Caryn’s 23 things – and then some

Racing into Library 2.0 with LOL and others

Craven

I just finished re(re-re-re…!)-reading CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. I first read it in a high school Sunday school class, probably 11th grade, and have read it about two out of every three years since. As with most of Lewis’ work, many of these readings reveal something new.

I’ve also been watching Battlestar Galactica for the past couple of seasons. It’s not really odd for me to see this remake of the classic ’70s series, because I never watched that anyway. It has some excellent characters, the least attractive of whom is Gaius Baltar. I understand that his character wasn’t permanent in the original series, and it’s kind of too bad that they didn’t continue that in this iteration. He reminds me of Dr. Smith of Lost in Space, only more so. Baltar is the most fully-realized craven I’ve ever encountered in literature/TV/etc. You see cowards fairly often, but they usually either die or come through at the last moment, but an actual craven, whose wits are sharpened enough by threat that he is able to follow the thread of self-preservation no matter what it makes him do, is much rarer. He’s intelligent, and can be charming (only in his own interest, of course), but there is no depth of selfishness to which he won’t sink, no betrayal he won’t commit, to save himself. It’s kind of fascinating. That type is probably much more common in real life than it is in art, but it’s the kind of character no one could want to identify with.

The connection to Screwtape is that one of senior devil Screwtape’s pieces of advice to his nephew, Wormwood, is about cowardice. He tells the first-time tempter that, “Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful – horrible to anticipate, horrible to feel, horrible to remember…. We have made men proud of most vices, but not of cowardice. Whenever we have almost succeeded in doing so, the Enemy [i.e., God] permits a war or an earthquake or some other calamity, and at once courage becomes so obviously lovely and important even in human eyes that all our work is undone, and there is still at least one vice of which they feel genuine shame.” Gaius is the only character I’ve ever seen whose cowardice is so strong it can outweigh even the shame of having it, and keep doing so every time an opportunity for bravery or death is offered. A good bad example, and one that should, perhaps, be in the back of our minds in case we’re caught in a situation like the one this past week at Virginia Tech – it might take only a second to decide whether to push the person beside you behind you and away from the shooter, or in front of you to shield you from the shooter, but that one second would define your character. For the rest of your life, whether it was just a few more seconds or many more years, you would have your answer to the question, “What would I do in that situation?”

April 21, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment