The Gargoyle Code: Lenten Dispatches Between a Master Dementor and his Diabolical Trainee
© 2009 Dwight Longenecker
The Gargoyle Code is a modern sequel-in-spirit of C.S. Lewis’ much-lauded classic, The Screwtape Letters, in which a senior demon mentors a junior demon in the fine art of spiritual sabotage. Longenecker departs from a strict duplication of Lewis’ style by having the senior demon (Slubgrip) change apprentices halfway through, and a flurry of letters to other demons – coordinating attacks and conspiring against one another – are also included. At first I liked the evidence of demonic infighting as an example of evil will oft evil mar (Slubgrip flatters a fellow demon in one letter, then derides their character when writing to others), but the amount of demonic politicking is such that it consumes a third of the book. It became more distracting than helpful, though others have found it funny.
Still, Lewis’ marvelous subtlety is repeated here in good form. One of my favorite passages from the Screwtape Letters involved a demon using church attendance to weaken his client’s spirituality, by having him think about the moral frailties of his fellow parishioners, self-righteously fuming over their hypocrisy. Here, the senior demon uses a similar approach by having his conservative Catholic target constantly think about how awful ‘reform’ liturgy is, how the wondrous hymns of old have been replaced by happy-clappy praise music, etc. Subtle manipulation is the name of the game: it’s no good to have a target simply fall into sin, for abrupt attacks tend to backfire. The target will be so ashamed of themselves they may literally repent and start avoiding avenues of temptation. Slow and steady is the goal – erode the connections people make between their lives and what is taught, then tempt them. The best of worlds is a subject who goes to church faithfully, but has religion so compartmentalized in his mind that it only exists on Sundays; otherwise he follows his every whim, and is forever guarded against any soul-searching by the comforting notion that he goes to church, so of course he’s OK.
While it doesn’t eclipse The Screwtape Letters, Code was written as book to read during Lent, each letter or ‘text’ being spaced out among the forty days, and so is perfect for that season.