February 21, 2020

Screwtape on the Existence of Demons


Whenever we consider the subject of demonology, it is hard to ignore the contributions of C.S. Lewis. In the modern era, few have stimulated the imagination with regard to the spiritual realm as much as the author of The Screwtape Letters. The book, dedicated to his friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien, begins with two quotes:

The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn. (Luther)

The devill . . . the prowde spirite . . . cannot endure to be mocked. (Thomas More)

This Lewis proceeds to do in masterful literary fashion. Through witty epistles, he captures the cleverness and wiles of Satan’s agents as well as their ultimate shortsightedness and folly. This series of letters and memos comes from a senior demon (Screwtape) to a younger protege, his nephew Wormwood — a “Junior Tempter” — regarding Wormwood’s assignment to damn the soul of a human being known only as “the Patient.”

A portion of one of the letters pertinent to our discussions this week deals with modern humanity’s view of the existence of spirits and the Devil. Here is Screwtape’s counsel about how to best exploit that.

My Dear Wormwood,

I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and sceptics. At least, not yet. I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, belief in us, (though not under that name) 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. But in the meantime we must obey our orders. I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.

Chapter VII


  1. Ha! Steve Martin. I’m First! I win the Clark bar!

  2. Lewis’ book has been around so long that, upon reading it (or ATTEMPTING to, at any rate) each scenario sounds so familiar. The reason being that the subjects have been preached on by countless preachers over the years and used as illustrations so that the average church goer will have some rudimentary knowledge of the book.

    That being said, to NOT read the book is to miss Lewis’ wit and wisdom. But I have to be honest here…I could not finish the book because it seemed too childish to me 30 years ago. I’m going to check my local library and give it another try.

    • I could not finish the book because it seemed too childish to me 30 years ago.

      “He who does not enter the Kingdom of Lewis like a little child shall by no means enter it.”

      Sorry, couldn’t resist. 😉

      Seriously, that is one of the things that has always made me admire CSL – he dealt with very basic elements of the faith in modern language that everyone could grasp. His works were instrumental in the (‘re)conversion of my wife some years back…

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        It is a bit of a too-slow-read at mid-life. But I have listened to it on audio several times while gazing off into the distance out the train window. It is perfect for that, and still inspires self-reflection.

    • I have most of Lewis’ books on my bookshelf. I’ve read him throughout my adult life, and found him helpful, insightful, and even profound, at times. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve actually grown more appreciative of what he had to say on many subjects. Maybe it’s a case of Bob Dylan’s, “I was so so much older then, I’m younger than that now,” but I don’t think of what Lewis has to say as childish, at least not anymore; childlike, yes, at times, but not childish.

      My problem with Lewis is that when he depicts characters in his novels and stories, in the imaginative works, he often simplifies his portrayals to the point of caricature. In doing so, he misses the complexity and nuance, and reality, of what human beings are actually like, at least in my experience.

      Now, to a certain degree, simplified characterizations are legitimate in allegory and other highly symbolic fiction, the kind that Lewis wrote, since the characters do not exist in their own right, but as vehicles to express and emphasize, and support, the author’s religious/philosophical perspective. But a point is reached in such simplification beyond which the author starts to falsify reality, human reality, rather than reflect it in simple, highlighted form; I believe Lewis frequently went beyond this point in his characterizations. The result is that his characterizations were often simplistic and untrue rather than simple and true.

      I see the same thing happening in “The Screwtape Letters”: The devils offer simplistic descriptions, caricatures, of human beings that are in fact not very different from the ones Lewis offered in his other imaginative fiction. If the devils are out of touch with the true nature of human beings, and their relationship to God, as a result of observing from an infernal perspective and bias, I’m afraid that Lewis is similarly out of touch. If I’m correct, then this introduces a note of falseness to the entire book.

      When I realized at some point in my reading of him that Lewis did this regularly in his fiction, it made me wonder if, in his straightforward apologetic work, he also did the same thing, by caricaturing the arguments of those with whom he disagreed. Then I began to see exactly this criticism of Lewis in secondary works about him. I still think he has moments of profundity and insight, but I’m wary of seeing him as a guide through the thickets and difficulties of subjects like the one dealt with in “Screwtape.”

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > in his straightforward apologetic work, he also did the same thing, by
        > caricaturing the arguments of those with whom he disagreed

        THIS. I have always, even at 16, found his directly apologetic works to be wanting, severely. He always dismisses those with a counter-premise much too much ease, and often a kind of snickering derision.

        Notably in his biographies this is lacking; most appear to have liked him personally, and noted on his respectfulness. So I wonder if this is partially a style/cultural issue. Still, it detracts immensely from the value of this apologetic works; at least for me.

        I’ve also found his apologetic works to be the least impressive. Mere Christianity is garbage. It greatly increased my esteem for the man when I discovered that in later life we also found his own work [Mere Christianity] to be disappointing and lacking. That was the first apologetic book I ever read, it was given to me as a gift, and it did not move me an inch. Upon rereading it after crossing into the fold I found it equally as unmoving/uninspiring.

        As for lack of nuance in his fiction – yes, although most of this characters are children, and they are not creatures of immense depth.

        • “As for lack of nuance in his fiction – yes, although most of this characters are children, and they are not creatures of immense depth.”

          Keep in mind that Lewis, himself, stated that he gave up doing apologetics to specifically write for children, hence his childlike arguments and simple characters. This is why I just couldn’t get into the whole “Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe” series, even though friends raved about the series.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            >Lewis, himself, stated that he gave up doing apologetics to specifically write for children

            Yep, and other clue that he was someone with an impressive level of self-awareness.

