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The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Comprising most of Lewis' writings.

The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Postby Solomons Song » 25 Sep 2009, 02:50

Has anyone seen this yet? The Screwtape Letters audio drama by Focus on the Family. Andy Serkis (a.k.a. Gollum from LotR) is doing Screwtape's voice.
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Re: The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Postby larry gilman » 14 Oct 2009, 19:17

Well, looking at the video and other stuff on the link you give, the production values look undeniably superb. Serkis's acting is top notch in this. My own feeling is that audio is the "hot" medium (per McLuhan) least alien to print, and that this production may, in fact, be a very good one. Not that I want to hear it. Why is the book never good enough? Why do we always have to be hailing the next adaptation into film, audio drama, comics, museum displays, Tarot decks, whatever, of our beloved books?

But I'm OK with it . . . if they haven't meddled with Lewis's thought to make it more Focus on the Family friendly. For although Lewis has been much adopted by right-wing Christian groups, I think there is a tendency to remake him in a preferred image -- as the Lancelot of Christian Conservatism -- when he was actually more complex, hailing from a country and a time when some of the elements we Americans now think of as "liberal" were intimately mingled with those we think of as "conservative."

One of the Focus on the Family causes that gets my goat is their zealous promotion of Intelligent Design creationism. Ack. Gaghk.

So, in short I would like to see the script . . . is Lewis being used at all?

I notice that from the FOF Screwtape website one can connect to a Twitter conversation between Wormwood and Screwtape. Looking through the messages, this seems pretty vacuous -- true to the essential Twitter concept of reducing communication to little say-nothing nibs -- but they are definitely coming up with their own stuff to broadcast, not Lewis's stuff. Some sneering at "self-help" teachers, for example. It will be interesting to see how long this goes on, and what fresh opinions Lewis's characters are made to voice by FOF.

Prima facie, I trust FOF about as far as I can throw a theocrat . . .

Regards,

Larry
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Re: The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Postby FriendlyNotTame » 26 Oct 2009, 11:05

I didn't actually read The Screwtape Letters but I listened to an audiobook on a long journey. It was a verbatim rendition of the book so hopefully I can be forgiven! I do wonder how it would be improved by a visual dramatisation. I imagine that this would require significant modification from the letter format of the book.
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Re: The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Postby larry gilman » 27 Oct 2009, 18:13

FOF has already done away with the epistolary structure of the book, according to their promo material. It's now meetings in a pub between Wormwood and Screwtape, or something along those lines . . .

Audiobooks are fine by me: just a different form of the original text. Reading aloud is a hallowed art.

Regards,

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Re: The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Postby Solomons Song » 28 Oct 2009, 16:11

I agree that Lewis has been deified too much by the religious right. Some have went so far as to speculate on what Lewis would say to our issues that didn't really exist, at least not as a political issue, in his lifetime. He did address some things, issue by issue. Items like corporal punishment, he was heavily conservative, while other issues he thought the government should have stayed out of, like the sacredness of marriage. I read somewhere that, by our standards, Lewis would have been more of a libertarian than a conservative or a liberal. I imagine, today he would have angered both sides. I also imagine he would have urged the Church to stay out of politics.

There is also a stage production of Screwtape that is currently getting a lot of attention.

http://www.fpatheatre.com/screwtape

The impish little Toadpipe apparently is extremely animated an acts out many of the temptations Screwtape expounds upon.

I am a 7-day creationist myself, so I have nothing to say about the FOF creationism remark.
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Re: The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Postby larry gilman » 28 Oct 2009, 17:32

The "libertarian" label is perhaps slightly better for Lewis than the contemporary American meanings of "liberal" or "conservative," but I think that the monomaniacal anti-governmentism of our libertarians would have sat ill with Lewis. I think he would have been fine with the helping functions of government, against the meddling functions (ah, but which is which? an anti-pollution law is meddling from the point of view of the polluter, helping from the point of view of those downwind). Doesn't he somewhere in the Letters express horror at the US policy of letting people sink without medical care if they can't afford it or don't have insurance? Or is this just a fevered hallucination of my reform-starved left-wing consciousness? (The Letters volumes are too thick -- I'm daunted from paging through them at the moment -- )

