CGB Book Review of The Screwtape Letters (1942)

“To get a man’s soul and give him nothing in return–that is what gladdens our Father’s [Satan’s] heart.”
–Screwtape

Holy cow, if that’s not downright diabolical, I don’t know what is.

This is my first ever book review of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters!

screwtape-letters-by-izabela-wojcik (2)

Screwtape is a senior Demon whose nephew Wormwood, a junior Tempter, is working on securing the damnation of a man called “The Patient,” who has recently converted to Christianity.  The cunning Screwtape instructs Wormwood via a series of letters that illustrate the strategies of Satan which are used to lure the human race away from God and into the darkness of Hell.
Ever since I started Catholic Girl Bloggin’, I have dealt with spiritual warfare.  Without going into too much detail, I will say that being picked on by the devil is unpleasant at best and frightening at worst.  Reading the Screwtape Letters has been both chilling and enlightening for me.  To put this into perspective, imagine being bullied by someone for a long time and after they die you get a hold of their diary.  As you’re reading it, you say to yourself, “So that’s how they pulled it off.  It all makes sense now.” A lot of Screwtape’s temptation tactics are things that I have personally experienced.
With that, let’s take a look at The Screwtape Letters!

The Hits
C.S. Lewis was one of the most brilliant minds in literature, but he knew how to make his words accessible while remaining sophisticated.  While at times, his British jargon can get a tad confusing, the majority of what he writes is simple enough for anyone to grasp.
Many of the passages in this book are very timely.  In one letter, Screwtape tells Wormwood, “A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and more amusing.” In our world today, “liberal” churches have emerged with a watered-down version of God’s Word mixed with a progressive agenda.
Another letter has Screwtape advising Wormwood, “Man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head.  He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false,” but as “academic” or “practical,” “outworn” or “contemporary,” “conventional” or “ruthless.” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true!  Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.”  C.S. Lewis is clearly speaking about moral relativism; the belief that truth is subjective and can be changed to accommodate the times.
Something I found interesting is the subtle world-building of Hell.  Screwtape briefly mentions the Infernal Police, which is the underworld equivalent of the KGB.  He also talks about enclosing a booklet on the newly constructed House of Correction for Incompetent Tempters.  The addition of other background characters like Slumtrimpet and Fr. Spike help expand the worlds of both Screwtape and Wormwood, and The Patient. I also appreciate how Satan is an unseen antagonist; he is mentioned many times in the letters without ever making an appearance as an active character.  The focus of the novel is Satan’s methods being told to us through the seasoned Screwtape.
Speaking of Screwtape and Wormwood, I like their parasitic relationship.  Animosity is cleverly hinted between the two, and the self-serving Screwtape clearly sees Wormwood as just another necessary tool of damnation.  There is no “like” or “love” where they reside.
By far, my favorite passage in the Screwtape Letters is this, “The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring two-pence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forewarmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack.” God is the source of true and lasting joy, so when we engage in an activity that brings us joy (reading a book, taking a walk, spending time with a close friend, etc.,) we are placing ourselves in His presence.  Disordered sources of temporary pleasure and distraction come from the devil.  Screwtape even comments, “I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambitions by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.”  I will say that I feel closest to God when I am writing a story or a CGB post.  🙂

The Misses
I really wish that “The Patient” was given a name.  I understand that the point of an unnamed protagonist is that The Patient could be anyone, but it prevents an emotional connection with the character.  .
For the Americanized reader, some of the British slogan may be a bit distracting and may make it difficult to properly put the scene into context.  I had to reread some of the passages twice because I had trouble interpreting what Mr. Lewis was trying to say.

The Screwtape Letters is a Christian classic for a reason.  Written with wit and valuable insight into how evil operates, it stands the test of time with relevant observations regarding how society can be led astray without even realizing it.  If you ever wondered why C.S. Lewis never wrote a Screwtape Letters Part 2, it has been documented that he simply could not bring himself to return to the dark state of mind necessary to create the dialogue between two demons.

Saint Gemma Galgani, pray for us.

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