            > I just couldn’t get into the whole “Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe” series

            It is great as a kid. I agree that it does not weather into adulthood very well. Tolkien’s criticisms of the series are apt – it is too obvious and some of the mythological mash-ups are jarring, they take one out of the story. I remember reading TLW&W the first time; and being irritated by the appearance of Santa Clause; long before I even knew who Tolkien was. It is a bit funny I suppose that talking Beavers was OK, but Santa in a sleigh felt wonky. Still…

            And, of course, you knew that Aslan was not going to stay dead.

        • “THIS. I have always, even at 16, found his directly apologetic works to be wanting, severely.”

          Alas, yes. At about 17, I passed through my first period of intense doubt and theological exploration, with the attendant anxieties that (for me) usually attend the process.

          So I went flying to Lewis – because to most everyone I knew, he was this terribly convincing, clever, devastating apologist. It was rather deflating. “Wait, THIS is the argument that is supposed to fix everything? I’m doomed. I’m so doomed!”

          Of course, the problem is that by the time I read him, Lewis had grown into a Giant and I expected too much. Now, a few more crises later, and as an adult, I treat him more like a conversational partner. As it turns out, he’s pretty good companion, the sort of person (or book) you take with you on walks in the country.

          As for the fiction, it’s fun. I actually read Narnia as a teenager, after I read Tolkien’s epic. I was so profoundly moved by Tolkien, there was no way poor Lewis could measure up. There never was a Lewis character who could compete with Tolkien’s towering figures, or – for that matter – with Samwise Gamgee.

          • To be fair, when I say Lewis’ “fiction,” I really mean the Narnia books.

            I haven’t read the sci fi books (a big oversight). “Til We Have Faces” is another creature altogether.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says

            But even “Till We Have Faces” lose the plot – it is very good over the first 50% or so, and then the effort to bring in some apologetic destroys the momentum. I like the Planetary trilogy, but even there the some problem persists – Lewis was really bad at finishing books.

            But there is too much caricaturing going on, definitely.

          • I don’t really know how to assess “Til We Have Faces.” Its far more evocative and subtle and psychologically astute, than I was expecting. I like the narrator. In later chapters, it did seem to wander a little bit, and than conclude suddenly; but I’ve never been sure if that impression by me was fair. I always feel like I may have missed something, and ought to read it a second time.

          • No, Narnia isn’t in the same league as LotR at all, but even with all its many problems, i am really fond of it (though much less so as the years go by). I do think a lot of the ideas Lewis had were better than his execution of them, and have certainly found this to be true in what I’ve read of his nonfiction, which is (i think) fairly hard to swallow.

            I think it is important to keep in mind that his life and work were really dedicated to medieval literature, and that the books he is most known for were a sideline. Also, that world (his college, and the university as a whole) was fairly circumscribed. I just don’t see him as someone wuo got out much (so to speak).

          • Hmm, Oxford. All those wonderful walled colleges and pubs. Personally, I’d stay put!

          • Danielle – Agreed on Oxford, but again, I think he lived the life of a male academic at a prestigious Oxford college, and wasn’t much up on either kids, people from other walks of life and/or women (since the vast majority of Oxford colleges didn’t admit women until relatively recently).

            I, too, like Til We Have Faces, or the 1st half, at least, up until Orual visits her sister, and then sees the light and hears what she hears (no spoilers for those who haven’t read it). It’s almost like he was another person entirely by the time he wrote it – and his writing of a female protagonist in the 1st person is remarkably effective. (Especially given the hash that is That Hideous Strength, on relationships between men and women and other topics as well.)

          • I still like to re-read Narnia once a year or so. I find it to be fun and nostalgic in a similar way as going to Disney World was. I look forward to reading them with my kids. The movies, I was significantly less fond of.

            The Space Trilogy is very neat, especially the final book. It’s a shame to miss those. The first time I read them (around 6th grade or so), I didn’t like them, but as an adult, I find them so very enjoyable, and I really like some of the theological ideas that the stories float (again, especially the last book).

            Till we Have Faces… now that’s a strange book. I’ve only read it once and just didn’t know what to do with it. It’s very jarring in some ways. At this year’s Mere Anglicanism conference, the topic was the Inklings, and the plenary speaker did a good two sessions on Till we Have Faces. It made me want to read it again.

            As for Mere Christianity, I’m currently in the middle of re-reading it. It’s certainly not deep, but I really like it. It’s not so much as I find it to be full of compelling arguments, as much as I find it theologically comfortable, like a soft old blanket on the recliner in the wee hours of the morning.

        • I think it helps to remember that Mere Christianity was originally a series of radio broadcasts. It’s style and approach owe a lot to that rather than to Lewis’s literary instincts.

          • CM – sure, though I think his handling of the content would have been far more nuanced had he done those broadcasts 20 years later.

        • I think his characterization of the kids in the Narnia series is too pat. Real kids have a surprising amount of depth, albeit in a different way than adults.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > that the subjects have been preached on by countless preachers

      Yes, but VERY rarely as well done.

      There is an affection and humor in C. S. Lewis’ writings. Rarely is that same present in the preaching of the moralist.

      Beyond the daemon angle I believe the letters address the common day-to-day follies and failings of normal human beings better than just about anything else I have read.

