Lord Foulgrin's Letters: Afterword
Note from Randy Alcorn: Originally I intended the following to be the Introduction to Lord Foulgrin's Letters. Later I decided to shift it to the back of the book, realizing some readers would want to dive straight into the story without explanation. A note to the readers in the front of the book tells them they might also want to turn to the back of the book and read this first.
In 1947 C. S. Lewis appeared on the cover of Time magazine, with an angel wing above his head on his right, and a demon standing on his left shoulder. By then Lewis had written most of his popular books, with the exception of The Chronicles of Narnia. But of all the writings that could have captured the man, Time chose Screwtape Letters, first written as a magazine series six years earlier.
The premise was ingenious—letters written by a senior demon, Screwtape, to his apprentice demon Wormwood. The letters offered instruction on how to tempt and deceive humans, and lure them into sin. The book captured people's imaginations. To the chagrin of some intellectuals, it proved more popular than Lewis's scholarly works.
Lewis wrote Screwtape from his home in Oxford, England, while World War II raged. The book contains references to the bombings in London, to rationing and patriotism and pacifism and other wartime issues. Now nearly sixty years later, some parts of Screwtape are dated, but the core is as relevant as ever. Its timelessness is rooted in the fact that Lewis had profound insight into the human condition, as well as the spiritual forces of darkness, which are no different now than they were then.
In an age when materialism and humanism were conquering the minds of the western world, Lewis appealed to the reality of the supernatural. He reminded us we're surrounded by powers far greater than ourselves, engaged in battle for our souls.
The Screwtape Letters is the inspiration for Lord Foulgrin's Letters. While there are significant differences between Lewis's approach and my own, I give him full credit for the premise. Those who've read my novel Deadline know Lewis's Mere Christianity plays a pivotal role in the story. In Dominion, the main character reads The Chronicles of Narnia to his children. In fact, Lewis himself is a character in Dominion, where he appears in heaven instructing and guiding someone who's died. Edge of Eternity, Nick Seagrave's pilgrimage into a world where the spiritual realms are visible, was partially inspired by the writings of C. S. Lewis. In fact, I've never written a book, fiction or nonfiction, in which I haven't been influenced by him.
When he died November 22, 1963—the same day as John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley—it was all gain for Lewis, but loss for the world, which surrendered one of its greatest spokesmen for the Christian faith. There is and always will be only one C. S. Lewis. In these sixty years, why have there have been so few attempts to write in the distinctive Screwtape genre he created? Partly because every writer—including me—must realize that he will not fare well in any comparison to the master! Still, I think Lewis would approve of Lord Foulgrin's Letters, as he often approved of the imperfect works of lesser minds. (I'll find out for sure when I meet him, a day I look forward to.)
Lord Foulgrin's Letters is not a retelling of Screwtape, nor an attempt to imitate Lewis's inimitable style. One major difference is, I include between the letters scenes that help create an earthly setting, tell a story, and develop characters. I hope this makes characters and issues more real, and the letters more lifelike.
Biblical Moorings of this Book
Theologian G.C. Berkouwer said, "There can be no sound theology without a sound demonology." Some deny the existence of demons, regarding them as mere symbols of man's inhumanity to man. But even those who believe the Bible tend to develop sloppy demonology. Often our understanding of fallen angels is based more on superstition, tradition and assumptions than the Scriptures.
Our adversary is the ultimate con artist. For that reason I've tried to carefully study what Scripture teaches—and doesn't teach—about Satan and his angels. I've sought to fuel and govern my imagination by the Scriptures. To the degree that I've failed to do so, I ask the reader's understanding and God's forgiveness. Please realize that despite my genuine attempts to be true to God's Word, I don't claim infallibility for this book. In fact, I emphatically claim fallibility.
Satan is a liar. Demons are masters at deceit. I imagine, though, when demons privately discuss the lies they tell us, they openly recognize many of them as just that—lies. When you overhear liars honestly discussing the strategies behind their lies, you learn much that's true. (Of course, habitual liars—including Foulgrin and Squaltaint—will sometimes lie to each other as well.)
Do I mean literally that demons communicate with each other? Of course. They are intelligent beings portrayed in Scripture as rational and communicative. They operate within a hierarchy dependent on issuing, receiving and carrying out orders. They wage war against God, righteous angels and us. Intelligence gathering, strategy, deploying troops, communicating battle orders and reporting on the results of engagements are all basic aspects of warfare.
Demons are fallen angels, a high order of God's creation. They are spirits, and therefore not subject to the sensory limitations of human bodies. They are stronger and far more intelligent than we. While we live in the fog and darkness of the Shadowlands, they live in the spiritual world where there's a certain clarity of thought even among the fallen.
Though Scripture doesn't suggest they can read our minds or know the future, demons are certainly aware of much truth we aren't. Their modus operandi is to twist, deceive, and mislead, but they are intimately familiar with the truth they twist. In fact, they may even quote Scripture in their attempts to mislead us, as Satan did in his temptation of Christ.
Scripture puts it this way: "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder" (James 2:19).
Demons see spiritual realities they have no choice but to believe, no matter how much they rebel against them. They hate the incarnation, virgin birth, and resurrection, but they believe them with as much conviction as the most fervent Christian. Demons are atheists in their behavior, but fundamentalists in their beliefs.
Despite this, though, I suspect their finite minds and twisted natures keep them from understanding or fully believing lofty realities such as the love and grace of God. This surfaces in some of Foulgrin's letters.
