The Lewis Legacy-Issue 85, Summer 2000
Chronology of C. S. Lewis's Use of the Word Vermin
The C.S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing
June 1, 2000
by Kathryn Lindskoog
Vermin: 1. Dirty or destructive pests such as rats or cockroaches
2. Small wild predators such as foxes or weasels
3. Loathsome people
1919 "Satan Speaks" Spirits in Bondage (early poetry)
Between their will and mine -- such lot I give
While still in my despite the vermin live.
(Lewis has Satan call humans vermin.)
1933 Pilgrim's Regress
But in each form the anguished eyes were alive, sending to him unutterable messages from the central life which survived, self-conscious, though the self were but a fountain of vermin.
(Lewis calls insects vermin.)
1939 The Personal Heresy
The skill of concrete utterance, as we have seen, can be used for almost any purpose. Fools use it to utter folly, wise men to utter wisdom, humorous men to make jokes, and vermin to utter poison.
(Lewis calls villains vermin.)
1940 The Problem of Pain
Theoretically, I suppose, we might say "Yes: we behave like vermin, but then that is because we are vermin. And that, at any rate, is not our fault." But the fact that we are vermin, so far from being felt as an excuse, is a greater shame and grief to us than any of the particular acts which it leads us to commit.
(Lewis says if we act like vermin it's because we are vermin.)
1942 Screwtape Letters
1. Here were vermin so muddled in mind, so passively responsive to environment, that it was very hard to raise them to that level of clarity and deliberateness at which mortal sin becomes possible
2. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us.
3. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His "free" lovers and servants--"sons" is the word He uses,
4. Of course I know that the Enemy also wants to detach men from themselves, but in a different way. Remember always, that He really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them
5. If, as I have clearly shown, all selves are by their very nature in competition, and therefore the Enemy's idea of Love is a contradiction it terms, what becomes of my reiterated warning that He really loves the human vermin and really desires their freedom and continued existence?
6. Defeated, out-manoeuvred fool! Did you mark how naturally --as if he'd been born for it -- the earth-born vermin entered the new life?
(Lewis has Satan call humans vermin six times.)
1950 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
1. "Speak, vermin!" she said again.
2. "It will not take us long to crush the human vermin and the traitors now that the great Fool, the great Cat, lies dead."
(Lewis has the Witch call humans vermin twice.)
1951 Prince Caspian
"Let the vermin be flung into a pit," said Peter. "But the Dwarf we will give to his people to be buried in their own fashion."
(Lewis has Peter call dead animal traitors vermin.)
1952 Mere Christianity
In war, each side may find a traitor on the other side very useful. But though they use him and pay him they regard him as human vermin. (Lewis says those who use traitors consider them vermin,)
1966 Of Other Worlds
1. "A Reply to Professor Haldane"
There are, on his side as well as on mine, Vichy-like vermin who define the right side as the side that is going to win.
(Lewis calls traitors vermin.)
2. "Forms of Things Unknown"
The knowing man said, "There's something behind all this." The vermin said, "He always was a chap who'd do anything to get himself into the limelight."
(Lewis has a good man call his envious colleagues vermin.)
In books published during Lewis's lifetime, he used the words vermin 14 times. He used it nine times to express the hatred of Satan for humans. He used it three times as a synonym for traitors and villains. He also used it once for traitorous animals and once for insects.
Walter Hooper published the word vermin four times in 1966: twice in his 2,000-word essay "Hell and Immortality" and twice in his Lewis collection Of Other Worlds. Neither "A Reply to Professor Haldane" nor "Forms of Things Unknown" has any provenace. The latter is on the forgery list and uses the word vermin for envious men who are neither villains nor traitors.