  3. Christiane says

    now I can grasp the spirit of Halloween better, having read:
    “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” (Luther)
    “The devill . . . the prowde spirite . . . cannot endure to be mocked.” (Thomas More)

    all those childish costumes . . . the little ones in bright red ‘devil’ suits . . . ghouls and ghosties . . . and it’s fun! The children are delighted and delightful and everyone enjoys the evening . . .
    in tradition, at the stroke of ‘mid-nite’ all the baddies are banished and the good saints commence to celebrate their special day . . . without a demon in sight!

    maybe those little children in devil costumes really do understand more of theology than we realize
    . . . who knew ?

    • Yes me too. You put it in good words. I never thought too much about Halloween it was just a time to get candy and later try and soap the windows of the car the man put a light into and watched so no one would. Which we somehow always manage to do. Maybe that was part of his fun.
      I have come to believe these things of darkness loose all their power when revealed in light and we see them for exactly what they are. Amazing to me is that in my on life it was a while before I could see all those things revealed to me and still at times I struggle with romanticizing things I know exactly what they are. For example I can’t drink and I know it because it is no good for me. It’s not that I seek to do harm or sin by it. I just don’t stop and my thoughts have always been why drink if you don’t want to get drunk. So I don’t drink but my mind will at times say boy you had fun when ……Remember how hard you laughed……… remember that was fun….. These things always happen when I feel at my worst. It is then I need the light turned on again….really bright. He really does leave the porch light on you know.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      “The devill . . . the prowde spirite . . . cannot endure to be mocked.”

      While these meme has a lot of history, from C.S. Lewis to the Sheela na gig [at least by some interpretations] it is not a statement I have ever been able to take seriously. And I find little if any support for the notion in Scripture.

      If a proud man mocks a devil I am certain it is the devil who laughs last.

      It can turn Blake’s:
      Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;
      Mock on, mock on; ’tis all in vain!
      You throw the sand against the wind,
      And the wind blows it back again.

      – the same is true for evil as it is for good.

      • I wouldn’t go so far as mocking myself at least not at this age. I just understand the Halloween thing a little better. I’m not sure how to mock the devil anyways. I prefer go away. Little children running around having fun and getting blessed with treats by neighbors seems like it might be a start but I am not sure and will likely not give it to much thought.

        • Well, here’s Luther’s bold counsel for how to mock the devil:

          “Whenever the devil harasses you thus, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, aye, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try to conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you, “Do not drink,” answer him: “I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.” One must always do what Satan forbids. What other cause do you think that I have for drinking so much strong drink, talking so freely and making merry so often, except that I wish to mock and harass the devil who is wont to mock and harass me. Would that I could contrive some great sin to spite the devil, that he might understand that I would not even then acknowledge it and that I was conscious of no sin whatever. We must put the whole law entirely out of our eyes and hearts, — we, I say, whom the devil thus assails and torments. Whenever the devil charges us with our sins and pronounces us guilty of death and hell, we ought to say to him: I admit that I deserve death and hell; what, then, will happen to me? Why, you will be eternally damned! By no means; for I know One who has suffered and made satisfaction for me. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where He abides, there will I also abide.”

          • I don’t get it. The devil never tells me not to drink. God has told me not to drink as it is no good for me. I would never forbid someone else the pleasure though as they are not me. The last part I could go along with though. Luther really said this. No for my own health I will stay away from mocking. Something in Jude keeps me from doing this I think. I have no need to indulge the devil in anything or in any kind of conversation. What works for me is go away. That’s it. I don’t know Luther that well and know he did some things that weren’t that great but I doubt him able to have sympathy for what happens in me judging from that.

          • w, I think we mock the devil when we love God, and our neighbor.

          • If you look up info on the anguish and torment Luther experienced trying to be “perfect” as a monk you will understand this quote better in light of it. I think this is just a long way of emphasizing that we are saved by faith, not works, and that there’s only one accuser, and it’s certainly not God in light of Christs work on the cross. w, hope you continue to comment here as you are always a breath of fresh air. But I also understand the anxiety that comes from reading blogs. Peace : )

          • I love Martin Luther, but I can’t help but chafe at the “even sin a little,” “would that I could contrive some great sin” portions. I suspect it’s similar, though, to “sin boldly,” etc., which I’ve been able to swallow by understanding it from the context to mean “do not dissemble and trying to hide your sins in a feigned perfection, but rather be public with them.”

            How is this stuff rightly understood? From Luther and the Lutherans I’ve heard such wonderful, free things (rather, from God through them) which five years ago I would have tried to suffocate under a million qualifications… what is there that I’m missing about an apparent counsel to do something ungodly in order to avoid doing something else ungodly like despairing? Is it a matter of choosing the lesser evil–Something momentary and frivolous over something that lingers and poisons the mind?

          • ” Is it a matter of choosing the lesser evil–Something momentary and frivolous over something that lingers and poisons the mind?”

            It sounds like Luther, in his own way, is conveying the Truth of Romans 8:35-39. The greatest evil and lie in the universe is that anything can separate us from the Love of God, which seems to be the accusers mission. Certainly this is the biggest lie in the universe and greatest threat to our survival.

  4. That’s the book that made me consciously choose Christianity at 16. When presented with two such clear sides, I knew which one I wanted to be on.

