreliable, very unsafe, etc.
A person fails to get good enough results to get into a chosen university and then says that they didn't want to go there anyway.
A parent punishes a child and says that it is for the child's 'own good'.
I trip and fall over in the street. I tell a passer-by that I have recently been ill.


When a person does something of which the moral super ego disapproves, then the ego seeks to defend itself by adding reasons that make the action acceptable to the super ego. Thus we are able to do something that is outside our values and get away with it without feeling too guilty.
This is related to our need to explain what happens. Our need for esteem also leads us to rationalize to others.
Rationalization happens with bullies and victims. The bully rationalizes what they have done by saying that their victim 'deserved it'.
Self-Serving Bias uses rationalization when it leads to taking more credit for success than we deserve and blame others for our failures.
Rationalization is one of Anna Freud's original defense mechanisms. "

To end on a C.S. Lewis note:

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