Watch Hand-Drawn Animations of 7 Stories & Essays by C.S. Lewis

I can vivid­ly recall the first time I read C.S. Lewis’s The Screw­tape Let­ters. I was four­teen, and I was pre­pared to be ter­ri­fied by the book, know­ing of its demon­ic sub­ject mat­ter and believ­ing at the time in invis­i­ble malev­o­lence. The nov­el is writ­ten as a series of let­ters between Screw­tape and his nephew Worm­wood, two dev­ils tasked with cor­rupt­ing their human charges, or “patients,” through all sorts of sub­tle and insid­i­ous tricks. The book has a rep­u­ta­tion as a lit­er­ary aid to Chris­t­ian living—like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress—but it’s so much more than that. Instead of fire and brim­stone, I found rib­ald wit, sharp satire, a cut­ting psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­sec­tion of the mod­ern West­ern mind, with its eva­sions, pre­ten­sions, and cagey delu­sions. Stripped of its the­ol­o­gy, it might have been writ­ten by Orwell or Sartre, though Lewis clear­ly owes a debt to Kierkegaard, as well as the long tra­di­tion of medieval moral­i­ty plays, with their cavort­ing dev­ils and didac­tic human types. Yes, the book is bald­ly moral­is­tic, but it’s also a bril­liant exam­i­na­tion of all the twist­ed ways we fool our­selves and dis­sem­ble,  or if you like, get led astray by evil forces.

If you haven’t read the book, you can see a con­cise ani­ma­tion of a crit­i­cal scene above, one of sev­en made by “C.S. Lewis Doo­dle” that illus­trate the key points of some of Lewis’s books and essays. Lewis believed in evil forces, but his method of pre­sent­ing them is pri­mar­i­ly lit­er­ary, and there­fore ambigu­ous and open to many dif­fer­ent read­ings (some­what like the dev­il Woland in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Mas­ter and Mar­gari­ta). The author imag­ined hell as “some­thing like the bureau­cra­cy of a police state or a thor­ough­ly nasty busi­ness office,” a descrip­tion as chill­ing as it is inher­ent­ly com­ic. As you can see above in the ani­mat­ed scene from Screw­tape by C.S. Lewis Doo­dle, the devils—though drawn in this case as old-fash­ioned winged fiends—behave like pet­ty func­tionar­ies as they lead Wormwood’s solid­ly mid­dle-class “patient” into the sin­is­ter clutch­es of mate­ri­al­ist doc­trine by appeal­ing to his intel­lec­tu­al van­i­ty. As much as it’s a con­dem­na­tion of said doc­trine, the scene also works as a cri­tique of a pop­u­lar dis­course that thrives on fash­ion­able jar­gon and the desire to be seen as rel­e­vant and well-read, no mat­ter the truth or coher­ence of one’s beliefs.

Screw­tape was by no means my first intro­duc­tion to Lewis’s works. Like many, many peo­ple, I cut my lit­er­ary teeth on The Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia (avail­able on audio here) and his bril­liant sci-fi Space Tril­o­gy. But it was the first book of his I’d read that was clear­ly apolo­getic in its intent, rather than alle­gor­i­cal. I’m sure I’m not unique among Lewis’s read­ers in grad­u­at­ing from Screw­tape to his more philo­soph­i­cal books and many essays. One such piece, “We Have No (Unlim­it­ed) Right to Hap­pi­ness,” takes on the mod­ern con­cep­tion of rights as nat­ur­al guar­an­tees, rather than soci­etal con­ven­tions. As he cri­tiques this rel­a­tive­ly recent notion, Lewis devel­ops a the­o­ry of sex­u­al moral­i­ty in which “when two peo­ple achieve last­ing hap­pi­ness, this is not sole­ly because they are great lovers but because they are also—I must put it crudely—good peo­ple; con­trolled, loy­al, fair-mind­ed, mutu­al­ly adapt­able peo­ple.” The C.S. Lewis Doo­dle above illus­trates the many exam­ples of fick­le­ness and incon­stan­cy that Lewis presents in his essay as foils for the virtues he espous­es.

The Lewis Doo­dle seen here illus­trates his 1948 essay “On Liv­ing in an Atom­ic Age,” in which Lewis chides read­ers for the pan­ic and para­noia over the impend­ing threat of nuclear war in the wake of Hiroshi­ma and Nagasa­ki. Such an occur­rence, he writes, would only result in the already inevitable—death—just as the plagues of the six­teenth cen­tu­ry or Viking raids:

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be tak­en is to pull our­selves togeth­er. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atom­ic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sen­si­ble and human things — pray­ing, work­ing, teach­ing, read­ing, lis­ten­ing to music, bathing the chil­dren, play­ing ten­nis, chat­ting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts — not hud­dled togeth­er like fright­ened sheep and think­ing about bombs. They may break our bod­ies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dom­i­nate our minds.

It seems a very mature, and noble, per­spec­tive, but if you think that Lewis glibly gloss­es over the sub­stan­tive­ly dif­fer­ent effects of a nuclear age from any other—fallout, radi­a­tion poi­son­ing, the end of civ­i­liza­tion itself—you are mis­tak­en. His answer, how­ev­er, you may find as I do deeply fatal­is­tic. Lewis ques­tions the val­ue of civ­i­liza­tion alto­geth­er as a hope­less endeav­or bound to end in any case in “noth­ing.” “Nature is a sink­ing ship,” he writes, and dooms us all to anni­hi­la­tion whether we has­ten the end with tech­nol­o­gy or man­age to avoid that fate. Here is Lewis the apol­o­gist, pre­sent­ing us with the stark­est of options—either all of our endeav­ors are utter­ly mean­ing­less and with­out pur­pose or val­ue, since we can­not make them last for­ev­er, or all mean­ing and val­ue reside in the the­is­tic vision of exis­tence. I’ve not myself seen things Lewis’s way on this point, but the C.S. Lewis Doo­dler does, and urges his view­ers who agree to “send to your enquir­ing athe­is­tic mates” his love­ly lit­tle adap­ta­tions. Or you can sim­ply enjoy these as many non-reli­gious read­ers of Lewis enjoy his work—take what seems beau­ti­ful, humane, true, and skill­ful­ly, lucid­ly writ­ten (or drawn), and leave the rest for your enquir­ing Chris­t­ian mates.

You can watch all sev­en ani­ma­tions of C.S. Lewis’s writ­ings here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

C.S. Lewis’ Pre­scient 1937 Review of The Hob­bit by J.R.R. Tolkien: It “May Well Prove a Clas­sic”

Free Audio: Down­load the Com­plete Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia by C.S. Lewis

18 Ani­ma­tions of Clas­sic Lit­er­ary Works: From Pla­to and Shake­speare, to Kaf­ka, Hem­ing­way and Gaiman

Watch Ani­ma­tions of Oscar Wilde’s Children’s Sto­ries “The Hap­py Prince” and “The Self­ish Giant”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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