What Lewis "would have" done if he were alive today has at least 2 meanings. One is the time-travel fantasy, where one plucks CSL from 1947 or 1960 and quizzes him about today's issues. That Lewis, the time-travelling Lewis, would certainly oppose women and gays in the Episcopalian priesthood and abortion (he wrote against "priestesses in the church"). He would probably also support universal single-payer healthcare on the lines of the UK National Health system (est. 1948) that cared for him and Joy during their final illnesses. He would oppose any form of Save Marriage Amendment, judging by certain writings where he says that marriage should be a religious matter, not a legislated affair. We know that CSL was OK with evolution, though he didn't like natural selection very much. He declared in Reflections on the Psalms that he was definitely not a "fundamentalist" and, in particular, did not think the Bible an inerrant word-for-word dictation by the Almighty. Given his respect for mainstream science -- his comments in Miracles and elsewhere reveal someone who was accurately abreast, at least approximately, with developments in modern physics -- I think he would not be one of the climate-change denialism crowd. He would have been what hate-filled oafs like Rush Limbaugh now shriek down as an "environmentalist whacko" -- a tree-hugger, a nature-lover, a pollution-controller, an acreage-preserver, an anti-developer. He was, we know, a royalist -- but not, I think, an Empire man. I think he would be today a patriotic anti-interventionist of some sort, along Chestertonian lines maybe. I think that if opining on American issues he would favor strict immigration policy (right-leaning) but be horrified by the brutality and uncompassion of our anti-immigrationists (left-leaning). (The other day I saw Obama swearing up and down, in response to right-wing fire, that he had NOT said that his health bill would extend coverage to undocumented foreigners -- as much as to say, "I will so let the Mexican children on the wrong side of the invisible line rot!" Right-wing: "You lie! You will not let them rot!") He would have been against torture, special rendition, indefinite detention without trial, impunity for high officials.

Altogether quite a blend of allegiances. Not in one of our neat little boxes. All the more valuable for that. If read honestly, CSL remains a challenge to both his liberal and conservative readers. I disagree with him on certain matters, but he forces one to disagree from strong grounds, not lazily.

Then there is the Lewis that Lewis would have been by now if his lifespan could have been extended to 110 or more without dimming his intellect. Lewis was not a static thinker. He was unquestionably changing his attitudes up until he died -- not mindlessly twirling like a weathervane, but evolving. Those of us on the left are free to imagine that he would have become more like us, those on the right (or in some other direction), likewise. But such speculations are fruitless, exercises in wishful thinking only.
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Re: The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Postby Acrux » 09 Nov 2009, 03:17

I heard about half an hour of this today on a local radio station, with mixed feelings. The production values were superb. Most of the original material was kept intact. Andy Serkis was entertaining, if over the top (on par for him I find).

That said, there was just something about the bit I heard that made the end result something less than the sum of it's parts. I remember the same feeling when listening to the FotF Narnia series - great all the way around, but it just seems like they are trying too hard to capture that Lewis essence, and it just can't really be done outside of the written word. This book especially needs to be read a chapter at a time to mull over the ideas, something you can't easily do with audio.

Also, the voice parts for Wormwood were an obvious tack-on and didn't add anything to the production, except for allowing a bit of dialogue exchange. It's sort of like when a character is added to a movie that didn't exist in the original work: they interact minimally with other characters, but anything they say or do ends up having negligable impact on anyone. Same with Wormwood here - his one word interjections didn't really progress the conversation.

I don't mean to sound as if I hated it. It was okay - just those couple of issues resonated with me as I listened.
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Re: The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Postby larry gilman » 10 Nov 2009, 14:03

Acrux,

I have not heard anything of the FOF Screwtape adaptation except what one hears by watching the promotional videos on the FOF website, but what you say rings true for the bits I heard and I think you accurately name chronic problems with all book-adaptation projects.

Also, the Screwtape/Wormwood Twitter feed is fully exemplary of the "not saying anything new" problem: consists of chatty, pseudo-witty twaddle generated as a vehicle for dilute restatements of things Lewis said better in his book, or, worse, FOF's notions of what they would LIKE Lewis to have said.

I've sworn off all adaptations of great books in all media. Three decades of disappointment, with the patterns becoming clearer and clearer, have convinced me. Even the adaptations that people earnestly assure me are "faithful to the book" always make me feel bloated, ill, diminished, cheated, a sucker yet again. No more! The printed page for me!

Love to all,

Larry
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Re: The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Postby Nerd42 » 28 Aug 2010, 00:53

I am listening to the series right now and it's all right but not all that truly great. I think it's not original enough. If you're going to change letters into dialogues, then do it and have the characters merely discuss the same ideas as in the letters as they naturally would, borrowing the occasional phrase from the original letters but not copying them verbatim. But what we have here is an almost verbatim copy of the Screwtape Letters rather forcibly scotch-taped together into dialogues with music and sound effects added with a few extra story scraps about twisting cats tails and hiding dead mouse carcasses that have nothing whatsoever to do with the main point. I was hoping for either a true dramatization that expands upon their characters or else merely a really well done reading of the book. As it is, the sound effects and atmosphere guides the listener to dwell on the relationship going on between Screwtape and Wormwood (the small scraps of plot or story) rather than on the issues Screwtape is discussing. (the real point) For example, in one scene Screwtape is saying something tremendously important but behind him and occasionally interrupting him are screaming sounds from something being tortured in the next room. That is not conducive to getting people to think hard about the issues being raised which is really the whole point. Either turn it into a full-fledged Adventures in Odyssey style dramatization or make it a book reading but not both. The man who tries to do everything does nothing well.