  5. Klasie Kraalogies says

    Ah well. There was a discussion devil and hell and things some months ago over at Jesus Creed. It is helpful to read Scripture not as a whole, but within chronological context, each author set within his own socio-cultural milieu. When viewed thus, a considerable development regarding “the dark side” is obvious – the New Testament draws much from the general cultural context set by Greek mythology, while the earlier writings reflect an earlier, almost more pantheistic concept of evil lurking about. Hell only really becomes a place after the Greeks brought Hades into the Judaic consciousness. A demonology crystallizes over many ages. One could argue that the earlier concepts has much in common with the Mesopotamian view of having to protect oneself from evil spirits everywhere, while in the new it has morphed with the Greek Hades to produce a devil ruling over servants in hell as the antithesis to God.

    More proof for this thesis can be seen in the massive difference between the Jerusalem Talmud (little mention of demons) and the Babylonian Talmud (full of references). The Kabbalah makes a lot of this too (see http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/demons.html).

    • Jeffrey Burton Russell’s books on the development of the concept of the devil in xtianity are also worth searching out.

    • You mean the Bible should be read…progressively?? Heresy!

      But but but…God never changes! Greater revealed truth!


      Good points, much applause.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      One could argue that the earlier concepts has much in common with the Mesopotamian view of having to protect oneself from evil spirits everywhere, while in the new it has morphed with the Greek Hades to produce a devil ruling over servants in hell as the antithesis to God.

      And Hades (the god, not the underworld) wasn’t so much evil as Stern and Implacable; once Thanatos and Charon took you into Hades’ realm, He Would Never Let You Go. (This is why the Christian concept of Resurrection and Revelation’s imagery of “Death and Hell” (Thanatos and Hades) being destroyed on the Last Day had such impact. Not only would you and those you knew be taken out of Hades’ realm, but Death himself would die as the Last Enemy.)

      In a lot of contemporary B-movies based on Greek mythology, they usually show Hades as a Medieval Satan with a different name and his Underworld Realm as a Medieval Christian Hell, flames and all. I’d like to see someone try the original, where Hades is stern but not cackling evil, his realm is that of shadows and phantoms, and the dead under his authority are incorporeal shades/ghosts floating around in a fog, slowly fading as their names and deeds are forgotten.

  6. I can’t help but laugh, and I certainly may be wrong about this, but there seems to be an anti-Lewis pile on taking place, and I wonder if it has more to do with the fact that so many Evangelicals like him, rather than a real criticism of Lewis.

    The comments that seem to indicate a “I am so above the writing of Lewis” is just a little funny considering his impact, standing as an Oxford scholar, etc…

    I am not saying people cannot find fault with some aspects, but the tone is beyond that.

    • Asinus Spinas Masticans says

      Lewis’ better characters; Shasta, Aravis, and Bree in The Horse and His Boy, Orual, Psyche and even Redival in Till We Have Faces, Mark and Jane in That Hideous Strength, hold up pretty well to Tolkien’s. The only character in The Lord of the Rings who is not a caricature is Eowyn, but Tolkien’s best character, by a factor of ten, is the tragic Túrin Turambar, whose expanded story I finally got to read last year.

      If you think Lewis and Tolkien are wooden, you should try Charles Williams. The man cannot write dialogue to save his life, and the one attempt at writing an American character, in Many Dimensions, is an unmitigated disaster. Nevertheless, he does have one arrow in his quiver. His villains are flat and tedious, as they should be, whereas his good characters are many faceted snd dynamic. He excels at showing how human goodness, when consciously chosen over evil, is a growing and developing thin, never static. In The Greater Trumps, Sybil ventured out into the occult snowstorm to seek out her brother Lothair, and when she finds him walking aimlessly through the blizzard, she takes his arm and guides him back to safety by imploring his protection and guidance, as if she were the one lost and wandering.

      I read a lot of fantasy literature, maybe even more than Unicorn. George RR Martin’s characters are much subtler and more nuanced than any either Lewis or Tolkien ever created, but somehow I think people will be remembering Samwise Gamgee and Aragorn Telcontar long after Tyrion the Imp and Jaime Lannister the Kingslayer have faded from their fifteen minutes of fame. I guess I would prefer “nuanced” characters if I were a true modern and considered it a privilege to live in our morally rudderless and ambiguous times, rather seeing all of that as a tax you have to pay for having flush toilets, central heat, and IPads. My guess is that with all that “nuance” you end up moving past the irony of Vonnegut and David Foster Wallace to the idioglossy of Don DeLillo, who seems to be touting autism as the next stage of human development.

      Heroic fantasy, like that of Tolkien or Lewis, needs actual heroism, just as dark fantasy needs actual darkness. It is enhanced, not diminished, by broad strokes and archetypal rather than complex characters.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        If you think Lewis and Tolkien are wooden, you should try Charles Williams. The man cannot write dialogue to save his life.

        Neither could H.P.Lovecraft. And he realized this; if you read Lovecraft, you will notice he writes with very little dialogue. Most of his horror is in the form of first-person introspective mood pieces, building the horror with description, atmosphere, and mood. Hmmm… HPL was of old New England stock; could he have been using the Puritan tradition of Morbid Introspection?

        My guess is that with all that “nuance” you end up moving past the irony of Vonnegut and David Foster Wallace to the idioglossy of Don DeLillo, who seems to be touting autism as the next stage of human development.

        I have NO idea who Don DeLillo is, but that sure doesn’t sound like an endorsement.

        My gut feeling is you’re talking about “Over-Nuancing”, like what made a certain Senator J.F.Kerry into a cartoon of himself. This is the other extreme from over-simplified pulp Alignments.

