Remembering C. S. Lewis – The Screwtape Letters


lewis_Screwtape_Letters_coverThis year marks the 50th anniversary of C. S. Lewis’s death. He, like President John F. Kennedy and author Aldous Huxley, died November 22, 1963. As part of the tribute (over at Spec Faith I’ve already written this post and this commemorating his life and writing) to this man who has influenced so many Christian writers, I thought it appropriate to let his writing speak for him.

So here is a flavor of The Screwtape Letters, one of my favorites of C. S. Lewis’s fiction.

My Dear Wormwood,

I note what you say about guiding your patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naif? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the daily press, radio, television and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false,” but as “academic” or “practical,” “outworn” or “contemporary,” “conventional” or “ruthless.” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous–that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awaken the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real.”

Remember, he is not, like you, a pure spirit. Never having been a human (Oh, that abominable advantage of the Enemy’s) you don’t realise how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the Metropolitan Library. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line for when I said “Quite. In fact, much too important to tackle at the end of a morning,” the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added “Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,” he was already half way to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of “real life” (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all “that sort of thing” just couldn’t be true. He knew he’d had a narrow escape and in later years was fond of talking about “that inarticulate sense for actuality which is our ultimate safeguard against the aberration of mere logic.” He is now safe in Our Father’s house.

You begin to see the point? Thanks to the processes which we set at work in them centuries ago, they find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes. Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things. Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch or see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists. If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don’t let him get away from that invaluable “real life.” But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is “the results of modern investigation.” Do remember, Wormwood, you are there to fuddle him. From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!

Your affectionate uncle,
SCREWTAPE

(pp 21-23, The Screwtape Letters)

Published in: on November 19, 2013 at 5:55 pm  Comments (4)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard, Day 2


Druids_CircleGood versus evil. That’s what fantasy is all about–its central trope. The Arthurian myth is no different, but it complicates things. Noble King Arthur must choose whether he is to live and govern by the principles of right he has established in his kingdom or whether he is to “make an exception” for those in his personal life.

Robert Treskillard in Merlin’s Blade, first in the Merlin Spiral Trilogy, carries on the good versus evil theme, but he addresses good and evil from both a societal and a supernatural point of view. The real battle is between the druids (and their practices often carried out in a circle such as the one pictured above) and the Christians–for control over life in Britain and over the lives of its people.

The conflict is fanciful since little is known about the druids apart from myth–fitting since King Arthur is also not a firmly established historical person, nor is Merlin. However, the clash between druids and Christians is believable, both on a societal level and a spiritual one.

In society, Christianity was the religion imposed on the conquered people of the Holy Roman Empire. I liken this to the Jewish nation ruled by kings professing belief in Yahweh, the One True God. Under their first king, Saul, witchery and sorcery were outlawed–and yet, the witch of Endor survived, apparently living in secret and not practicing her dark arts, unless cajoled into doing so by one promising her she would be safe from the penalties of the law. Clearly, sorcery was not eradicated by an edict from the king.

So, too, in the Britain of Merlin’s Blade. Those not in power bide their time and wait for an opportunity to reassert their influence, to reposition themselves for a climb to the top.

Spiritually, this power grab is a result of the evil forces, the false gods, which the druids worship and which control them through fear and intimidation.

The druidic power is real in Merlin’s Blade, and no less mysterious. When the priest who would rule first addresses the people of Merlin’s village, he says

. . . to call you back to the old way. To call you as lost children back to the only way your ancestors knew–they who claimed this wooded land as their own and coaxed forth crops from the soil . . . Your ancestors call you back to worship the old gods–the guides, the healers, those who bless your fields and cattle, who protect you from witchcraft and guard your children against the wailing sidhe, the gods who are furious at your obstinacy.

Since I equated druids with witchcraft, the above lines caught me off guard. The “sidhe” mentioned in those lines is “the Irish term for a supernatural race in Irish mythology and Scottish mythology, (usually spelled Sìth, however pronounced the same) comparable to the fairies or elves” (Wikipedia).

This suggests a layering of evil–fairies and witches that people fear, topped by a pantheon of gods who will protect their worshipers from those beings. The latter have a special hatred for the Christian God, his son Jesu, and his followers.

When the druid priest shows up with his power, he successfully seduces some to forsake their belief in the God of Rome and to follow the ancient gods of their homeland. It’s an appeal to ethnic pride, a repudiation of Rome, but also, and more convincingly, a plea to embrace the power gifted by the gods to an idol and its priest.