My criticism I suppose mirrors Lewis's own when it comes to combining the arts of speaking and writing. He felt that writers shouldn't write "shouldn't" and instead should write "should not" but that speakers should say, "shouldn't." In other words, for him, speaking styles and writing styles had different standards. He felt that a writing style that tries to combine the arts of speaking and writing was, "an undesirable hybrid." That is unfortunately how I would describe this production. Very enjoyable for me as a hardcore Lewis fan but not what I'd recommend to someone who hadn't read or heard the Screwtape Letters before. I expect that the live stage version was better. Things are always different live.

It's very interesting to note where they have made edits in the text, especially when they smack of modern American Protestant right-wing political correctness. For example, in letter 27 their version of Screwtape declines to describe Henry Ford as an "ignorant mechanic" as the one in the book did. I think it's hilarious that they're so committed to their pro-Capitalist politics that they feel they must censor a fictional demon from making an anti-Ford or anti-corporate or anti-Capitalist political statement, despite the warning at the beginning that not everything Screwtape says is to be taken as true even from his own angle.

I can see the argument for leaving that bit out. I suppose they'd say throwing that in distracted from the main point of the letter but I'd say that's bunk because their effects guy isn't afraid to have tortured screams distracting from the main point LOL.

I really think once something like that is there, it's there and we've no business tampering with the original meaning of the text like that if we're going to do a mostly verbatim reading like this. In a few other places, Scrwetape will be making lists of things and some of the things in the book will be replaced with more recent issues or Americanized or clarified somehow in interesting ways. Screwtape and Wormwood have very British accents and culture but rather more Americanized politics compared to the book if you read between the lines and note the subtle changes. They are also an interesting contrast to the portrayal of demons in Frank Peretti's Darkness series which are more explicitly American.

Also, when human characters are overheard debating issues in social settings, they are always arguing issues pulled from Lewis's other books and some of them will take Lewis's positions. It's very funny. This would probably be called "fanservice" if it was an anime, sorta like Superman showing up on a Batman cartoon.

The conclusion is very nicely done, very dramatic. Someone read an afterward that I hadn't heard before. And there's a really neat original scene between Screwtape and Toadpipe at the very end which is definitely worth hearing if you don't get anything else out of this version. But I'm very disappointed that it's missing Screwtape Proposes A Toast and in fact it suggests Lewis never wrote any more. That guy's voice would seem to have gone great with the speech but I guess it wasn't to be.
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Re: The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Postby larry gilman » 28 Aug 2010, 13:39

Nerd42,

Thanks for the thoughtful mixed review.

Interestingly, this is not the first tweaking of Screwtape to be Americanized. On this forum I've previously dissected the Americanizations and other changes (some of them bizarre) introduced by Walter Hooper into an edition of the book published in 1976:

viewtopic.php?t=8485

Generally, I don't think that any of these adaptations of and meddlings with Lewis and Tolkien and other authors add anything to the world at all. In this particular case, the book is a self-sufficient masterpiece. It is enough. No more is needed. If people have all this wonderful creative energy, my feeling is that they should go create something new (the need is effectively infinite) instead of repackaging something that was already perfect the way it was . . .
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Re: The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Postby Stanley Anderson » 29 Aug 2010, 15:35

Gotta make this quick -- I need to be getting ready, but darn it, Larry, you make it so hard to resist replying. (one of the joys I miss in not being involved in internet forums in general these days is the interactions with you here. But I have the impression you are not around the forums much either? -- though I'm not sure about that since I haven't looked here or the other areas of the Wardrobe thoroughly to know how much you post these days)

larry gilman wrote:Generally, I don't think that any of these adaptations of and meddlings with Lewis and Tolkien and other authors add anything to the world at all. In this particular case, the book is a self-sufficient masterpiece. It is enough. No more is needed. If people have all this wonderful creative energy, my feeling is that they should go create something new (the need is effectively infinite) instead of repackaging something that was already perfect the way it was . . .


