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Richard Platt Interview (As One Devil to Another)

April 3, 2012

The following is a NEW interview I did with Richard Platt. He began to consider writing later in his life, but has been a reader of C.S. Lewis for many years. A big fan of The Screwtape Letters, one day realized he had some devilish letters of his own within him.

Note: a transcript of the interview is below.

Link to Richard Platt Interview




Interviews and other audio specials, with some exceptions, have been MOVED to another site…All About Jack: A C.S. Lewis Podcast.

However, the latest interview posting that is done there on Mondays, is mentioned here on Tuesdays.

Minutes are now posted each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.


Q and A with Richard Platt

Your book is hot off the presses as this interview is posted, so most listeners have likely not hear of it… but because it is very much like one of Lewis’ books, could you begin by briefly comparing and contrasting them?

I’m a little uneasy with the idea of comparison, because it implies that my little book is actually worthy of comparison.  Of course, I’d very much like it to be worthy of comparison, but I don’t think it’s my place to do this.  Lewis pointed out that a man is seldom required to assess his accomplishments, and I don’t really feel comfortable assessing my work publically.  As One Devil to Another is the best book I can make it.  It’s not a sequel to Screwtape, but I have attempted to match Lewis’s literary voice, the balance of gravity and wit in a kind of photographic negative, where the blacks white and the whites black.  As to how far I’ve succeeded, I think this is something for readers to decide. Thus far, reviews have been very kind.  I hope that my little book will do a bit of good in the world. 

I understand that you wrote the entire book in about five weeks, or at least the first draft…take us back to how the idea started and those amazing weeks of writing. 

It began on the ninth of October, two years ago, at 7 o’clock at night, just after dinner.  I was having a cup of tea, feet up, staring out a window, my mind just drifting, not thinking about anything in particular, when it simply occurred to me that there were a great many things in this world in need of what you might call Screwtapean treatment.  Topics began to occur to me, and I started to wonder what a modern devilish correspondence would sound like.  That’s when it started.  I began hearing the narrative voice, the way you’d hear a favorite song in your head.  So I listened for a bit, and thought, this is nutty, so I ignored it, but it wouldn’t stop.  I couldn’t sleep that night, or the next night, because the words kept playing in my head.  So finally I began writing it out just to make it stop, and that was when it really stared.   It was like taking dictation.  I couldn’t get it out fast enough.  I wrote almost every day for the next five weeks, finished the final letter, the voice stopped, and I collapsed in exhaustion.  I didn’t feel right again for two weeks.  I’m very much aware of how odd this sounds, but that’s what happened.  In a later introduction to Screwtape Lewis said that in writing The Screwtape Letters he had never written with greater ease, but that twisting his mind into the diabolical shape produced what he called ‘a sort of spiritual cramp’.  I also wrote with great ease, the difference being that, other than the fatigue, I enjoyed myself enormously.  It’s perhaps best for us not to speculate on the implications.

Lewis’ classic book has a few passages that make it dated, he never-the-less managed to address timeless issues related to the human heart…did you find yourself struggling to accomplishing the same, or how did you tackle this hurdle?

I attempted in As One Devil to Another a balance not so much of the timeless and the timely but of principle and application.  So we have, for example, competition, suffering, pride and humility, good work, subjective versus objective standards, truth and falsehood, chance, faith, and love illustrated in academic life, nature, political correctness, modern technology, romance, death, homosexuality, and modern art.  There’s a great deal of evil and nonsense in this world, so there was no lack of grist for my mill.

Even though the book is brand new, I understand a stage version is in the works.  What details can you provide about this?

I have a one-man show currently in rehearsal called Ripples From Walden Pond: An Evening with Henry David Thoreau.  It premiers at San Diego’s Cygnet Theatre on April 16th.  I’ve been working on this project for about five years, so it naturally occurred to me that As One Devil to Another could easily be adapted to the stage.  I’ve learned a great deal about stagecraft over the last few years, thanks to my theater friends, and the first draft is complete.   The challenge in transitioning As One Devil to Another to the stage is that you have to tell the same story in fewer than half the words, and you have to smooth out what you might call the literary or philosophical speed bumps.  When you’re reading a book, you can stop, chew on it, reflect, reread, look things up.  In the theater, if the audience has to stop even for a moment to reflect on what they’ve just seen or heard, they’ve lost the next few lines, and you’ve lost them. I’m very pleased with the first draft of the stage version.  The next step will be to read it to theatrical friends for constructive criticism, do a bit of rewriting perhaps, then read it to a test audience.  After that, we’ll see. 

