When Screwtape Haunts in Eden: Testing the Possibilities of the Screwtape-Ransom Universe

The Screwtape Letters illustrated by Jacob LandauThanks to the smooth voice and broadcasting know-how of C.S. Lewis kingmaker William O’Flaherty, I am able to share with you the audio of my recent talk at the C.S. Lewis and Friends Colloquium at Taylor University in Upland, IN. This is the second time I was able to attend the Taylor Conference. In 2012, I presented a paper called, “Teaching Screwtape for a New Generation” (you can read the full paper and hear the talk here). It was the place that truly launched my academic work in C.S. Lewis, and I was pleased to return in June 2016.

Overall, the quality of the papers at the conference was quite strong, and I was struck by the level of engagement by a number of the students. It was also an environment where senior and established academics and writers engaged critically with the younger and emerging scholars. As one of the latter party, it was an ideal environment to play with ideas and ask for feedback.

Here is the abstract of the paper I presented:

Recently, I had the opportunity to publish an archival piece that reconfigures our understanding of C.S. Lewis’ WWII-era fiction project. A previously unpublished handwritten preface to The Screwtape Letters shows that Lewis played with the idea of including Screwtape in the same “other world” as the science fiction books that feature Dr. Elwin Ransom. Using this manuscript evidence, it is important to test the critical limits of an extended Ransom fictional universe—to inquire of the usefulness of including Screwtape’s abysmal underworld in the mythic construct of the Field of Arbol. I will suggest a rereading of Perelandra in light of this speculative worldview re-orientation. If a Screwtapian reading of Perelandra confirms the value of considering these books as part of a Ransom Cycle—rather than merely a Space Trilogy—we can imagine the significance for future work in a number of areas, including Lewis’s invented language and angelology, as well the breadth of his mythmaking project.

It is a fun talk that feeds into the larger project of looking at C.S. Lewis’ WWII-era fiction as a whole. I cannot yet share the entire paper, but you can hear the talk on William’s “All About Jack” podcast (click here). You can follow along in the Prezi (click here), which is like an online slide show. I cannot provide the handout I used in the session, but you can see the full “Ransom Preface” if you click here, or find the original publication here.

You will also see William’s paper (in the same session of mine), “Battlefield of the Mind: Examining Screwtape’s Preferred Method.” There is a bit of interplay between the two paper–something I played up for fun in my talk. William is also pointing back to his book, C.S. Lewis Goes to Hell. William has interviewed me a number of times for All About Jack, so I was pleased to turn the tape recorder on to him when his book came out (check it out here).

Working on The Screwtape Letters, I have also created a Manuscript Timeline and wrote about How Screwtape Was Introduced to the World in its humble little fashion. I hope this contributes to the growing interest in considering Screwtape for its merits as a piece of speculative fiction and as a cultural artifact.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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21 Responses to When Screwtape Haunts in Eden: Testing the Possibilities of the Screwtape-Ransom Universe

  1. Pingback: Testing the Possibilities of the Screwtape-Ransom Speculative Universe (Brenton Dickieson) | Essential C.S. Lewis

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Great – thanks! (I look forward to it when I’m a bit better organized – probably after my Tolkien paper, Saturday.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. dnbeckmann says:

    Brilliant, Brenton! Thanks for all these resources. I love this Ransom Cycle idea.

    Long live the True King!



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  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I don’t have “Flash Player 11.1 or better”, so I can’t see your visuals but I am reading your “Transcript of Screwtape Haunts in Eden” at Prezi before listening to the Podbean link – wow, what exciting stuff!

    Thoughts it has sparked (if you can call them ‘thoughts’ and ‘sparked’!) before I turn to listening:

    Old Solar and the Tower of Babel references and imagery in That Hideous Strength: Ransom saying, “That original speech was lost on Thulcandra, our own world, when our whole tragedy took place. No human language now known in the world is descended from it.” How are Fall and Babel related, and how Old Solar as originally also a human Thulcandran language and each “human language now known”? Does the taking place of “our whole tragedy” stretch from the Fall through (at least) the Confusion of Language(s)? Was there a postlapsarian common human language after a loss of Old Solar to humans and before the multiplication of human languages?

