C.S. Lewis Also Died November 22, 1963

My hope is that much that he describes so wonderfully in his last Screwtape letter is what he experienced within moments of his last heartbeat:

MY DEAR, MY VERY DEAR, WORMWOOD, MY POPPET, MY PIGSNIE,

How mistakenly now that all is lost you come whimpering to ask me whether the terms of affection in which I address you meant nothing from the beginning. Far from it! Rest assured, my love for you and your love for me are as like as two peas. I have always desired you, as you (pitiful fool) desired me. The difference is that I am the stronger. I think they will give you to me now; or a bit of you. Love you? Why, yes. As dainty a morsel as ever I grew fat on.

You have let a soul slip through your fingers. The howl of sharpened famine for that loss re-echoes at this moment through all the levels of the Kingdom of Noise down to the very Throne itself. It makes me mad to think of it. How well I know what happened at the instant when they snatched him from you! There was a sudden clearing of his eyes (was there not?) as he saw you for the first time, and recognised the part you had had in him and knew that you had it no longer. Just think (and let it be the beginning of your agony) what he felt at that moment; as if a scab had fallen from an old sore, as if he were emerging from a hideous, shell-like tetter, as if he shuffled off for good and all a defiled, wet, clinging garment. By Hell, it is misery enough to see them in their mortal days taking off dirtied and uncomfortable clothes and splashing in hot water and giving little grunts of pleasure-stretching their eased limbs. What, then, of this final stripping, this complete cleansing?

The more one thinks about it, the worse it becomes. He got through so easily! No gradual misgivings, no doctor’s sentence, no nursing home, no operating theatre, no false hopes of life; sheer, instantaneous liberation. One moment it seemed to be all our world; the scream of bombs, the fall of houses, the stink and taste of high explosive on the lips and in the lungs, the feet burning with weariness, the heart cold with horrors, the brain reeling, the legs aching; next moment all this was gone, gone like a bad dream, never again to be of any account. Defeated, out-manœuvred fool! Did you mark how naturally-as if he’d been born for it-the earthborn vermin entered the new life? How all his doubts became, in the twinkling of an eye, ridiculous? I know what the creature was saying to itself! “Yes. Of course. It always was like this. All horrors have followed the same course, getting worse and worse and forcing you into a kind of bottle-neck till, at the very moment when you thought you must be crushed, behold! you were out of the narrows and all was suddenly well. The extraction hurt more and more and then the tooth was out. The dream became a nightmare and then you woke. You die and die and then you are beyond death. How could I ever have doubted it?

As he saw you, he also saw Them. I know how it was. You reeled back dizzy and blinded, more hurt by them than he had ever been by bombs. The degradation of it!-that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower. Perhaps you had hoped that the awe and strangeness of it would dash his joy. But that is the cursed thing; the gods are strange to mortal eyes, and yet they are not strange. He had no faintest conception till that very hour of how they would look, and even doubted their existence. But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realised what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not “Who are you?” but “So it was you all the time”. All that they were and said at this meeting woke memories. The dim consciousness of friends about him which had haunted his solitudes from infancy was now at last explained; that central music in every pure experience which had always just evaded memory was now at last recovered. Recognition made him free of their company almost before the limbs of his corpse became quiet. Only you were left outside.

He saw not only Them; he saw Him. This animal, this thing begotten in a bed, could look on Him. What is blinding, suffocating fire to you, is now cool light to him, is clarity itself, and wears the form of a Man. You would like, if you could, to interpret the patient’s prostration in the Presence, his self-abhorrence and utter knowledge of his sins (yes, Wormwood, a clearer knowledge even than yours) on the analogy of your own choking and paralysing sensations when you encounter the deadly air that breathes from the heart of Heaven. But it’s all nonsense. Pains he may still have to encounter, but they embrace those pains. They would not barter them for any earthly pleasure. All the delights of sense, or heart, or intellect, with which you could once have tempted him, even the delights of virtue itself, now seem to him in comparison but as the half nauseous attractions of a raddled harlot would seem to a man who hears that his true beloved whom he has loved all his life and whom he had believed to be dead is alive and even now at his door. He is caught up into that world where pain and pleasure take on transfinite values and all our arithmetic is dismayed. Once more, the inexplicable meets us. Next to the curse of useless tempters like yourself the greatest curse upon us is the failure of our Intelligence Department. If only we could find out what He is really up to! Alas, alas, that knowledge, in itself so hateful and mawkish a thing, should yet be necessary for Power! Sometimes I am almost in despair. All that sustains me is the conviction that our Realism, our rejection (in the face of all temptations) of all silly nonsense and claptrap, must win in the end. Meanwhile, I have you to settle with. Most truly do I sign myself

Your increasingly and ravenously
affectionate uncle
SCREWTAPE

  • HornOrSilk

    Which is why I am glad Lewis was mentioned in this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEwikIhEZrE makes me feel that Doctor Who’s 50th (on the 23d) remembers the 50th of Lewis’ death (JFK’s assassination is always referenced in Doctor Who lore for similar reason).

    • http://www.parafool.com/ victor

      That actually looks better than the last few seasons of Doctor Who itself.

      • HornOrSilk

        It’s got great reviews from those who saw it last night.

  • Thomas R

    Sometimes I almost feel like a “bad” or “weird” Christian because, confession time, well I don’t care for C. S. Lewis all that much. I didn’t know too much, maybe a little, of his reputation among Christians as a boy. I just read “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” in sixth grade and thought it was ridiculous. And there’s something too morbid, or some such, in his writing that bothers me. He’s such a huge figure in English-speaking Christianity I almost feel like I should like his stuff while not doing so all that much. (Part of it might be that, though I love science fiction, I’m not into fantasy or Greek and Roman mythology. I liked his “Out of the Silent Planet” okay though, but even then I think I liked the far more recent Eifelheim by Michael F. Flynn better)

  • terentiaj63

    Thomas R, have you tried any of Lewis’ non-fiction? Lewis published a very great number of books.
    And-just a side note-Aldous Huxley also died on 11/22/63.

  • Andrew Simons

    I read Screwtape Letters every Advent. John Cleese read them for a books on tape, so now Screwtape always has a certain Monty Python-esque feel. Thanks, Mark, for the reminder that today is CSL’s anniversary.

    • http://www.breakingmurphyslaw.com Lee Potts

      Small world, I read it for Lent every year. The John Cleese audiobook version is very, very good. He hits just the right tone.

  • thisismattwade

    May the mercy and love of the Father gain him admittance to the Kingdom of Heaven, for his profound impact on the conversion of this sinner.


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