Today, I went to see a live production of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters performed by Fellowship for the Performing Arts, with Max McLean playing the title character Screwtape.
It was amazingly well done! I expected it to be great and I was not disappointed.
The Screwtape Letters is a compilation of letters written by the old and experienced devil Screwtape to advise his young nephew Wormwood – a newly graduated tempter.
Since this is the case, I was especially interested to discover how the script writers would transform a series of letters into a play.
Essentially, it was a lengthy monologue delivered in brilliant fashion by Max McLean with some assistance/comical aid from his secretary Toadpipe. The acting was superb and the blocking and constantly changing scene positioning helped maintain a feeling of freshness in what otherwise would have been one man standing on stage dictating letters.
The play naturally set me to thinking about the book so I pulled it out when I got home and started flipping through it.
Some quotes to think through:
Humility: “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 that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride – pride at his own humility – will appear.”
Prayer: “Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven.”
Temptation: “Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.”
And a quote taken from Fellowship for the Performing Arts’ website:
“Lewis dedicated the work to his close friend J.R.R. Tolkien who had expressed to Lewis that delving too deeply into the craft of evil would have consequences. Lewis admitted as much when he wrote: ‘Though I have never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment… though it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. 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.’”
And this is true when reading the book or watching the play. There are no traces of beauty, freshness, or geniality. All is horrible, dark, and evil and it’s supposed to be.
While acknowledging Lewis’ insight and cleverness, The Screwtape Letters is not a book that I like to dwell upon for long. Don’t get me wrong. I do think that it is a good thing to read. It is both impactful and revealing.
Like I Peter 5:8, it reminds us that the devil is out there and he is busy working.
“… Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour…”
Ephesians 6:12 -13 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
But I don’t like to end on that note because we have the assurance of victory in Christ!
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)
C.S. Lewis wrote in the introduction to his work:
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them…”
After reading The Screwtape Letters for a while, I am ready to set them aside and look at things from the right point of view. Our focus should always be on Christ!
~ A Servant of the King