I pretty much completely agree with what you've said here (I would possibly clarify that I don't think it is impossible to do something good as an adaptation -- even with something that is already a masterpiece -- but simply that nothing good or worth it has been done or is at all likely to be done in these cases)

But just to play Screwtape's Advocate, in connection with your last comment above, "they should go create something new...instead of repackaging something that was already perfect the way it was", what would you say about someone deciding to repackage the Cupid and Psyche myth? Lewis indicates he wanted to retell it and "add" in his various improvements to the story as he felt it ought to have to make it do what he wanted it to do. Aside from sheer masterful quality and ability (and perhaps that is the only distinction?), can we distinguish that desire from the desires of the "modern American Protestant right-wing political correctness" (I realize that is not a quote from your post) wanting to get rid of the Ford reference?

By the way, in reference to my clarification above, I might also suggest (but I'm not at all sure -- like Indiana Jones, I'm making this up as I go) that it is precisely those perfect or near-perfect works that are most amenable to the idea of adaptation -- eg, some interesting Shakespeare adaptations have been done over the years, and of course Karen and I always tout our favourite example of Brideshead Revisited (and here is my plug for my "Stanley theory" that Speilberg's movie A.I. was a essentially a remake of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey)

Anyway, gotta go -- curious to hear your thoughts on the matter -- again, I pretty much agree with your thoughts here.

--Stanley
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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Re: The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Postby larry gilman » 29 Aug 2010, 18:53

Well, it's a very reasonable question, Stanley. My notion or offering is this: works that have a strong individual style or voice are not generally improved upon or added to by adaptation -- i.e., re-telling, rewriting "for the modern reader," abridgement, Americanizing, movie-izing, radio-izing, stage-izing. Works where voice and flavor are intimately intertwined do not, I think, "translate" well and new creators are best advised to either (a) move on from them entirely or (b) use them very tangentially if at all (e.g., tell the story of Mr. Rochester's wife if you can make a good original work of it, but for goodness' sake don't just re-tell _Jane Eyre_). Most modern literary storytelling is, I think, in this translation-resistant class. Lyric verse would be _entirely_ in this class. Myths are at the opposite end: as Lewis himself pointed out in his prologue to _Till We Have Faces_ (if memory serves), the essence of a myth is that there is no definitive telling -- it's the shape of the tale itself that moves, that is so (in Tolkien's word) "progenerative," so fruitful of new readings, new meanings, new makings. I think we could all think of many works, many books, that fall on all points on this spectrum (where the idea of one-dimensional "spectrum" is of course just a metaphor) -- between those where underlying story-forms are all and those where the fabric of specific language is all.

One could embellish and qualify all this, but I think there's something true in it . . .

Regards,

Larry

PS. I haven't been forum-ing much myself lately, but these things always go through waves.
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Re: The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Postby Nerd42 » 29 Aug 2010, 23:24

It's all so very simple really. If you're going to depart from the text, do so boldly and openly. Take risks. Say something (artistically) that might tick people off. Or, stick strictly to the actual text. Both can be done well. What can't be done well is the wishy washy area in between that this adaptation inhabits.

A great example of an excellent adaptation that departs radically from the original would be Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio play against H. G. Wells original novel. Would Welles have done better to have stuck with strictly adapting Wells original intention unchanged for radio? No, of course not. I was hoping for a Welles style retelling or a simple audiobook version with effects added but got an "undesirable hybrid."

By the way, I myself am a right-wing, Pro-Capitalist American so I resemble that remark except I'm not Protestant. And I don't happen to agree with Lewis that a hybrid of the arts of speaking and writing is undesirable - I habitually use just such a hybrid style myself and don't regret it. But I think we are looking at an undesirable hybrid in this case.
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Re: The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Postby Matthew Whaley » 29 Aug 2010, 23:53

Even an "undesirable hybrid" could cause people who have never heard of The Screwtape Letters before to go back and read for themselves not just that book, but many more books by Lewis. Look at what the The Lord of the Rings movies did for Tolkien's book sales. Yet something that is done badly enough could also have the opposite effect!
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Re: The Screwtape Letters, by Focus on the Family

Postby Nerd42 » 29 Aug 2010, 23:56

Matthew Whaley wrote:Even an "undesirable hybrid" could cause people who have never heard of The Screwtape Letters before to go back and read for themselves not just that book, but many more books by Lewis. Look at what the The Lord of the Rings movies did for Tolkien's book sales.
Hey I resemble that remark. Seeing the first movie made me go read the books to find out what was going to happen in the others.

I think those movies stayed fairly close to the original all things considered. I mean, sure there's no Tom Bombadil and maybe there should have been, but I think the criticism of the movies that they leave too much out is overstated. I can't imagine trying to make a series of films that stays much closer to the text than those do and if you watch the extended version of all three, you're so sick of Lord of the Rings by the time you're done, it has to occur to most people that at the end of the day, a film can only include so much.
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