Screwtape and The Great Divorce (A Comparison)

An obvious difference between The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters is the layout. One is a fictional journey on which there is a narrator, interactions with many other characters, and a chronological beginning, climax, end (no matter how unsatisfying you may think it is). The Screwtape Letters are just a bunch of letters thrown together; Lewis even says that there is indeed no certainty on their chronology. But there are many similarities between the two as well. In both he uses very real ways (no matter how silly) that believers and non-believers are diverted from Christ to non-sense. And finally there does not seem to be any punishment for those in Hell; though, in Screwtape he does in passing seem to mention some sort of torment inflicted on the individual.

            In this book Lewis tells a story of an amazing adventure in the afterlife. There are, of course a few things that I would have to disagree with in this book, such as the whole of purgatory. But, there is no other way I could imagine this book being written. Without the use of a purgatory scenario how could you reflect on many different people’s lives? And if you can’t reflect on many different people’s lives then there would not be a wide enough margin of excuses people make, not without making the characters seem overly winey and annoying.

            In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis has comprised a few letters that are mostly straightforward and pointed works about hell and demonic activity. The book is somewhat of a comedy about damnation and the efforts of demons to influence men. The “letters” are correspondence between a senior demon named Screwtape, who has centuries of experience in the art of tempting humans, and his younger nephew, Wormwood. The younger demon is a fresh graduate from The Tempters Training College and is on his first assignment. His task involves attempting to block, by any means necessary, a certain individual from becoming a Christian.

            The Great Divorce, which was written just three years later, deals with heaven and hell and continues the sarcastic/comedic style of The Screwtape Letters. In this story Lewis speaks as the narrator in the middle of a dream about a bus ride to heaven. The story opens in hell, where Lewis is preparing to leave with several people who actually live in Hell. And as we travel through the story we meet people in various stages of damnation, very much like Dante’s Inferno.

            There does not seem to be any real punishment in his Hell. The damned who were very evil in life, and deserve to be there as much as anyone does, are not made to pay for their deeds. They are not made to see the wrongness of what they did. Maybe I didn’t fully understand this part because the idea of purgatory confuses me. However, Lewis states clearly (p.131) that this book is an allegory not meant to be taken as literal description of the afterlife, so I wont press it.

            These two books both contain issues concerning salvation, damnation, heaven, hell, the free will of men, and other practical matters which in the end force me to conclude, C. S. Lewis is a literary genius.

Screwtape Part One

 

            “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…” (1) Lewis was writing in a time where Christianity had just started seeping its way out of mainstream culture and being passed off as just some people’s opinion or worldview. The whole reason, I think, that this book even works is because it flies under the radar of what most people accept as Christian truth. Lewis was not an evangelist but he did have a few certain gifts that he used very well, one of which was to break down obstacles to belief that people had then and still have today.

            Lewis was writing in a time where Christianity had just started seeping its way out of mainstream culture and being passed off as just some people’s opinion or worldview. This is exactly what is happening in America today. The problem with this age is not apathy, though that could be a big problem, but the whole notion of the spiritual is gone. By the end of the nineteenth century the industrial revolution was coming to a close and modern thinkers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin and others, had influenced most of society. This is the world that C. S. Lewis was born into and grew up in, and it is not much different from the one we live in now.

            Lewis understood that story has a certain power to move people so that they can better understand something. He had even said that reason he thought Narnia was so effective is that the passion of Aslan took people by surprise. They where very familiar with the whole “Jesus story,” but Aslan’s death and resurrection they never saw coming, so it was much more moving to them. Most people have a wall up against Christian truth be cause they don’t even want to go there, but they will pick up something from Lewis or Tolkien and sometimes that will awaken in them a hunger for something they didn’t even know they wanted. That is the whole reason, I think, that this book even works is because it flies under the radar of what most people accept as Christian truth. In this book Lewis uses some very real ways that we as humans might be tempted and led away from Christ.

            The devil has no new tricks. Lewis was not an evangelist but he did have a few certain gifts that he used very well, one of which was to break down obstacles to belief that people had then and still have today. That is the reason he is still relevant, because many people have doubts about Jesus, flat out reject Jesus, I have an abiding fear of what C. S. Lewis called chronological snobbery. Chronological snobbery is the arrogant notion that the ideas of our own day are better than the ideas of a bygone day just because the ideas are in our day. Chronological snobbery feels that things are truer because they are newer. It is not only irrational; it is also naïve, because there aren’t any really new ideas under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9–10 says,

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
and there is nothing new under the sun.
 Is there a thing of which it is said,
”See, this is new”? 
It has been already,
in the ages before us.

 

Works Cited

(1) The Screwtape Letters, By C.S. Lewis, HarperCollins 1947 Chapter 12