Saturday, October 11, 2014

100 Book Project: Book #84 - The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

I had this book with me on Tuesday when a student in my office  -- I call him Shazaam --  asked how long it takes me to read a book.

 I lift this book up (before I started it) and tell him this is a one night book. Less that 200 pages. No problem. 

He shakes his head and says he doesn't know how I do it.

I tell him what I tell everyone.  The reading isn't hard, it's the writing. I'm not just reading 100 books, I'm writing a book about it, and that's harder than running a marathon. In shorts. Then I add that I'm reading for fun and reading can't be fun when you're worried about what grade you'll earn on game day when fast balls and curve balls of multiple choice questions are thrown at your head. Reading can't be fun when you have to answer tedious questions that start with "Which of the following best reflects.." and "List three ways that the author..."

Ugh. Hell. Reading for fun is heaven, especially for those of us who don't like to do what we are told, even if it's a very good and well-intentioned idea. 

The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis is horrible, wonderful, brilliant and I'm not quite sure but I might have been forced to read it in middle school or high school and completely didn't "get" it because I was more concerned about the deadline, the report, the points, the whatever.

Reading it as an adult is like walking slowly through Halloween Horror Nights.

This book is a series of letters from a demon to a spirit on earth telling him how and why to seduce and distract humans from the Enemy.

Because this is CS Lewis, because we all know the Lion in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was Christ, of course this Enemy is a very very Christian God.

 I chafe against this narrow view but I am transfixed by his acuity  and carry the  it everywhere with me, scribbling notes in the corners of the pages responding, reflecting analyzing, savoring.

This book is real philosophy, and rewarded my careful attention with fruitful insights.

Maybe I could have finished it on Tuesday (I couldn't have, but shhh) but definitely I could have finished it Wednesday or Thursday or Friday but I didn't because this book was too smart and I wanted to hang out with it as long as I possibly could.

This book talks about sin, morality, temptation and redemption.

 The very fact that "mere birth" qualifies animal humans for God's love causes the demons to simmer with envy and conspire on ways to capture human souls from God and eat them roasted in sauces like envy, greed and graft.

For awhile I thought CS Lewis hated women, but then I realized the man was writing in a black-is-white voice satire and just the fact I believed him so sincerely is evidence of the rottenness he provoked especially with the description of the  two kinds of women -- virgins and Venus: The pure women lead men  to the devil by boring them to death.   The tempting women lead women to the devil by becoming a private obsession. 

 I question everything about CS Lewis then remember this is a demon talking. Ooops. Sorry. 

This book is THAT good, that smart, that much of a masterpiece, deserving your full attention. 

My very most favorite part of the book is actually the ending that is added for this edition which starts with  a letter from CS Lewis in 1961 talking about how hard this book was to write because "every trace of beauty freshness and geniality had to be eliminated" and writing a longer book would have smothered him AND the readers.


After that there is a  final essay from Screwtape giving a Toast before feasting on a soul with other demons.

 In the satiric toast,  Screwtape celebrates the wonder of the modern "democratic" education system, where grades are inflated and students are tied together in age groups, slowing the fast ones and hampering their futures while and lying to the slower students about how capable and valuable they are.


Score team CS Lewis.