Obviously Lewis is a key influence in your life, so take us back to how that began… what was your initial exposure to C. S. Lewis?

I first came to Lewis many years ago, at a time when I chose my reading companions merely for their stylistic excellence. I’d read almost anything provided it had a fine narrative voice.  A good friend of mine gave me Surprised by Joy and simply said, “I think you’ll like this.”  And I did.  As Lewis wrote, ‘God is very unscrupulous’, and this was the small end of the wedge.  So when we met for coffee the next week, I asked my friend what else Lewis had written, and he was ready for me.  He was unscrupulous as God. I went home that day with a copy of The Case for Christianity.  That’s what did it.  That book is a rough ride for a lazy agnostic. 

What two or three books by him have meant the most to you over the last few years and are they different from the ones that first impacted you?

First, of course, Surprised by Joy, not merely because of it’s sentimental associations but because it’s a book of great charm.  I know that one of Lewis’s friends referred to it as Suppressed by Jack, because Lewis left unsaid more than he said, but I think a careful reading of it reveals more of Lewis than he intended.  And if you think about it, it really couldn’t be any other way, because great writers have a way of distilling their essence onto the page.  They can’t help it.  It’s simply one of the hallmarks of literary greatness.  After that, I would say Mere Christianity, which dropped on me like an avalanche. Screwtape, obviously.  I think The Abolition of Man is a tremendous book, Lewis’s only really angry book, but it displays that fine-cutting-tool quality of his mind, and I love watching the machinery turn.  The Weight of Glory is as fine a piece of prose as you’ll ever read – fine even by Lewisian standards – and the final two chapters of Perelandra never cease to astonish me.

Acknowledging the importance of reading Lewis first hand, what work by other authors ABOUT Lewis have you found useful, or have you recommended to others?

I’ve profited most, I would say, from the biographies: Green and Hooper, George Sayer – Sayer’s perspective is unique because he knew Lewis both as a pupil and as a friend –   Alan Jacobs, Chad Walsh.  The A. N. Wilson biography has severe flaws, including a lack of sympathy and an unfortunate tendency to psychoanalyze, but the passages of pure literary criticism are unsurpassed.  Then there are the collections of reminiscences: C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table, which I think is now called Remembering C. S. Lewis; In Search of C. S. Lewis, Light on C. S. Lewis, C. S Lewis, Speaker and Teacher .  There’s a new biography by Alister McGrath coming out in 2013 which I expect will be very fine.  Then there are the three amazing volumes of letters, which have been edited with breathtaking care by Walter Hooper. The letters are a work of extraordinary scholarship in every respect, and they’re invaluable because they allow us to follow along with the concerns of Lewis’s life and see where the books emerged. 

What future projects do you have in the days ahead?

Once we get Ripples From Walden Pond off the ground, I’ll be returning to an idea I had for what Lewis called ‘a supposal’: suppose a sentient world other than ours existed, what would a Christ-like figure look like in that world?  It’s tentatively called The Forest of Nede, N-E-D-E.  It’s going quite well, but it’s a much bigger work than As One Devil to Another, so that should keep me off the street and out of trouble for quite some time.

Any closing thoughts about your book, or about Lewis you’d like to share before we end?

Yes.  As One Devil to Another, as the dedication indicates, is a work of homage, from pupil to master. It’s from Lewis I’ve learned almost everything I know about almost everything that matters.  One of the things I’ve learned from Lewis is that all of the works of man throughout all recorded history – all the art, architecture, literature, sculpture, theatre – all of it combined doesn’t have the value of a single human soul.  I will consider As One Devil to Another a success if I receive one letter from one reader who says, “I read your book, and as a consequence of that I read C. S. Lewis of the first time, and I’m still reading him, and he’s changed my life.” I think that would be the ultimate accolade.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 5, 2012 9:33 pm

    Great interview. Thanks!


  1. One Devil Review and GIVEAWAY « C.S. Lewis Minute

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