The Screwtape Letters
Book By C.S. Lewis
Review by Janelle A. Spiers
August 29, 2014
“It is funny how mortals always picture us putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” ~ Screwtape, Letter IV
“Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” ~ Screwtape, Letter VII
WARNING: Please be aware that if you continue reading this Book Review, you may be subject to reading spoilers and or secrets of the original book. However, all attempts shall be made to hide the crucial points, in the event that this review encourages you to read this book. Any information divulged will be deemed by the author of this review necessary to the review, or, not capable of ruining any major surprise.
The Screwtape Letters were written by C.S. Lewis as a series of epistolary correspondence between two devils. Screwtape writes to his young nephew, Wormwood, instructing him and condoning him on how to do his work efficiently and well. As we learn from Screwtape, the work of a demon is to govern a human patient and protect him from the Enemy that threatens to destroy their hard work.
The theme of these fiendish missives covers a huge range of topics and personal themes. Lewis was able to manipulate his plot to follow along with several key Christian topics, such as temptation, grace, faith, handling fear, and the difference between good and evil. Although this is written from a demon point of view, the topics ring true, however twisted they appear.
There is a very simple plot line in The Screwtape Letters, as this was not intended to be a plot-driven novel. However, Lewis does follow the life and times of one particular man from his becoming a Christian, to falling in love with a girl through the eyes of his demons. Other correspondence between Screwtape and Wormwood shows us that war rages in Europe, and we also get a small taste of life as a demon. Screwtape makes several references to his nephew in regards to his college education and occupational work.
Screwtape is the writer of the letters, and though we never see any of Wormwood’s letters, we learn that Screwtape is a very brusque uncle, but he does care about the well-being and success of his nephew. Screwtape has a habit of getting quite angry at Wormwood, to the point that in one letter, he cannot finish writing, and his secretary must continue because Screwtape changes into a giant centipede. This is rather startling to see how much Screwtape can evolve due to his emotions.
We also learn through the messages Screwtape writes about the Enemy. Because The Screwtape Letters is based upon a Christian foundation, the Enemy is actually the Holy Trinity and His angels. Screwtape goes to great lengths to warn Wormwood at what the Enemy is capable of, how to avoid detection when working against the Enemy, and what the Enemy wants for the humans He created. Screwtape has a horrible hatred of the Enemy, but he is also forced to confess his fear and the overwhelming sense of power that the Enemy wields.
Wormwood is a very young, inexperienced, and as we learn from Screwtape, pitiful excuse of a demon. Wormwood is continually admonished for his swift actions and his inability to keep his human under their control. Several times he pleads to his Uncle to spare him punishment for allowing his patient to fall further from the ways of the world, but he is not given any mercy. Wormwood is not good at what he does, and in the end he pays dearly for his poor workmanship.
The writing quality of The Screwtape Letters is excellent. Lewis is a wonderful wordsmith, and crafted his lexical knowledge with skill and expertise. Lewis hit a wide variety of emotions through Screwtape’s communication with his nephew, chief among them, anger, sarcasm, and fear. He allows the reader to feel Screwtape’s frustration with his nephew, but he can also send chills down your spine as Screwtape celebrates the successes of his evilness.
For people unaccustomed to reading classic works, the wordiness of Screwtape’s letters could be overwhelming. It can be hard to comprehend for younger readers, due to subject matter and older, out-of-date words. Nonetheless, for those who do enjoy older writings, it is fairly easy to follow.
The Screwtape Letters were not given any awards or notable recognition. However, The Guardian, a newspaper in England, did publish the letters, but it was not widely accepted. Lewis mentions in his forward that The Guardian lost at least one reader due to the publication of such wicked and far-out writing.
Clive Staple Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1898. He wrote both fiction and non-fiction, and is possibly most famous for his Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity. He became a Christian in 1931, and the conversion was greatly influenced by the writing of George MacDonald and G.K. Chesterton, also arguments he had with his close friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, for whom The Screwtape Letters is dedicated.
Lewis published The Screwtape Letters in 1941, where they were weekly published in The Guardian newspaper. Later, the letters were published as a book in 1961 where an additional toast by Screwtape was published. The Screwtape Letters has been made into film, stage, and comic book adaptations, in addition to an audio drama produced by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre.
The worldview of this book is purely from a Christian standpoint. The book does delve into the worldly ideas and beliefs of that time, but it is from a Christian mindset throughout. Lewis does do an excellent job of torqueing common Christian beliefs and broadcasting them through the mind of a very crafty demon.
The Screwtape Letters is very clean when it comes to language or profanity. Nevertheless, for those who find the word, hell, offensive, it is mentioned sundry times, mainly because that is where Screwtape is writing from, and where he is trying to help Wormwood lure his patient. The word damnation also appears, in regards to a human soul.
There are a few letters within this collection of writings discussing the topic of sex and lust. Screwtape encourages his nephew to use the human desire to their own destruction, and the idea is portrayed that if the patient loses his virtue, they have achieved a major victory. Nothing descriptive or explicit is ever mentioned, but the subject does rise in several places.
There is little violence/death contained in the book. War is alluded to, and death is also spoken of very briefly, but no one is ever seen dying or being physically hurt, although it is hinted at, in the last letter, that Wormwood would pay dearly for a grave mistake. It is likely that if the story were to continue, Wormwood would be sorely injured or killed as his punishment.
The ebb and flow of The Screwtape Letters is very consistent. The plot line moves clearly in one straight forward direction, although it does leave us wondering what would have followed, had Lewis continued his letters. The characters are also quite constant in attitude and posture. Screwtape is continually peevish with his sniveling nephew and the imminent power of the Enemy looms over the demons like a cloud. The quality and depth of the writing continues to be just what we expect of Lewis, and he does not disappoint.
As a Christian myself, my personal beliefs were challenged when I realized that the Enemy was in truth, my Savior and Lord. I quickly came to understand Lewis’ reason for that reference, as it is from a demonic point of view; the Enemy is clearly not going to be in league with the devil and his forces. It was hard to switch my mindset, but I do appreciate the consistency Lewis obtained on his stance on God.
I shared the same common belief with the themes and topics Lewis brought up, and I was quite pleased with the entirety of the book. It caused me to stop and to ponder how often I allow the devil to influence my thinking, or lack of thinking, on certain matters. I also had a moment of curiosity at Lewis’ suggesting that each human has a demon constantly at his heels. I have continued to wonder about that idea since I finished the book and I look forward to continue my musings on the matter.
The Screwtape Letters proves itself as a very unique book. The demons are fictitious and a lot of guesswork and imagination went in to the creating of the demon world, but the Christian truths and beliefs were very thought through and biblically correct. I would recommend reading this book and exploring your own personal beliefs and see how they are challenged by C.S. Lewis’ work of art.
(Based on a rating system entirely made up of pros and cons, I judge by different categories to ensure that the reader of this review can aptly choose if this book is an appropriate for themselves or others.)
Theme ~ Positive! (For excellent topics that are meaningful and applicable to life.)
Plot Line ~ Undetermined! (This work was not intended to be plot-driven)
Characters ~ Positive! (Very memorable and extremely consistent)
Writing Quality ~ Positive! (For thoroughness and well executed work)
Mature Content ~ Negative! (Some topics may be unsuitable for a young or sensitive audience.)
Congruency ~ Positive! (For extreme consistency in plot, characters, and quality)
The total score for The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is 4.5 out of a possible 6 positive points.