    Yet the Fallen Angels go on using Old Solar! Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” springs to mind – how is demonically-used Old Solar different from Old Solar in the unfallen worlds that “what we’d call inhabited” and between them by the unfallen angelic beings?

    What, if any, effect on use of Old Solar does (or might) the Miltonic “periodical phenomenon” in Letter 22) of Screwtape having “inadvertently allowed myself to assume the form of a large centipede” have?

    What, if anything, does the “knack” of “very easily” obtaining “the sort of script which is used in this book” have to do with what goes on in The Dark Tower fragments and Tolkien’s Notion Club Paper fragments?

    As the War began, Tolkien had looked into cryptanalytical work – what, if any, kind of play (and/or satire) is there in the ease of obtaining “the sort of script which is used in this book”?

    In this context, why do the devils communicate by letter? What needs, conveniences, rationales are involved, when they can (for example) “put all sorts of things into your head if you let them” where a human is concerned?

    (How demonic is bureaucracy and bureaucratic documentation? – !)

    “The history of the European War […] was obviously of no interest to Screwtape” [!]: what are the implications of this? E.g., do different devils have different particular areas of responsibility, such that it was of interest to other devils? How does That Hideous Strength fit in, here? What, if any, significance in Inklings context, where Tolkien is writing about the Wars of the Ring and Williams is paying varying degrees of attention to P’o-l’u (of the many spellings!) and its incursion on the Empire of the Arthurian age and (later) the Pacific mission fields?

    How do E.L. Mascall’s Man: His Origins and Destiny (1940) and The God-Man (1940) ‘enter the picture’?

    Not that these are ‘questions demanding an answer’ in any short-term sense! – but ‘tabled’ for possible future reference…


  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I enjoyed your talk – it’s great to have it available so soon and so accessibly!

    Particularly interesting was the three-part comparison of the patient on the walk, Lewis en route to Ransom’s house, and Mark Studdock getting involved with (and/or against) NICE. Fascinating, too, what you neatly accent – the breeziness of Ransom effectively letting Lewis in for “the barrage”! (Sudden comparison springs to mind: is it like something Sherlock Holmes would ‘do’ to Watson?)

    I’m now looking forward to listening to William O’Flaherty’s presentation of his paper.

    But before i try it… Something that came to mind while listening to yours was the apparent complete unconsciousness of the patient throughout Screwtape of being ‘treated as “a patient” ‘, contrasted with both Ransom’s expectations of the possible and likely “barrage” and all the detail of what’s going on inside Ransom on Perelandra (for which Ransom must be the source). But the “barrage” awareness does not make it simply ‘easy’ for Ransom when he’s the target, on Perelandra. Yet Ransom has become a conscious ‘spiritual athlete’ in a way the patient never seems too (at least Wormwood and Screwtape seem unaware of it – if he consciously attends to the possibility of demonic attack by temptation or whatever else: unless they are not ‘letting on’ – are, for some reason, not addressing it directly (which they aren’t, as far as I recall)). Which makes me think to look at St. Anne’s in THS as (among other things) a sort of ‘spiritual wrestling school’, a ‘gladiatorial training centre’ or whatever.


  7. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    William O’Flaherty’s presentation was interesting to, and invites to more detailed brooding over these matters, as does the interplay between the two papers, which you nicely played up. (A first thought, is that both may be examples of a malign substitution or exchange. While listening to “Screwtape’s Preferred Method”, I got wondering if it would be interesting to compare O’Brien’s methods with Winston Smith in Orwell’s 1984 – and coming to say so, wondered about adding a consideration of Mustafa Mond’s methods with John in Huxley’s Brave New World – and the state’s methods generally in both.)


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