        I’ve long thought about something I called “Genre-plus”; taking genre literature and adding something beyond it; maybe a more complex character, or actual historical backgrounds, and going into some detail to both differentiate it from the herd and raise it to something different and more “literary” without going lit-fag. (My original example for this was that Alec Baldwin movie of The Shadow, which did mix some good characterization and historical atmosphere with the established Thirties Pulp Crimefighter in NYC milieu.)

        The first MLP:FIM fanfic I assisted on was like that, crossing Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John with My Little Pony (presenting the latter as a serious fantasy world as well as a Place of Wonder) with a result that while canonical to both sources was described by my other writing partner as “literature”.

        Heroic fantasy, like that of Tolkien or Lewis, needs actual heroism, just as dark fantasy needs actual darkness. It is enhanced, not diminished, by broad strokes and archetypal rather than complex characters.

        Because Heroic Fantasy is larger than life; it requires larger-than-life villains and larger-than-life heroes. (And this is where a lot of Christianese fiction falls short.) Not very character-driven (like its lowbrow brother, Pulp Sword & Sorcery.); in OSC’s MICE Quotient it scores high on Milieu and Events and low on Character.

        Game of Thrones, however, is more akin to soap opera, a family tragedy with more emphasis on Characters. High on Milieu and Character, but more like “Characters who happen to live in a fantasy world” than “fantasy characters”. In some small-press space-opera I’ve done, I describe it more as “characters who happen to live in a space-opera universe” than Lensmen-vs-Boskone galaxy-blasting heroic space opera.

        • Faulty O-Ring says

          I’m going to write Jack Chick and ask him to do a comic about My Little Ponies. The result should not be very far from C.S. Lewis.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            He’ll have to take a number and stand in line.
            There’s already a parody tract or two out there.

      • Klasie Kraalogies says

        Turin Turambar – now there is a character! I have an audio book version of part of the Simarillion, including the story of Turin, read by Martin Shaw – absolutely the right voice for it. Spell bounding.

        But sometimes, you remember a book, or an author, for the the perfect scene that they created.

        The perfect scene of domesticity, or even the perfect foodie portion of fiction?

        Th Sandwich Maker section out of Mostly Harmless, Douglas Adams. he also wrote the most erotic, non-smutty, non-pornographic live scene ever in “Good Bye and Thanks for all the Fish”. Quite a feat for a comic science fiction writer – not that I think that label always applies, because some of his wit was sure biting. I have both of these as audio books as well, read by Martin Freeman.

      • The only character in The Lord of the Rings who is not a caricature is Eowyn, but Tolkien’s best character, by a factor of ten, is the tragic Túrin Turambar, whose expanded story I finally got to read last year.
        Agreed on Turin – but I think you’re selling LotR’s character development short. The hobbits (and Gollum, a hobbit of sorts) are fully-developed modern literary characters. Denethor is a very interesting character (unfortunately the movie ruins him). And there’s Boromir of course.

        Yes, Aragorn and Theoden and some others are somewhat one-dimensional. But LotR is largely an old-style mythic/heroic story seen through hobbit eyes. The Hobbits are the everyman, while people like Aragorn are larger-than-life heroic archetypes.

        • It’s easy to forget how mean Sam can sometimes be in the books, by the way – Sam’s abuse toward Gollum is what finally pushes him over the edge to evil. The movies (which I like!) don’t really capture his darker side.

        • (Pushes Gollum to evil, not Sam. Ah, ambiguous pronouns…)

        • Joel, I agree with your comment. From the traditionalist literary perspective, only what happens at the archetypal level really matters. This is exactly the deficiency of much literature before the advent of the modern period and the novel: It didn’t take the hobbits, or their equivalents, seriously, and was written mostly for the ruling nobles, who naturally saw themselves as counterparts of the larger than life archetypal figures.

          The New Testament itself was perhaps the first literary document in which the nobodies played central roles in an unfolding drama, and not as comic rubes and vulgarians; Jesus Christ himself was the nobody at the center of that drama. But it took a long time for the literary refocusing that the New Testament provided to work its way into the cultural sensibility of the existing literary worlds of antiquity and Christendom; this only became fully possible with the invention of the printing press, and the other democratizing communication technologies that came after it. The modern novel would not be possible without the widespread availability of the New Testament.

          Don DeLillo is perhaps the best American novelist of the last half century. His encyclopedic novel, “Underworld”, is a postmodern masterpiece, and a great literary accomplishment.

    • I think it’s a dawning realization that Lewis isn’t as great as he’s been built up to, as well as the new found freedom to admit so to ourselves and publicly. Maybe that comes across as a pile on. But we shouldn’t quench it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Because now we’re speaking of “Jack” Lewis the man, not C.S.LEWIS the Legend.

    • R David I am laughing with you seeing all those that are without doubt considered to be his equal in all the work that is being produced. Quite amazing isn’t it.

    • Oh it isn’t a pile-on. This is the first time i have ever come across other people openly saying what i have been thinking for a long time, but had never admitted to because Lewis is held in such reverence by so many evangelicals. I thin it is more of a “Me, too” reaction that’s been taking place.

      I certainly am not jeering at the man and still enjoy aspects of his writing very much. But it does seem odd that American evangelicals have so much reverence for someone who was not only very English, but very scholarly and pretty high Anglican to boot.

      • Well, this little ole’ Catholic grandma has to jump in with some kind words for Mr. Lewis….In college, when I was trying to find out WHY I should stay in the faith of my childhood, gave me the words and concepts I badly needed to understand my own developing faith. The man who could not quite make the jump across the Tiber kept me anchored there.

