The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

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“The Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most temporal part of time–for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.”

What I liked:

Insane inventiveness. I enjoyed the premise well before I ever started reading The Screwtape Letters. As readers may know it is an epistolary novel written from the perspective of a demon named Screwtape as he admonishes his nephew Wormwood for his unsuccessful attempts to tempt a soul to the dark side.

The voice. I enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia, but was excited to read a Lewis book with a bit more adult content and a more articulate vocabulary. The Screwtape Letters definitely had the voice of a demon, but an intelligent almost enjoyable demon. Screwtape could have a bachelor’s in Psychology with how much he knew about the human psyche and how to play people off each other. I greatly enjoyed Lewis’s insights into the human mind and emotion. Add in that he comes across as an old-timey gentleman writing to his nephew with life advice and you’ll see why I enjoyed it.

Demon life. Apparently demons write gentlemanly letters, have families, and a government with the obligatory harsh punishments we all expect from demon society (Screwtape writes one letter as a centipede). It was entertaining to learn about the daily life of a tempter; they are the demons that area assigned to a specific person (referred to as “patient”) and tempt that person away from the Enemy (God) and towards the devil. It’s never made clear who Wormwood’s father is or why he isn’t writing with advice for his son.

As far as general storyline I enjoyed it more as the letters continued, because it became more honest about Christians being human and thus fallible. It waxed on about the issues the church was having because it was adhering to a different set of beliefs than what it initially did. The novel spoke of corruption in the church both through current and older, more established systems and people. It seemed more like a book with nuances and variances than the propagandized feel it had earlier.

I found it darkly terrifying that Lewis portrayed the demons as wanting humans to despair rather than to live-it-up-sinful-and-lusty-style. It seems, to me at least, more believable that demons would want a darkness over a fake light. As Screwtape explains, “And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.”

Pay special attention to the demon’s backside.

What I did not like:

The first thirty minutes or so (audiobook) read like Christian propaganda. Meaning “anyone with any intelligence must be a Christian” which doesn’t make much sense considering the writer of these letters is meant to be a demon.

Granted I did choose to read a book written by a Christian pretending to be a demon, which is kind of like reading a book written by a Holocaust survivor pretending to be an SS Officer and then being surprised that the writer didn’t present the viewpoint with unbiased accuracy.

Take for example this section, “He [God] wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below [Satan] has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.” That sounds remarkably like Screwtape likes God (which admittedly he gets in

trouble for later, but still it sounds groveling and appreciative of what he terms “The Enemy.”

I also wasn’t crazy about Lewis’s view on a “moderated religion.” He states through the pen of Screwtape that, “A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and more amusing.” Lewis seems to be warning against being religious with any moderation; he implies that only the radically religious are safe from demon hordes. This idea is irritating to me as I have dealt with far too many zealots to believe in truly unmoderated ideals as a positive.

Another irritation I had probably has more to do with the time period of Lewis’s writing. Screwtape holds the belief that marriage is meant to be binding and contractual. He shows disdain for a marriage based on love and goes so far as to say that it was demons who first came up with the idea as a way to pervert God’s original idea. Screwtape writes on how demons created the idea of a love-based marriage: “We have done this through the poets and novelists by persuading the humans that a curious, and usually shortlived, experience which they call ‘being in love’ is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding. This idea is our parody of an idea that came from the Enemy.” Screwtape then goes on to state that a marriage based on mutual benefits is more than enough for Christians.

Here it is hard to separate what is Lewis’s view and what is fiction (specifically fiction written from the perspective of a demon), but because so much of this novel read as a Christian’s understanding of demons and their powers it left me with the feeling that much of what is written at least coincides with Lewis’s beliefs.

Who would I recommend it to

Christians and atheists (this book shouldn’t lead anyone astray from their beliefs; if anything it may strengthen them in either direction).

The religiously curious

Adult C.S. Lewis fans (and young C.S. Lewis fans if they are developed enough mentally/ emotionally to understand the unusual basis of the novel)

Lovers of literary fiction and classics

About the Author

Hopefully you have already heard of C. S. Lewis. If you haven’t you have probably heard of The Chronicles of Narnia (either book or movie series, both of which are worthwhile). C.S. Lewis became an atheist at around 15 then at around 33 he became a Christian. All of his published works are written after he became a Christian. The Screwtape Letters were written when he was 44.

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