In all this, the question hangs unspoken–does the Christian God have power to counter the druids? Or is He limited to the work of His servants? It’s a timeless question, one people could well ask today by replacing “druids” with any number of other people standing against God. How can human followers of Christ stand against the forces marshaled against Him? The corollary is this: can Christians count on God when they call on Him in times of crisis? And the follow-up question: what’s the difference between trusting God to save and ordering God to save or trying to manipulate Him into it?

Merlin’s Blade raises questions for anyone willing to consider the good and evil conflict at the heart of the story. It’s one of the strengths of the story, as far as I’m concerned, but I’ll get to that tomorrow in my review.

For now, I suggest you see what other CSFF Blog Tour participants writing about Merlin’s Blade have to say. Especially, don’t miss Timothy Hicks’s interview with Robert.

And don’t forget, anyone leaving a comment to the Day 1 post will be entered into the drawing for an ARC.

CSFF Tour – Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore, Day 3


Broken Wings coverI don’t know if I’ve actually come out and said it before in my posts about CSFF’s January feature, Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore, but here it is: I love this book! And in a few short weeks, book two of the trilogy, Broken Wings, is scheduled to release. I can hardly wait!

As I mentioned in my Day 1 post for this tour, I was fortunate enough to have received Angel Eyes earlier, so reviewed it then. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to recommend the book and series to those interested in a supernatural story written from a Christian perspective.

Here are my top seven reasons, in reverse order, for liking Angel Eyes:

7 The writing is excellent. It drew me into the story immediately. Here’s the opening:

The knot in my throat is constant. An aching thing. Shallow breaths whisper around it, sting my chapped lips, and leave white smoke monsters in the air.

6 The storytelling–the way the events unfold and the presentation of the characters–is equally strong.

5 The main character has a quirk and believable motivations that make her seem unique, not a plastic cutout of an angsty teen.

4 Our protagonist develops in a gradual, realistic way.

3 Intrigue pulls the reader forward into a plot that grows much larger than the opening might suggest.

2 The supernatural elements, rather than contradicting Scripture as so many angel/demon stories do, uses Scripture to undergird them, starting with a fictionalized account of Elisha opening the eyes of his servant so that he could see the army of God’s angels ready to protect them from the enemy surrounding the city (See 2 Kings 6:15-17).

1 And the number one reason I love this book: God wins! And He does so in a believable way, properly foreshadowed, and without any preachiness. What some call preachy is reality, given who these characters are. They act and speak naturally, based on their beliefs, doubts, fears, faith, or whatever, prompted by the demand of the circumstances.

Our tour is bringing out some interesting discussion. Megan opened with a thoughtful article about brokenness: What does broken mean? And what does the Bible say about broken people?

Shannon McDermott gave a thorough comparison of the angels in Angel Eyes with angels in the Bible.

Several people addressed the comparison of Angel Eyes with the Twilight books, none better than Jason Joyner: I do not believe Angel Eyes is the Christian Twilight. It stands on its own, with some shared conventions since they are both YA, both romance, and both supernatural in nature.

Jeremy Harder concludes that Angel Eyes “has it all”: I totally love well-written books that feature scenes of good colliding with evil, angels battling demons, and, of course, happy endings, and fortunately Angel Eyes has it all!

Phylis Wheeler, like me, enjoyed the book so much she gave a second endorsement after having reviewed it months ago.

And perhaps my favorite so far, Beckie Burnham highlights the truthful theme of Angel Eyes: The message of Angel Eyes is profound. God exists, His plans are eternal, and our choices and circumstances matter to Him and His economy. Dittemore doesn’t pretty up the evil in this book. Its real and real scary. But neither does she downplay the ultimate victory that will be God’s.

Of course, not everyone sees books the same way, so I suggest you stop by the other participating sites (list available, with check mark links to the articles, at the bottom of my Day 1 post) and see what each of them has to say.

You can also visit Shannon Dittemore’s Facebook page or follow her on Twitter.

Published in: on January 23, 2013 at 12:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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CSFF Tour – Angel Eyes By Shannon Dittemore, Day 2


Angel Eyes coverThis month CSFF is featuring Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore, and as you might guess, it can be classified as an angels book. Or supernatural. I don’t think those two are the same or that angel books are a subset of supernatural, but Angel Eyes would fit into both.

These classifications are significant, I believe. Supernatural stories encompass a broad range–pretty much anything that isn’t “natural.” Generally speaking, however, the supernatural elements are central to the story. This category includes fictitious supernatural creatures such as vampires and zombies as well as real supernatural agents such as demons and angels. Ghosts fit here, too–whether a person views them as real or pretend.