        Clearly, many or most of his words and ideas are no longer novel to us I-Monkers, but at that time in my life, the concept that Jesus Christ was either a grifter, a mental case, or actually God Incarnate was enough to bring me to a conscious adult faith. For this I owe him my thanks!

  7. Right now, someone, somewhere is reading this bit of the Screwtape Letters, and is preparing a sermon on why we should persist in believing in demons. Lewis suggest as much, that perhaps keeping the Patient daft about any demonic schemes, but not thinking about demons per se, might help the demonic cause.

    That leads to an interesting question: What is the utility of a belief in demons?

    In a larger philosophical and religious sense, a belief in angels or demons gives us a picture of cosmic war – of unseen realities that of which we detect little, but that foreground the human drama. Our experience may be, we think, only the tip of the iceberg. Rather like standing before and inestimably large universe, there’s something humbling and stirring in the idea.

    Stepping back from the large vista, belief in demons is has a rather narrow direct application to everyday life. If a demons are overtly manifesting themselves in human affairs (either really, or in our perceptions), doing recognizably demonlike things – say, by possessing things – then the idea of them is immediately relevant. And One needs some method of removing specific demons from specific things. Enter here exorcism, and various rituals meant to ward off bad spirits.

    If, however, Screwtape’s associates all decide to go incognito, and are in very good disguise, or merely standing “behind” human affairs, neither belief in them nor disbelief in them has much utility. The unbeliever doesn’t see where they are, because he thinks they aren’t there. The believer doesn’t see where they are, because they can’t be seen. So both the skeptic and believer are left with the same means to proceed: they have to try to recognize good and evil, and deceit. That is how one questions the Materialist Magician.

    • Well said. And thought through.

    • OldProphet says

      Danielle, your theological viewpoint would be turned upside down if you were performing a deliverance and the demon spoke to you, which has happened to me. It also had knowledge of my personal life which he used to threaten me with. I know this will put me in the heretic section of imonk but nonetheless it happened. There lots of things that we have neatly organized in a theological memory and then God scatters it all with the wind of His Spirit. Suddenly, we think, “Lord, what?”.

      • I’m a Christian skeptic, I guess, so I’ve got to ask: how did the demon speak to you? By saying things that were “unchristian”? By adopting a deep bass voice? That secret knowledge, was it like the person calling you by some secret nickname your grandma called you once that no one else knows? How well did you know the person you were delivering prior to the exorcism?

        Because I believe the Bible, I’m open to the idea of demons and demon possessions (please don’t go down those rabbit trails with any of those terms or words). But I’m genuinely curious.

        How did you know it was a demon speaking to you?

        And how do you know it was God scattering them and not the demon?

        • Asinus Spinas Masticans says

          Maybe telling you things about yourself and your family no living human could possibly know.

          I haven’t experienced that, but I have read of it. It would be persuasive.

          • To be fair, I ask the same questions of ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’ who try to cold read and prophesy into people’s lives. I’ve never seen someone have real knowledge of someone else and startle them unless the mark was already looking for something to occur.

          • Asinus Spinas Masticans says

            Not talking about cold-reading. I’m talking about telling you where the bodies are buried and where the bonds have been stashed.

        • OldProphet says

          Sure Stuart. I was with a team. It was a women brought by a friend. It was also in New Zealand. It took over 4 hours It spoke to me through her regular voice. It threatened me by saying that if I did not stop that it would make sure that my 4 kids would be killed back home, which was true. Never had been to New Zealand, didn’t know any one there, no one on my team had talked to her I then, and now, live in the US

      • Old Prophet, I’m not ruling out the possibility of demons or demonic activity. Since I am willing to go so far as imaging a cosmic vista in which such beings exist, I must admit at least a remote possibility of finding a demon engaged in a demonlike activity within immediate experience.

        Further, I admit readily that the idea of demons becomes relevant when there are (or appear to be) demons, which are engaged in demonlike activities. If I shared your experience and interpretation of it, my theology – or to be more precise, what bits of it I spend time thinking about – would change.

        The question that Lewis presents is interesting: What if, in skeptical communities, manifestations of demons disappear, because Wormwood has found it more useful to operate incognito? If people don’t believe Wormwood exists, or don’t think about him very much or very seriously, does Wormwood gain an advantage? I don’t see how he does. It is not as though I can “see behind” temporal events manipulated by outside forces. I can only respond to the “front end” of the operation.

        • OldProphet says

          Danielle, you actually are right. I’m not a demon hunter. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any deliverance ministry, or at least the dramatic stuff. We don’t need to do Demonology 101 but…… It has been my experience that demons and their ilk don’t want exposure and don’t want confrontation. Besides, with so much open sin, rebellion against authority, and all manner of ungodlyness in today’s society, the Devils agenda getting done by us. The Devil is a liar. Leaders, politicians, public figures,? Think about all the things that you would consider moral, ethical, and godly. Now check out the internet. Point made?

          • OP one has to wonder where these things have originated from. Yes many things are done by us. I wonder what the young men I see in the world I work in are driven by. How they slip off to the strip clubs or watch movies or think being tough is doing the things that are well just plain nasty. The person addicted to porn so much his wife walks out on him. We see the effects of all kinds of things and then say there is no type of worship going on. I see a whole lot of games right here and different things at work. I see the twisting and lack of compassion and wonder what am I doing.

