Thursday, 8 September 2011

Ever heard of 'The Screwtape Letters'?

Thescrewtapeletters.jpgYesterday I blogged about the epistolary novel and today I have an amazing example. I present...

'The Screwtape Letters' by C.S. Lewis.

I have not read the entire book yet, only started it yesterday, but I have been blown away by how funny it is. It was published in 1942. Since the book is epistolary it contains only letters from a senior demon called Screwtape to his nephew and tempter Wormwood. Wormwood is trying to ensnare a British man and Screwtape is advising him on how to proceed. The British man is only referred to as 'the Patient' and God is only known as 'the Enemy'.

Being a Christian C.S. Lewis said this book was not fun to write and would never ever do it again, however it is hilarious to read. Screwtape being a demon he presents an image of humans that is completely opposite to what we would expect. Where we would see human virtue Screwtape sees defeat. Where he sees virtue we see sin. Below I quoted one of my, so far, favourite passages, just to give you a taste of what it is like. In this excerpt he is debating whether to make the Patient a pacifist or patriotic, now that WW2 has broken out.

'As regards his more general attitude to the war, you must not rely too much on those feelings of hatred which the humans are so fond of discussing in Christina, or anti-Christian, periodicals. In his anguish, the patient can, of course, be encouraged to revenge himself by some vindictive feelings directed towards the German leaders, and that is good so far as it goes. But it is usually a sort of melodramatic or mythical hatred directed against imaginary scapegoats. He has never met these people in real life-they are lay figures modelled on what he gets from newspapers. The results of such a fanciful hatred are often most disappointing, and of all humans the English are in this respect the most deplorable milksops. They are creatures of that miserable sort who loudly proclaim that torture is too good for their enemies and then give tea and cigarettes to the first wounded German pilot who turns up at the back door.'
In this excerpt Screwtape talks about God's love for humans and it is a bit more theological than the one above, so only read if you think you are up to it. It is still interesting though, even if religion is not your thing.

'To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy wants to make of it, and then do the opposite. Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts too get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own are of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself-creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, would be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who van finally become food; He 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 has drawn all other being into himself: the Enemi wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.'
So what do you think? Sound like a book for you or does its religious background turn you off?


  1. I would have read this book just by the name! Sounds like a good read. I love that you have given excerpts; it gives such a clear idea of what the book will be like! Normally, I wouldn't have read a book that had so much to do with religion, but this one sounds interesting in spite of that! Great review :)

  2. This book is such a classic and definitely one of my all time favorites. I read it years ago and reading your post made me want to pick it up again. Even though it was published so lng ago it is still relevant and like you said, very funny - even though the topic is actually quite dark and thought provoking as well...