Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis

I read The Screwtape Letters when I was a teenager and remember thinking it was a great book. So, even though I am not religious (and it's a book aimed primarily, I would say, at Christians), I decided to reread it.

The Screwtape Letters is a brief novel, written as a series of letters from Screwtape, a devil who is relatively high in the hierarchy of hell, to his nephew Wormwood, an apprentice demon who has been assigned the task of winning the soul of a young man referred to as "The Patient." Screwtape's letters are filled with advice about how to tempt The Patient away from God based close observation of human psychology and morality. Wormwood is not a quick study, however, and he even has the effrontery to report to a higher authority some remarks of Screwtape's that might be considered heretical. Screwtape's tone becomes increasingly irritated as Wormwood misses opportunity after opportunity to draw The Patient to the dark side; his closing to every letter, "Your affectionate uncle," sounds more and more ironic. Finally, he gleefully informs his nephew that he is looking forward to feasting on Wormwood's soul, the price Wormwood will pay for his utter failure as a demon.

I enjoyed The Screwtape Letters this time around, although probably not as much as I did back in 1968 (by the end, I was thinking it was becoming slightly tedious). Lewis's insights are relevant, I think, to anyone who wants to be a good person, whether Christian or not, and the way in which he has conveyed his moral guidance is both clever and entertaining. Interestingly, Lewis found writing as Screwtape--he called it "demonic ventroliquism"--unpleasant and vowed not to write any more letters after completing the book; he did, however, write an after-dinner speech by Screwtape, in which Lewis critiqued education in the 1950s.

Favorite passages
Some ages are lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep. Other ages, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them.

The present is the point at which time touches eternity. . . . Thought about the future inflames hope and fear.  

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