            So many young people who are lost and have no upbringing to even hold on to. Many just trying to survive and have no idea what is even being said in forums like this nor would they care. I’m glad I got to meet you here OP. I see the time for moving on soon and my commenting coming to an end. Peace… we will meet.

    • A world without angels and demons sounds like a great place. If this was all we had…wow. Liberating. A better world than the current “demons and angels are real but only demons really do anything”.

      Reality is often way too boring and mundane. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been into fantasy and scifi and gothic and supernatural warfare narratives and the like. Makes all barely teased concepts into full blown realities.

      But I tend to think the idea of nothingness after death is beautiful and peaceful, so I’m odd.

      • Faulty O-Ring says

        How about leprechauns? Can we still have leprechauns?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Reality is often way too boring and mundane. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been into fantasy and scifi and gothic and supernatural warfare narratives and the like. Makes all barely teased concepts into full blown realities.

        But if “fantasy and scifi and gothic and supernatural” is either forbidden in your Christianese Bubble (or allowed only in certain “spiritually correct” bowdlerizations), your desire for it will take other forms. Like conforming to surrounding “Spiritual Warfare” expectations/script and pouring everything into that.

        Like my analogy of a lot of these Exorcist wanna-bes and FRP gamers.

        • Good points there, HUG.

          As for LotR, i still love it and regularly reread it, even if some of the characters seem a bit flat if judged by the standards set for novels, beginning in the 19th c., where psychological depth and realism become increasingly important. If i want that, i go to novelists who made their name with it, but for a great quest story, you can’t beat LotR. And there *is* some real depth there, though maybe it’s more apparent to people from England? At any rate, i cannot think of a single author who comes close to Tolkien in the creation of a world and its mythos, though i sure would love to read something similar drawn from Asian or African myths, literature and cultures.

          George R.R. Martin is nowhere near the kind of achievement that Tolkien’s best writing shows, but then, i don’t think he’s trying for that. If anything, i think he would be better off concentrating less on violence and misogyny, and more on the mythical elements of his story. Also, Tolkien has him beat in that he planned out LotR, whereas Martin seems to be floundering around a bit and certainly is far less focused. He can be gripping, but boy, would he benefit from tighter editing! His most recent was all over the place.

          For 2nd place in these stakes, my hat is off to Susanna Clarke for her Jonathsn Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is an entirely different kind of book, but just as riveting.

          • One of the things that makes LotR and the legendarium beyond LotR is that Tolkien was a devout Catholic, a professional linguist, and a fan of pagan mythology. And his writing contains all three of those things – in fact, the mythology’s earliest versions were to give historical context to Tolkien’s invented languages. And it’s remarkable how many different types of stories the mythology contains, especially when you include the posthumous publications.

            As for character development, I think Frodo Baggins is as dynamic, fully realized, and complex as any character in modern literature. Some such as Aragorn or even Gandalf to some extent (at least post-resurrection) are flatter, but I think it works with the narrative structure – see my above comment.

  8. “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.”

    Stepping back from the topic of demons, Lewis’ basic insight here is good – that it is easy to declare liberation from an idea that appears no longer to fit, or from a reality that seems to have lost power, only to transmute or reinvent it the same notion, or the same reality, in some new or more subtle form. Summon the Greek gods; irony has caught us up again!

  9. Most of Oxford thought it a terrible waste when Lewis took up Christian apologetics and reduced his scholarly output. They thought the same of Tolkein for writing fantasy. I say, a man has to follow his heart, and both of them did. For all that, my favorite Lewis book is still The Allegory of Love.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Ask any man on the street about those scholarly works of Jack and Toller’s Oxford contemporaries.

      Then ask them if they’ve heard of Lord of the Rings or Narnia.

      Who has shown more staying power?

      • It depends. For people in their respective disciplines and specializations, it might be something entirely different than what most would suspect. Lewis’ books on medieval allegory (etc.) are a staple of many, many lit courses. He apparently nailed some things in that department. 🙂

  10. I’m reading through The Screwtape Letters right now, actually. The plan was to read a letter a day, but I’m a week or two behind. Reading the annotated version as well, which is somewhat decent, if a little light. It’s got great information on some of the most obscure literary and person references Lewis throws out, but “this was published on x day” and similar gets repeated often.

    The Screwtape Letters will probably always be the book I go to as “my absolute favorite” when asked. But…it’s not the same now. I was first exposed to it through Bono’s Macphisto and U2’s Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me, and loved it throughout high school and college.

    Yet now…it’s just not the same. It seems more simplistic, less insightful, very popular in it’s understanding…I don’t know if that reflects on me, Lewis, dear old Uncle Screwtape…don’t know. I’m sure I’ll finish it here soon, but after this past readthrough, I don’t know when or if I’ll revisit it. But I’ll remember it fondly.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Andy Serkis once recorded a radio adaptation/dramatic reading of Screwtape Letters. I heard a clip from it where he really chews the scenery as Screwtape loses it at the end of the book as he looks forward to devouring My Dear Wormwood and his “scalding lava of hatred spews out”.

  11. Christiane says

    Lewis wrote something that gives insight into his fiction, this:
    ““I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.”
    ? C.S. Lewis

    personally, I always felt that it was in his Narnia chronicles that Lewis was most effective in using myth and imagination to open up a better understanding of Christianity . . . unfortunately, the closer Lewis got to concrete theology in his other writings, the louder those watchful dragons roared . . .

    but for Narnia, we wouldn’t have ‘Aslan’ . . . Lewis’ gift to us when we were children WAS a powerful understanding of Christ through the persona of ‘Aslan’ . . . and we were enthralled 🙂

    it has also occurred that one reason evangelical people are so very fond of Lewis is that, through Aslan, they come to a better understanding of Christ’s self-sacrifice motivated by self-sacrificial love . . . so different a teaching than the ‘wrath of God’ thing many learned when they were young . . . I think this because of Aslan’s words: “when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead . . . Death itself would start working backwards.”

