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There are few things we like more than a good satire. And when one includes letters exchanged between a senior Demon and a junior Tempter – you know you’re about to have a ball!
Who Should Read “The Screwtape Letters”? And Why?
“The Screwtape Letters” is a masterpiece of religious satire by status, but it’s also a Christian apologetic epistolary novel by genre.
Which means whether you’ll like it or not depends on how do you like your Christianity: questioned and criticized, or defended and endorsed?
If the former, read this book for the funny bits and the intriguing insight into the nature of temptations and humans themselves; if the latter – we guarantee you that you are about to read one of your favorite books.
And you can right now in its entirety: C. S. Lewis’ works entered the public domain in 50-year copyright countries a few years ago.
And before you say “Hail Canada” – we’ve provided the link for you!
C. S. Lewis Biography
C. S. Lewis was a British novelist, Medievalist, academic, and literary critic.
He was a professor at both Oxford and Cambridge University for most of his life – starting from when he was 27 years old to his death at 63. A close friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, during parts of this time, he was an active member of an informal Oxford literary club called the Inklings.
C. S. Lewis wrote more than 30 books during his life, the most famous of which are “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Space Trilogy.”
A lay theologian, C. S. Lewis is also famous for his numerous Christian apologetics, such as “Mere Christianity,” “The Problem of Pain,” and “The Screwtape Letters.”
“The Screwtape Letters” is a collection of 31 letters written by a Senior Demon by the name of Screwtape, to Wormwood, his less experienced nephew, who is tasked with tempting a relatively young British man (called the Patient) away from the Enemy (God) and toward the Father Below (Satan).
In a brief preface, C. S. Lewis informs us that he has no intention of telling us how this correspondence fell into his hands.
(Believe us, C. S., we don’t want to know!)
And then he tells us why:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.
We count ourselves an inter-category (we don’t believe, but we do have an unhealthy interest in devils), so bring the good stuff, Lewis!
We learn right from the start two things: 1) that Screwtape is eager to impart his knowledge to Wormwood; and 2) that Wormwood is not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, courtesy of Slubgob, the incompetent director of his devil training school.
In other words – by the second letter, the Patient (probably a British fellow in the middle of his life, taking care of his aging mother) has already become a Christian.
Nice going, Wormwood!
But, we suppose that was all but expected if you know Wormwood’s ways.
You see, unlike his more experienced uncle who has already won few souls for Hell (and has, thus, earned a mid-management position in Hell’s vast “Lowerarchy” corporation), Wormwood is too anxious and wicked, trying to tempt the Patient into extravagantly deplorable sins right off the bat.
And, as we learn from Wormwood:
Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
World War II begins, and the Patient has a lot on his mind: whether he will be drafted, how will he survive… you know, the usual stuff.
Time to strike, says Screwtape!
An even better opportunity arises when the Patient meets some new friends. And they are your usual smarty-pants type-of-guys, who know enough about life to know that God is a delusion – and that pleasure is not exactly a bad thing.
Screwtape advises Wormwood to use this to his benefit.
He counsels his nephew to whisper into our Patient’s ears (that’s how tempting works, if you didn’t know) things such as: “you are better than your fellow churchgoers…,” “you have smart friends…,” “they don’t question the things you do…” “you are the best, and they are the worst…”
(We imagine it must have looked something like this…)
And for a while – this seems to be working!
It seems that these friends have a negative influence on our Patient and his soul is hell-bound.
However, one day, our Patient reads a book and goes for a walk by an old mill and experiences a reawakening – so, he converts for a second time.
Little did you know that a second conversion results in God forming a barricade of grace around you, didn’t you!
In other words: from now on, Wormwood sees the Patient through a fog – which makes him a more difficult target.
And when that happens – there’s always one temptation that beats all others.
Now, we suppose Wormwood wasn’t able to tempt the Patient Devil’s-Advocate-style, so what he actually does is a list of all the young women in the neighborhood who may be a bad fit for our Christian guy.
To no avail –
The Patient chooses the one and only girl he’s not supposed to, a Christian maiden, aptly called the Woman.
Now, Wormwood has himself to blame for this, since, in the meantime, Screwtape is not around, on account of being reported by none other than his nephew for stating that God actually loves men.
And that is a big no-no in hell!
No, strike that – talking about devil-protagonists is confusing.
Well, not if you are Screwtape – who points to Wormwood at one place that Milton didn’t really understand devils that good, mixing punishments with life energies.
An excerpt from Letter XXII:
In the heat of composition, I find that I have inadvertently allowed myself to assume the form of a large centipede. I am accordingly dictating the rest to my secretary. Now that the transformation is complete I recognize it as a periodical phenomenon. Some rumor of it has reached the humans and a distorted account of it appears in the poet Milton, with the ridiculous addition that such changes of shape are a “punishment” imposed on us by the Enemy. A more modern writer—someone with a name like Pshaw—has, however, grasped the truth. Transformation proceeds from within and is a glorious manifestation of that Life Force which Our Father would worship if he worshipped anything but himself.
Unfortunately, Screwtape clears his name before the Hell’s secret police, by using the same tactic humans use when they are caught cheating.
Namely, he didn’t say that God (read: The Enemy) loved humanity, but merely that God was a bit preoccupied with it.
It doesn’t work as good on Earth, Wormwood!
The Screwtape Letters Epilogue
In the meantime, World War II is raging all around.
The Germans are in the process of making Londoners confuse falling bombs with raindrops; so, naturally, the Patient fears for his life day in day out.
And devils feed on fear, so, you know what to expect next.
Wormwood tries to exploit this by attempting to turn him into a coward.
However, the Patient feels that he already is one – even though he isn’t.
And that’s bad news since it means that he is humble and that is all but Heaven material.
Paradoxically, the only thing Wormwood can do at the moment is to keep the Patient alive, so he can tempt him during the rest of his life.
No, strike that: this book is too confusing to use adverbs of this kind.
So – pick an adverb of your choice – the Patient dies during an air raid and goes to Heaven.
Which spells the end of Wormwood: he is doomed to have his spiritual essence consumed by other demons.
And yes: that includes his uncle.
In fact, especially his uncle.
What did you expect?
This is hell.
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“The Screwtape Letters PDF Quotes”All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged. Click To Tweet Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. Click To Tweet It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality, our best work is done by keeping things out. Click To Tweet There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them. Click To Tweet If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
Contrary to what you’d expect, Devils can be funny even if they are not brilliantly played by Rowan Atkinson.
In fact, “The Screwtape Letters” is so good that you may even be able to look past some anachronistic and questionable – or even childish – examinations of human nature.
And you’ll probably enjoy it even if you’re not Christian.