Today’s other 50th anniversary: the passing of C. S. Lewis
posted at 2:31 pm on November 22, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
Actually, this is not the only literary connection to this particular date. Both C. S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley died on November 22nd, 1963, and both deaths were understandably overshadowed by the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Huxley is most remembered for Brave New World, arguably the best of the dystopian novels expressing the dangers of science combined with totalitarianism in the vain pursuit of human/social perfection.
C. S. Lewis is of another literary class, however, and a more recent personal favorite. He authored the fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, some volumes of which have recently been rendered in cinematic form, which remains his most popular work. Unlike J.R.R. Tolkien with Lord of the Rings, Lewis apparently intended Narnia to express Christian philosophy and doctrine in literature form to younger readers. Lewis tackled the subject more directly in his famous work Mere Christianity, but the work that resonates most with me is The Screwtape Letters, which I only read for the first time last year. It’s witty, charming, utterly accessible, and delivers one of the best and most efficient treatises on spiritual warfare imaginable. The Screwtape Letters is a surprisingly quick read, but the prose stayed with me ever since my first reading of it.
The best way to experience The Screwtape Letters, though, is to find the John Cleese audio version of the book. Nominated for a Grammy in the spoken-word category, it brings the text alive in a way that colors even the traditional reading of the book afterward. Once one hears Cleese voicing the demon Screwtape, a mid-level functionary in the “Lowerarchy” advising/warning his nephew Wormwood, it’s impossible to imagine any other voice at all for the role. Unfortunately, the John Cleese version has long since been out of print, and is almost impossible to find on the used market. YouTube has most of the Cleese recording available by chapters, with a few gaps.
Letter 22 is nearly the pinnacle of Cleese’s excellence; the final Letter 31 is best, but that gives the game away:
I have these playing in my car nearly non-stop these days. I never fail to find something meaningful for my faith and life in the recording, and find it a good way to remain vigilant in my daily life as a Christian.