    I wonder if I am right about this . . . have fundamentalist-evangelicals, trapped within their strident theology of The Wrathful God, needed the comfort of the ‘deeper magic’ that Lewis described ? . . .


    • What I love about Narnia is the idea of Narnia itself — another world and life operating simultaneously with ours (yet different in many ways too) that is not “far away” but right next door as it were. For me, it has become the default way of imagining what Scripture calls “the heavenlies.” If only there were a current passageway back and forth! But then again, the vision of Revelation 21 gives us hope that someday that world on the other side of the wardrobe will be united with ours, creating something wholly new and wonderful.

      • CM, I think that the wardrobe is brilliant, and the snow and street lamp and Tumnus. In other places, it gets dodgy, for me, at least Dawntreader is probably my favorite of the entire series, though -very mysterious and otherwordly in places.

        I also agree on the parallel universes, i guess you could call them.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        What I love about Narnia is the idea of Narnia itself — another world and life operating simultaneously with ours (yet different in many ways too) that is not “far away” but right next door as it were.

        That also applies to some of the crossover fanfic I’ve been involved in. A World of Wonders, right next door. Whether that World of Wonders is a Narnia or an Equestria.

  12. As the posts so far have indicated, there are good reasons to remain open to the possibility of the demonic, while at the same time not becoming obsessed. (Or possessed!) My main issues with demonology are probably typical if not always articulated fully.

    To wit, my own urges and instincts are very clearly governed by my biology – glands, blood, nervous system, blood sugar levels, the whole ball of wax. Most significantly, the very structure of my brain allows me to even be typing this out just now. One little blood clot could render me a vegetable. Obvious questions follow:

    1) How can I understand demonic motivation? Is there “an itch” they’re trying to scratch? Are they just operating under orders? (Their name is Legion, after all.)

    2) On what does their consciousness, which appears to be human-like, rest? Or is consciousness a more general feature of highly organized “matter,” of which they’re an interesting example?

    3) What are the limits to their intelligence? Are they good at math? Can they calculate with quantum-computer quickness? For all the “words of knowledge” demons are said to throw about, I’ve never heard of a major scientific insight they’ve provided. Or is such putative reticence merely part of a general strategy of lying low? In a bit of supernatural irony, do they know the cure for Ebola virus infections but won’t share it?

    I remain open to the existence of demons. I just don’t understand what under earth they could really be.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I described the Christian take on demons as “Angels (i.e. Supernatural Beings) who are Sociopaths.”

      And I’ve seen IRL that Sociopaths don’t need a reason to abuse and destroy.
      (Or at least no reason understandable to non-Sociopaths.)

    • Faulty O-Ring says

      Much the same set of objections would apply to the soul.

      I see demons and the devil as characters in a story. While their actual existence would pose problems for God’s omnipotence and omnibenevolence, they serve important dramatic functions.

      If you are unwilling to bracket demons as culturally-posited supernatural entities, then you might see them as archetypes, i.e. projections of some deep-seated psychological structure. Or for a more Platonic take, imagine that we are the shadows of some larger world, and that our good and evil inclinations partake of trans-human forces beyond our understanding.

      • Ever read the Narnia books? Lots of Plato there, filtered through Lewis’ love of medieval and Renaissance lit, along with classical Greek material.

  13. I’ve read C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, but didn’t realize until recently that Screwtape’s literary ancestor was Tolstoy’s Beelzebub. In “The Overthrow of Hell and it’s Restoration”, Tolstoy describes the corruption of Jesus’ teaching by the rise of doctrinal divisions, institutionalization of the church, and its symbiotic relationship with the state. While Lewis’s demons seem to work actively in the lives of individuals, Tolstoy’s demons stand by and pretty much watch mankind’s stubborn and selfish impulses play out to damage the Kingdom and do Beelzebub’s work for him. Perhaps Screwtape’s best strategy is to have us arguing about how many demons can dance on the head of a pin. See: http://www.nonresistance.org/docs_pdf/Tolstoy/Restoration_of_Hell.pdf

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I think M Scott Peck wrote once that the main characteristic of Evil is Deception and Deceit.

      And a book on “Antichrist” (tracing the history of the Antichrist belief) speaks of two traditional archetypes of Antichrist: The Fanatic Persecutor (raging Chaotic Evil) and The Slick Deceiver (sly, well-thought-out Lawful Evil deception). And that The Slick Deceiver is all but forgotten nowadays.

  14. Don’t mean to be the “Odd Duck” here, but I read “The Screwtape Letters” when I was a Freshman at a Catholic High School (I was non-Catholic). It didn’t impress me much because I was seeking the truth and his book was obviously a work of fiction … and Gnostic fiction at that (Plato was a Gnostic, by the way).

    A few years later, after graduating from college, a brother in the Lord starting sharing things directly from the Word of God (i.e. scriptures). Aaaah … finally … TRUE LIGHT!! 🙂 The nice thing about the Word of God is a “child” can understand it … no need for man’s philosophies or fables … only the enlightenment of the Holy Ghost breathing on His Holy Word within the heart of a born-again believer.

    I highly recommend it!