I never read The Screwtape Letters. I knew it was a classic C.S. Lewis tale, but it just never intrigued me enough to buy it or borrow it from the library. For some reason, however, I decided to download it as an audio book for my journey from Kentucky to Ohio. It wasn’t a bad decision, although some of Screwtape’s correspondence got a little redundant.
If you haven’t read the book, it is a fictional Christian apologetic novel Lewis uses to address theological issues, primarily those to do with temptation and resistance to it. The story is simply a one-sided series of letters — 31 — from a senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter in the “lowerarchy” of hell. Screwtape responds to his nephew’s reports regarding his responsibility in securing the damnation of a British man known only as “the patient”. It was first published in February 1942, thus evoking the fear of war, hatred of the Germans, and war itself.
It took my mind awhile to adjust to dealing with the patient in reverse of my Christian thought. The dominant theme is the perpetual battle between God and Satan, but from Satan’s point of view. Once I made the adjustment I could better follow Screwtape’s detailed advice to Wormwood on various methods of undermining God’s words and of promoting abandonment of God in “the patient” or his observations on human nature and the Bible. In Screwtape’s advice, selfish gain and power are seen as the only good, and neither demon can comprehend God’s love for man or acknowledge human virtue. Through the negative I could see the positive. Through the letter I could see the lesson.
The patient converts to Christianity after the second letter so the focus shifts. Wormwood is anxious to tempt his patient into extravagantly wicked and deplorable sins, often recklessly, while Screwtape takes a more subtle stance. Lewis, through Screwtape, describes and discusses sex, love, pride, gluttony, and war in his letters, with a fair number involving attempts to find a licentious woman for the patient. The patient chooses to fall in love with a Christian girl and through her and her family a very Christian way of life. When the patient dies he goes to heaven … and Wormwood is disgraced among his devilish peers.
Some of the highlighted conversations include Screwtape noting “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” (Letter IV); explaining the different purposes God and the devils have for the human race: “We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons” (Letter VIII); and remarking “… the safest road to hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (Letter XII)
My version also included a short postscript written in 1959 for the Saturday Evening Post, “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”. It brought the sequel into the post war and cold war era and thus closer to our contemporary times with indictments on education, unrest, and politics. Here, Screwtape offers an after-dinner speech given at the Tempters’ Training College for young demons. I found it more engaging — albeit in reverse thinking.
Then again, sometimes looking at events through other’ — even enemy — eyes can be more illuminating.
The Screwtape Letters (audiobook), C.S. Lewis, author; Joss Ackland, narrator; Publisher: HarperAudio, (Aug. 21, 2012); $14.36 or 1 credit;Listening Length, 3 hours and 59 minutes; Unabridged; English; ASIN, B0090CJ5X2.
Paperback: 209 pages, $11.99 (Prime); Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (April 21, 2015); English; ISBN-10: 0060652934; ISBN-13: 978-0060652937
Kindle: $7.99; File Size: 2066 KB; Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (May 28, 2009); Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers; English; ASIN: B002BD2V2Y; Text-to-Speech: Enabled; X-Ray: Enabled; Word Wise: Enabled; Lending: Not Enabled; Screen Reader: Supported; Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good — John Steinbeck