Other supernatural creatures such as faeries, witches, and wizards generally fit into the fantasy category rather than the supernatural category because they are viewed, as most stories use them, as make-believe.

Of course witches and sorcerers do exist, but usually stories with these creatures are not referencing beings that claim power from an evil source. Rather, they can, like regular humans, choose good or evil (e.g. the witches in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the wizards in Lord of the Rings and in Harry Potter). Their power is most often innate, though they can learn to use it more effectively.

I mention this particularly because angel books have the same issues as witch and sorcerer books–angels do actually exist, but writers can, and have, treated them as mythical beings with their own tropes.

Anne Rice may have started the latest surge of angel books when she declared at the beginning of her Songs Of The Seraphim series back in 2009 that angels were the new vampires. At any rate, following in the tradition of such films as It’s a Wonderful Life and TV programs such as Highway to Heaven, books have popped up with angels that bear little resemblance to the actual, factual beings mentioned in Scripture.

As a result, I’ve become … shall we say, cautious, about angel books. I have less trouble with those that bear no resemblance to Biblical angels than I do with quasi-accurate ones. The former I simply write off as make-believe creatures, little different from elves or hobbits or faeries.

Imagine my surprise when I read Angel Eyes and discovered a story that represented angels in a way consistent with Scripture.

Of course, there is still speculation–this is fiction, after all. For example, in one interview, author Shannon Dittemore said she developed the idea for the story by thinking, what if angel halos were actual solid objects? [And I’d add, what if angels actually had halos? 😉 ] From this key piece of pretend, the Angel Eyes story grows.

There’s more coming, too. The second book in the series, Broken Wings, is scheduled to release next month, and the third, Dark Halo is due out in August, I believe.

Take time to visit other CSFF tour participants and see what they’re saying about the book. You can find the entire list (with check marks providing links to the posts) at the bottom of my Day 1 article.

CSFF Tour – Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore, Day 1


shandittyAt last! This is a tour I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I reviewed Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore some months ago and was happy when the CSFF administrators added it to the list of books we’d feature. Our tour was scheduled for November, then chaos broke loose. OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I have to say, it makes you wonder when a book about angels, with a distinctly Biblical worldview, is mired in unusual circumstances that delay its tour.

But I’m putting that aside.

What I’d like to address today is something I read in a couple Amazon reviews–that Angel Eyes is a Twilight wannabe or the Christian answer to Twilight or some other comparison to Twilight. Here’s one:

I’ve never actually read any of the “Twilight” books, but even I can see the resemblance in the underlying “romance” thread in the book. I can certainly see that this book is geared toward the “Twilight” crowd, just with a Christian slant.

And then this:

I was struck immediately by the similarities to Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Unlike some of my readers, I was a huge Twilight fan, reading and rereading them multiple times. Angel Eyes struck me as a Christianized version of the popular series with angels and demons as our stars instead of vampires and werewolves.

Since I haven’t read any of the Twilight books but have heard some specific criticisms, this comparison shocked me. I could see, perhaps, the idea that the Twilight vampires had been switched out for angels and that both stories involved a teen romance, but from what I’ve heard, there were no other similarities that I knew of. Besides, the angels and vampires were not “switched out.”

Add in the fact that the main character in Angel Eyes has a lot more on her mind than an obsessive relationship with a “bad boy.” Further, there is no love triangle. In reality, Angel Eyes is more of a mystery than a romance.

I received a little more insight about reviewers making the Twilight/Angel Eyes comparison from the post of one of the CSFF tour participants, Anna Mittower:

The first chapter and indeed the set-up of the story in the rural town of Stratus reminds me of the first few pages of chapter one in Twilight. And that’s not a good thing. Both have a girl who’s not happy moving to a small, dreary town in the middle of nowhere. And both are complaining about it. Dreading it in fact.

Ah, OK. Similar openings. I suppose for someone who read Twilight, the opening would immediately put you in comparison mode, thinking of the other book and hating this one because it make you think of the other one.

Interestingly, Ms. Dittemore, in a style that reminded me of chick lit, made a number of pop cultural references, including a couple about Twilight. I thought those deflected any comparison–as if the character’s own awareness of the Twilight story made it abundantly clear that this was not that story, retold.

It’s clearly not. But I’ll have more to say about what it is as the tour continues.

For now, check out what the other participants are saying.

Published in: on January 21, 2013 at 6:31 pm  Comments (10)  
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