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Platt (Wally Nell/Genesis for WORLD)

The new Screwtape

Q&A | Paying homage to C.S. Lewis, Richard Platt's recent book captures the style and satire of The Screwtape Letters

Issue: "Trouble in Egypt," June 2, 2012

In the 70 years since C.S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters, many writers have tried to write a sequel, and many have failed. Richard Platt succeeds with As One Devil to Another (Tyndale). Lewis biographer Walter Hooper notes, "It reads as if C.S. Lewis himself had written it." Platt, born in 1961, has always loved reading but has only started writing during the past decade. He paid the bills by working in and managing restaurants, and recently retired from that. Here are edited excerpts of our interview.

Did you enjoy the restaurant business? It was physically fatiguing but not mentally fatiguing, so I could come home, sit down, and read. All the writers I have come to revere and love, including C.S. Lewis, I discovered on my own.

And you've been married for 30 years? We just celebrated our 30th anniversary. Easily the smartest thing I've ever done in my entire life.

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When did you discover Lewis? A friend who was also a Presbyterian minister handed me Surprised by Joy. He's a soft-sell guy. He just said, "This is a great narrative voice, and I think you'll like it."

Had you been surprised by God at that point? No. I took the book home and thought, "Wow, this is really quite something." We had coffee the next week and I said "Hey, this Lewis guy, what else has he written?" He handed me a copy of The Case for Christianity, which ultimately became the first part of Mere Christianity. I took it home. That was the beginning of the avalanche. I started nodding on page four. Lewis' mind works like a fine cutting tool, paring to the hardened kernel of essential truth in the center. You find yourself going A to B, B to C, C to D.

What did you think about God before reading Lewis? I hadn't thought a whole lot. I was the lazy agnostic from a very loving, nondenominational Christian family. I would say "How come this?" and "Why that?" I got those "Because God said so" answers. I stopped asking those questions.

What happened after you read Lewis? I started praying. Then I started thinking about not just understanding my relationship to God, but my obligations. I started thinking: Everybody's been given some abilities. What are my abilities? What can I do? How can I serve? This book is the answer to those years of asking what I could do.

I'd like you to read several passages from As One Devil to Another, starting with the instructions a young devil receives about his new client ... "She is a postgraduate in the English department of an old and prestigious university which means, happily for us, a hotbed of arrogance, spiritual erosion, and social vanity. She is quite clever, by human standards, which could work very much in our favour as her environment is perfectly suited to inflame her latent intellectual snobbery and many of the other lovely vices we are trying to make endemic.

"We must consider how best to exploit her aspirations. She has set her sights on a career in academia. Do we want to propel her to dizzying heights of academic success, distending her ego and making her a loathsome prig to everyone but her most accomplished colleagues, wallowing in the envy she provokes in her peers and the fear she instills in her students? Or shall we raise her just to the level of mediocrity that will cause her to aspire to, but never reach, those dizzying heights, an onlooker who stokes her hunger by publishing a few books here and there but is mostly ignored by the academic community and who spends her life picking at the scabs of envy that will form on her like a spiritual crust?"

The problem of pain certainly engaged Lewis. Could you read us a bit from the fifth letter? "The question is one of perspective, which you, as a youngster, will find difficult to see, because our purpose differs so much from the Adversary's. We want sheep fattened for slaughter. A life of ease, sensuality, comfort, and mindless dissipation would suit us admirably. He wants immortal beings united to Him, freely, joyously, eternally. (Pardon the distasteful phraseology. A teacher must be candid.) Humans are designed and required to grow and learn, and ultimately, to serve, not because they've been placed under the lash, as we would have it, but because their will freely conforms to His.

"In order to learn they must act, and He has given them a dangerous world because it is only in a world of danger, and thus pain, that moral issues come to the surface. ... Keep this in mind. The Adversary sees the tempered steel they are to be once they emerge from the furnace. The clients who learn to ride in the toughest schools of all, in the end, will be the most free. It is therefore of paramount importance to prevent our clients from adopting the Adversary's perspective."

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