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A Slinking, Stinking Devil

As much as I love the Narnia tales, I have to say my favourite Lewis novel, by quite a long way, is The Screwtape Letters. Written as a series of thirty-one letters from an experienced devil (Screwtape) to his inept nephew Wormwood on how to tempt a human soul, this book put C.S. Lewis on the cover of Time magazine and is probably his second-most popular work ever. (The Chronicles of Narnia, being children’s stories, are naturally more popular.)

My own worn-out copy looks just like this.

My own worn-out copy looks just like this.

I love it because it provides more insight into the human heart, the cunning ways of sin and temptation, and the ultimate futility of the devil’s schemes, than any sermon I’ve ever heard–and manages at the same time to be hilarious and wildly entertaining. The mere fact that a book built on shamelessly Christian themes was recognized by such a secular publication as Time points to its genius. Screwtape, because it is such a work of genius, also does very well in other media besides the book. I saw a brilliant stage production a few years ago starring Max McClean as Screwtape–basically a one-man show, with an athletic Toadpipe silently acting out human behavior and providing lots of physical comedy in general. But I think the best production I’ve experienced is Focus on the Family Radio Theatre’s audio drama, which features the voice of none other than Gollum himself (Andy Serkis, that is).  screwtapeaudio  Here's Serkis recording as Screwtape. Probably not yelling "my Precious!"

This drama is absolutely beautiful to listen to. Serkis and the other actors bring out all the dark humor of the original, and then some. The “letters” are mostly turned into dialogues, with occasional peeks at the terrestrial world where Wormwood’s “patient” lives, but Screwtape’s voice is still by far the most prominent. He chuckles, rages, schemes, and despairs with a pompous pride and diabolical energy that is a joy to experience. In fact, FotF’s production is so entertaining, you almost forget that it’s trying to teach you something–until a line like this whacks you upside the head:

“Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware he has them, but this is specially true of humility.”

or like this one:

“You must…zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own.’ Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions were made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.”

But of course, that was C.S. Lewis’s whole point: tell people the real, hard truth about themselves, but wrap it up in a joke to make it go down easier. Nobody ever did that better than he. So…whether it’s the book, a ticket to the play, or the audio drama, I think I’ve given you some ideas for last-minute Christmas gifts. Namarie!


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