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No "Sombre Satan": C. S. Lewis, Milton, and Re-presentations of the Diabolical

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C.S. Lewis is most often read as a staunch "anti-Satanist" and critic of romanticized readings of Milton's Satan, a view derived largely from his Preface to Paradise Lost. Elsewhere, however, Lewis disagrees strongly with Milton's representations of Satan, Hell, and demons, most notably in his fictional works Perelandra, That Hideous Strength, and The Screwtape Letters. To rectify what he saw as the "harm" caused by Milton's humanized depiction of the diabolical, Lewis draws upon elements of a long medieval tradition which Milton had largely avoided—the tradition of "grotesque" representation. In appropriating this tradition, Lewis aims to re-introduce a sense of terror in connection with the diabolical, a move which both suggests the violence and brutality of certain forms of evil and disallows any sympathetic identification with the Devil on the part of the reader. In contrast to Milton, then, Lewis portrays a Devil that is aggressive and animalistic, and a Hell that is despotic and intrinsically unstable. At the same time, however, Lewis was keenly aware that especially in modern society the diabolical can often exist within the seemingly "normal," and his employment of the grotesque finally urges a chilling recognition of the terrible within each of us.


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