Writing classic gave C. S. Lewis ‘spiritual cramp’

Writing from the devil

Fans of Lewis C.S. Lewis can have sympathy for what he endured in writing The Screwtape Letters, writes John Clark in the National Catholic Register.

Near the end of his life, Lewis revealed that the book he least enjoyed writing was The Screwtape Letters.

For many of us readers, that is a staggering thought. How could Lewis fail to enjoy writing a work of fiction that was an almost instant entry into the Western Canon?

For those unfamiliar with The Screwtape Letters, it constitutes a sort of field manual on the tempting of humans told from the perspective of a devil. Although the devils in the story understand many truths in profound ways, their view of everything is inverted: to them, good is bad and bad is good; God is the enemy and the devil is the good guy.

By writing from that perspective, Lewis provides the reader with an explanation and an insight into the psychology of temptation. There is a spiritual value in illustrating how temptation works, and Lewis clearly recognised that value. So why didn’t Lewis enjoy writing it?

Years after the book was first published, Lewis reminisced in his prelude to Screwtape Proposes A Toast, “… though it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp. The world into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst and itch.”

In an interview around the same time, Lewis explained further that “making goods ‘bad’ and bads ‘good’ gets to be fatiguing.” He makes a fascinating point, and it makes you wonder: if “making goods bad and bads good” is tiring even as a mere literary exercise, consider how spiritually wearisome it must be in real life.

In much of modern culture — one in which virtues such as material detachment, monogamy, and faith are lampooned while a smorgasbord of sins are publicly celebrated — is there any better explanation for what is going on today than “making goods bad and bads good”?


Which book did C.S. Lewis least enjoy writing? (National Catholic Register)

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