A satirical but factually true book review published in The Wittenburg Door, April-May 1976.
AS I WAS HAVING DINNER with Dick Ostling, religion editor of Time magazine, recently, he asked me what I thought about the ads for Walter Martin’s new book Screwtape Writes Again.
“When I was having tea with Owen Barfield (C.S. Lewis’s solicitor) in London recently, I asked him what he thought about the matter and he hadn’t heard about it yet,” I answered. “I think Lewis’s estate could sue and win.”
“I think so too,” said Ostling. It went something like that, just casual chatting.
(When I drop names I like to hear them bong and echo in a resonant way. I’ve never had many names to drop, other than my maiden name which simply sank into silence at my wedding long ago.)
Being short on dinner and tea invitations this week, I looked into Martin’s book for myself. I’ve read several “new Screwtape letters” by various people already, and the only one I liked was by Lewis’s best friend, Charles Williams; it’s still the only one I like.
Martin attacks all kinds of evils including anarchy, modernism, procrastination, and some aspects of women’s liberation. In regard to the latter he says, “What she did not realize and most humans still do not realize, of course, is that man is limited and his talent is generally mediocre at best.” This book certainly illustrates that point. If Martin had been aware that it applied to him as well as to the deluded housewife in his account, he would not have presumed to ape C.S. Lewis. Letter Thirteen includes Screwtape’s description of a Christian publishing house executive with “greedy eyes” who “has long ago had his conscience seared with the red hot iron of worldy ambition and avarice,” and who succumbed to Screwtape and discontinued publication of a certain author’s series of anti-cult books. (Hello there, Zondervan. How do you like that?) It was a serious set-back for Screwtape, we are assured, when Martin’s books went into print elsewhere. Well, maybe it was, but this is a funny place to read that fact.
After reading all the ridiculous claims made on the dust jacket (including the claim that Martin is “a former editor of Eternity magazine”), I wonder about the seared conscience and greedy eyes of some executive at Vision House.
This book isn’t all bad, but compared to The Screwtape Letters it isn’t bad enough. If Screwtape really wrote these new letters, we can rejoice because his powers are waning. He has become a relatively verbose and dull old devil indeed compared to the old days.
As I was having tea with C.S. Lewis in Oxford long ago, he told me he was sick of Screwtape letters anyway. (I doubt that after this review I’ll ever have tea with Walter Martin, but I’d like to. Any enemy of Screwtape is a friend of mine, whether I like his book or not.)