(Janet Miriam) Taylor (Holland) Caldwell The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A conversation with the Devil presents a fairly obvious literary temptation, especially perhaps to a Christian, but to anyone who plans to discuss the painful evil of the modern world, its false values or its misdirected aims, C. S. Lewis comes immediately to mind. He knew that the Devil himself would be difficult to catch, so very cleverly he avoided the problem by composing a series of letters from one of Hell's staff to a junior Tempter on his first assignment in the world…. [In Dialogues with the Devil] Miss Caldwell attempts something much more exacting, for she presents Lucifer himself, and, as though that were not problem enough, puts him into correspondence with the Archangel Michael. She is an experienced novelist, but it must be said that the two contestants use [styles that are] disconcertingly alike. Possibly it is because both are angels even though one of them is "fallen", but by the close of the book the heavy style has begun to pall. One misses the verve, and the wit, of Lewis.

But the real fault of the book is that it lacks bite, roaming too widely over unknown planets. Lucifer would have done better, and set Gabriel a tougher problem, had he been allowed to stick to Miss Caldwell's home ground. He might have preened himself on the success with which he had made a bogy of communism and with it had engulfed a great nation in a prolonged and dreadful war. He might have had much more to say about the skill with which he had exalted wealth into the predominant human aim. He could, one would think, have made nice use of his handling of the race problem, its ignoring of the fact of "coloureds", and its attractive list of murders. But he has sex on his mind and the idea of wholesale destruction on planet after planet, and undervalues his detailed successes, so that he becomes faintly ridiculous and Michael has too easy a task. Lucifer, it seems, has fallen from heaven into a pit of generalizations.

"Dear Devil," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1968; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3470, August 29, 1968, p. 926.