On the Devil’s Side

It’s a cliché that villains are often more interesting — especially more interesting to write about — than heroes. The archetypes, I guess, are Faust’s Mephistopheles and old Screwtape.

(The latter must have been an especially delicious but guilty pleasure for C.S. Lewis to write about; I don’t really take it as gospel, as Wikipedia says, that “Lewis claimed that the book was distasteful to write.” Screwtape is the older, more experienced, wiser demon, offering advice to nephew Wormwood. The uncle has a wonderful voice. Or maybe — since The Screwtape Letters supposedly represent a Christian tract on temptation — maybe the wonderful, alluringly entertaining voice is exactly the point.)

From the ever-reliable whiskey river comes this, a quotation from Stephen Dunn:

Always a little more fun on the Devil’s side. I’ve been his advocate, have opposed what I most believed, testing if what I believed was true. It sometimes almost was; that’s the best I can say. But you can bedevil yourself if you keep playing that game. You don’t want to stand in a torturer’s shoes for long. Still, when it comes to seeking a truth, a certain cruelty can go a long way – right through the heart of a thing to some other side. Doesn’t every far-reaching truth cause a lesser truth to die? Most of us are content to stop at the heart. When I’ve been good’s advocate, playing the less clever role, I’ve gone as far as good can go. Maybe some orthodoxy or some abomination lost ground for a while. Maybe not. The one time I had the Devil down, thinking he’d give, he whispered, “Remember, the punishment for being good is a life of goodness.” I laughed, and he was gone.

“The punishment for being good is a life of goodness”: ha! That pretty much sums up a villain’s motives, eh?

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