After writing the great “Out of the Silent Planet“. a pioneering work of science fiction, and before writing the famous “Chronicles of Narnia”, CS Lewis wrote a thin volume called, “The Screwtape Letters“, published in 1942. I consider it to be on a par with “The Prince”. The letters are written from Hell by Screwtape, a veteran demon giving advice to his young nephew, a novice tempter. Lewis took an explicit and conventional Christian belief system as his starting point. In spite of that (says I) the book is full of insight into human character.
Substitute “irony” for “flippancy” in the following, cited by Screwtape as an aide to exploiting human frailties:
But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it,
Your affectionate uncle SCREWTAPE
Lewis dedicated Screwtape to his good friend and fellow Oxford don, JRR Tolkien. I think Tolkein may have based Bilbo Baggins on Lewis, who gave Tolkein a lot of encouragement to write about Middle Earth.
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