Readings, a great classic to reread “Berlicche’s letters”

The cover of the book
Photo: Mondadori

“The Devil … that proud spirit … can’t tolerate being teased.” Thomas More affirms it, among others, and it is no coincidence that we find this quote at the opening of a book that wants to make fun of the Devil and, secondly, the human beings who, like arrogant fools, throw themselves into his arms and end up becoming his banquet favorite.

The book in question is a real “classic”: it is “Berlicche’s Letters” by Clive Staples Lewis. We talk about it again with great pleasure, starting with a comforting news: “The letters”, which disappeared from the shelves of bookstores for some time, reappeared a few days ago in a beautiful edition of the Oscar Mondadori, therefore really within everyone’s reach. And this, in fact, seems to us good news and, after all, a setback for the Devil himself. Because she must never have loved him very much, precisely because of his obvious mocking intent towards him, and in his very lucid ability to show the mechanism of many of his tricks …

We will recall just a few aspects of Lewis of his multifaceted personality and of his important literary work. With JRR Tolkien (to which, not surprisingly, “Berlicche’s letters” is dedicated) is indicated as one of the “fathers” of fantasy fiction in the twentieth century along with George McDonald And Tolkien, author of the cycle of novels included in the famous cycle of the “Chronicles of Narnia”, one of the most successful literary works of the twentieth century, with a total sale of 100 million copies worldwide. Was teacher of English language and literature at the University of Oxford and here he met and began a long and deep friendship with Tolkien, with whom, together with Charles Willliams and others, he founded the famous circle of the Inklings which had so much influence both at creative than on a religious and philosophical level.

The writer invents the expedient of an epistolary conversation between demons, his uncle Berlicche and his nephew Malacoda. Wit, humor, fine and consoling humor (which today appears to us as a rare commodity and to be esteemed even more) in this sort of “infernal catechism” but also very solid theology and doctrine, to show everyone how daily life is constantly intertwined with temptations and “tests” of our faith and our humanity. Negative, malevolent choices that lurk under the guise of good and innocence. The evil that hides under the guise of good is called temptation and is the most common trap set for humanity. The author points out from the beginning that “there are two errors, equal and opposite, into which our race can fall in regard to devils. One is not believing in their existence. The other is to believe and feel in order to they an excessive and unhealthy interest. The devils are content with both errors and greet the materialist and the magician with the same joy. “

The nephew tells of how he is trying to bring a soul between good and evil to damnation, against the backdrop of bombed England during the Second World War. Hell is transformed, through the correspondence between uncle and nephew, into a perfectly efficient company; because – writes the author in the Preface to the 1961 edition – “the supreme evil is not done in those squalid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to describe. It is not done even in concentration camps and labor camps. There we see its final result. Instead it is conceived and ordered (moved, indulged, carried forward and punctuated) in clean, warm, carpeted and well-lit offices, by quiet men with white collars, perfect manicures and clean-shaven cheeks that do not need raise your voice”. An image that, today like yesterday, shivers more than pitchforks, flames and forked tails.

Here, in these letters, apart from the most evident references to the contingent situation, the world war (since the text was in 1941), a ‘portrait’ emerges of the evils and anxieties of the twentieth-century man that we carry as an inheritance also in the twenty-first century, expanded and adapted to new situations. In short, current texts, or rather, texts that do not have time because they speak of the realities of the soul reflected in everyday experience. Everything is under attack, from prayer to reflection, from love to friendship, from work to fun, to family relationships… How will the game for the possession of the soul over which the young devil Wormtail be raging end? Despite the advice full of wisdom (reversed of course) of the uncle rich in experience, we know that they will not have the best, that the young man’s soul will turn towards the Enemy (God). Berlicche’s hope that despite everything, thanks to the diabolical strategy, that of “our realism, our rejection of any stupid nonsense, of any trick to attract applause, must, in the end, win”. He tries to convince himself, and to convince his nephew, that the war will be won in the end, but deep down he knows that this is yet another, last, pathetic lie.

CSLewis, Berlicche’s letters, Oscar Mondadori, euro 12, pp. 130

Readings, a great classic to reread “Berlicche’s letters”