As One Devil to Another | Richard Platt

[At the end of this review, you’ll have an opportunity to win a copy of the book.]

In 1941, The Guardian magazine published a series of letters from Senior Devil Screwtape to his student Wormwood. These were published as The Screwtape Letters (a book I’ve read numerous times) the following year.

At first, the technique seems gimmicky: instead of hierarchy, there’s lowerarchy; instead of Lord, there’s the Adversary. Once you wrap your head around the change of perspective, though, the genre really shines. In C. S. Lewis’ hands, this shift in perspective allowed him to dig deep into the nature of temptation and reveal the Enemy’s (ours, not Wormwood’s) sinister techniques.

I was nervous when I heard about Platt’s foray into the genre. To my surprise and delight, there was nothing to worry about. Lewis biographer Walter Hooper is right to say, “it reads as if C. S. Lewis himself had written it.”

It reads like Lewis on a couple different levels. First, consider the voice of the devils. Both Wormwood and Slashreap convey a demonic mix of arrogance, pride, academia, and bureaucracy. Mix in some dry British humour and you have some entertaining-yet-vaguely-terrifying imps.

As clever as the style of the work is, it is still just the wrapping on the gift. This book shines because of Platt’s insight into the human mind and the nature of temptation. Here are a few of my favourite examples:

On the Internet:

Now, every fool—and the most predatory corporations—has a voice equal in volume, and thus equal in value, to anyone else’s. Genuine expertise is silenced in the cacophony of opinion. No single voice, however sane and informed, is of any value at all. This takes the Man-in-the-Street Interview to even greater heights of absurdity. After all, when did the Man in the Street ever possess the thoughtfulness, education, perspective, patience, time for reflection, emotional depth, and reasoning skills to contribute anything? Once again, the Age of Narcissism brings Subjectivity to our aid. (126)

On Cellphones:

With them, … we separate each human from every other, and from their common humanity, by allowing them to ‘keep in touch’ (how does one not laugh?), maintaining their endless chatter at a conversational level of minimal sentience and maximum banality, feeding their narcissism while allowing them to be rude to two people simultaneously: the person to whom they are speaking and the other directly in front of them. (127-8)

On Modern Art:

The client listened in slack-jawed astonishment to the minx’s admiring assessment of the jewel-encrusted rhinoceros dung, which she proclaimed as Art. … With the elimination of objective standards of every kind, the very concept of Art will become as much a smudge and blur as our Philological Department has made of language. When all works of art finally have equal value, no work of art will have any value whatever. (93)

Platt’s book is stylistically delightful and piercingly incisive. This is a must-read for any fan of The Screwtape Letters or anyone interested in pulling the curtain back on the Devil’s strategy sessions.

Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me free of cost by Tyndale House Publishers.

I love the names Platt comes up with for his devils: Scardagger, Slashreap, Driptweak, Sneakweasel, etc. To win your own copy of this book, leave a comment with your best idea for a Devil’s name. I’ll pick the winner later this week with a random number generator and mail you a certificate for a free copy of your own.

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5 Responses to As One Devil to Another | Richard Platt

  1. Brian Lachine April 24, 2012 at 8:01 am #

    “clivedigs”
    (was going to use “everysingleoneofus” sounds greek but it’s an inxs reference)

  2. Digital Aura April 25, 2012 at 11:40 am #

    Oh, I love this subject! I agree, those are some great names! I’m not too inventive though, myself. I like the names of the Forsaken in Jordan’s “The Wheel Of Time” series. He went to a lot of trouble to come up with good names for his ‘demons’. Shai’tan obviously is a direct deviation from Satan and is the chief antagonist, but others like Asmodean are more indirect deviations of theological demons. In the apocryphal book of Tobit, Asmodeus is a king of demons and represents carnal desire. (Asmodai appears also in the Talmud).
    Another, Sammael, is also based on Jewish and Talmudic lore. In Judaism, Sammael is the ‘angel of death’ and the Talmud presents him as the guardian angel of Esau. How about Graendal? Could be derived from Grendal, the monster in the epic “Beowulf” poem. Be’lal is the bible’s Belial. Personally, I think demon’s names are more in line with actual historic and biblical sounding names – after all, demons were angels before they were cast down from heaven. I can’t imagine an angel being called Leafblighter, or Soulbane. Satan’s name is Lucifer. Negative connotations aside, it’s actually a beautiful name! Abbadon, Legion, Balaam, and obviously Baal are demons named in the bible. I like this convention better.

  3. Ch.rami April 30, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    Cenocrit.

    From cenobite derived through Latin from the Greek for “common” with a suffix that means “to separate”. Thus, using the common to separate.

  4. Stephen Barkley April 30, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

    Okay, the week’s up. A quick trip to random.org will sort out the giveaway.

    And the winner is … [dramatic pause here] … comment #1. Congrats, Brian—your free book’s on its way.

  5. Digital Aura May 1, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

    cenocrit… that’s very clever! 😉

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