I also believe demons are capable of self-deception, which partly explains their initial rebellion. This accounts for my portrayal of Foulgrin as sometimes imagining his side can win the war and reclaim heaven, and other times despairing because he realizes his inevitable destiny is hell.
A Wiretap in Satan's War Room
The purpose behind Lord Foulgrin's Letters is simple. Given demons' insights into reality and their plot to deceive and destroy us—this is one conspiracy theory that's right on target—wouldn't it be a major coup for us to place a wiretap in hell's war room? What if we could plant a bugging device where we could overhear our enemies assessing our weaknesses and strategizing how next to attack us?
Of course, we wouldn't agree with their values and goals, but we could learn a great deal from their insights about us, how the war is going, which of their strategies are working on us and which aren't. What an opportunity to see what they have up their sleeves!
Wouldn't every defense attorney love to overhear a conversation between two prosecutors going after him and his client? Wouldn't every coach and athlete want to know the scouting report on his team, what's being said about them and what plays are being drawn up by the opposing coach?
There's nothing so intriguing as an inside look, as hearing an unguarded appraisal of yourself. There's nothing like seeing your opponent's game plan unveiled.
In Lord Foulgrin's Letters correspondence we weren't intended to see has fallen into our hands. Our eyebrows raise, our ears tingle, for we are the subject of conversation. We're overhearing a dialogue about how to deceive us, ruin us, keep us from God, and make us miserable and unfruitful.
We won't enjoy everything we hear—much of it will be unflattering—but hopefully we'll come away wiser, more skillful and alert in resisting the enemy's battle plan.
This is reality, not myth—we are actually being watched, hovered over, and whispered to, not only by God and righteous angels, but by fallen angels, demons. These beings are likely present in this room as I write, and wherever you are as you read. If God were to open our eyes we would see angels, both fallen and unfallen, as clearly as I see this computer screen or you see these pages.
Paul took a particular course of action "that Satan might not outwit us, for we are not ignorant of his schemes" (2 Corinthians 2:11). The degree to which Satan outwits us will correspond directly to how informed-or ignorant-we are of his schemes against us. Lord Foulgrin's Letters is intended to make us more aware of those schemes and more successful in resisting them.
Clarifications Concerning Lord Foulgrin's Letters
Though I tried to capture some degree of demonic evil on these pages, I couldn't fully depict demons as they'd likely communicate. To do so would've required letters filled with blasphemy and profanity. If this book dripped with unrelenting evil on every page—as it might if actually written by a demon—it would have neither virtue nor readers. Neither would it have me as the author. Though I've sought to be as true as possible to biblical realities, I used the latitude fiction allows to communicate the minds of evil beings in a more restrained and appropriate manner.
Setting plays an important role in fiction, but how could I develop a setting for an invisible realm where displaced demons roam? Heaven, as described in Scripture, has physical properties and is made for humans, who are both spiritual and physical beings. So heaven can be described, but the current realm of fallen angels really can't be. My giving Foulgrin a non-descript office at temporary headquarters was a concession to this impossibility.
Characterization was also challenging—how do you "flesh out" a character who has no flesh? How can you keep this demon from being no more than the author wearing a demon's mask? How can you make a demon a sympathetic character the reader can identify with in some way? For the book to work, I had to humanize Foulgrin to a degree, attempting to give him a personality and a voice. Since they are intelligent, volitional, communicative beings who've chosen rebellion, the gap between fallen angels and we fallen image-bearers may not be as vast as we'd like to believe.
Demons, in their interaction with each other, might not elaborate as much as I have on their Enemy's purposes (since, of course, I've written this for the benefit of human beings). But I suspect they do spend a fair amount of time discussing God's strategies, for the purposes of devising counter-measures. They realize, as we should, that effective battle strategy requires knowing the enemy and his tactics.
The single greatest challenge in writing this book was that it required me to put myself in a demon's head without letting him into mine. This was no small task, and I could never have survived the attempt without the faithful prayers of many.
Authors frequently receive letters from readers who don't like what one of their characters said or did. I love to hear from readers, but I ask them not to forget Lord Foulgrin is a demon. That means he doesn't speak for me! He calls God the Tyrant, but I view him as a gracious Lord. When he calls God the Enemy, it's his point of view, not mine. Satan is our enemy, of course, but Foulgrin—not me—calls him Lord. Foulgrin is, among other things, an egocentric blasphemer, racist, stalker and hater of women and children. I hope it's evident to the reader that I ascribe these attitudes to a demon precisely because I find them morally corrupt, unchristian and indefensible.
As law enforcement officers listening to a bugging device planted at a crime syndicate meeting have to sort out what's should be believed and what shouldn't, the reader needs to search the Scriptures to sort out what's true and what isn't in these letters (Acts 17:11). That's part of the challenge, and part of the fun.
Big to us, Small to God
Augustine called Satan "the ape of God." Martin Luther believed the devil so real he threw his ink well at him. But Luther also reminded us "the devil is God's devil." He encouraged us to jeer and flout the devil because "he cannot bear scorn."
We shouldn't take the devil lightly. But we should also realize this roaring lion is on a leash held by an omnipotent and loving God. We must neither underestimate nor overestimate his power. Speaking of demons, God tells us, "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (1 John 4:4).
Nothing must be more infuriating to demons than for us to realize if we've repented of our sins and trusted Christ as our Savior, then the same Lord who evicted them from heaven dwells within us. He's infinitely more powerful than they. Through Him we can overcome them.
The devil may be big to us, but he is small to God. The greater our God, the smaller our devil.
Know your God. Know yourself. Know your enemy. I pray Lord Foulgrin's Letters has helped you better know each.