The Screwtape Letters consists of 31 letters ‘found’ by C. S. Lewis that are from the demon Screwtape to his rookie nephew Wormwood. Wormwood has been tasked with the corruption of a human soul, referred to only as “The Patient.” God is referred to as “The Enemy” while the Devil is “Our Father Below.” The whole thing is a satirical and ironic.
I first experienced The Screwtape Letters about 7 years ago as an off-Broadway play, and I loved it. It was funny, and poignant, and made me think. Listening to it on audiobook now leaves me a bit… disappointed. I’m a bit bored, to be honest. Part of the problem is that the audio isn’t loud enough for highway driving, so I’m missing a lot. And the reader, for at least the first half, is kind of boring. I had experienced an impassioned actor speaking to the audience with gestures and inflection. Listening in the car, I just wasn’t as engaged.
Some parts did stick out, though. Screwtape, an accomplished tempter, is advising his nephew, who seems to be ignoring his advice. He advises Wormwood to get The Patient to acquire the ‘right’ friends and the ‘right’ woman to help him on his descending path. He also gives advice on how to get The Patient to deal with his mother. He warns Wormwood to be careful of letting The Patient enjoy anything or think for himself. Writing from a demon’s perspective seems like it would be fun, but apparently C. S. Lewis did not enjoy it after a while.
One thing Screwtape writes of is the nature of gluttony. He explains that there is more than one form of gluttony. Gluttony of excess is the obvious, but there is also gluttony of delicacy. For example, the Patient’s mother will only request properly made weak tea and toast, no matter what is offered, but she is very particular on how it is made.
This was published serially in the 1940’s, and so there was commentary on the ongoing war. C.S. Lewis, in writing as Screwtape, was none too kind to his countrymen.
“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 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.”
It really is an interesting work, and it makes you think about how to be a better person, Christian or not. It would probably have a bigger impact on someone who was actually religious, which I am not. I feel like I’m being a bit unfair to it here. Experiencing it for the first time was awesome, and I’m not sure how different it would be reading it myself instead of having it presented to me. If you haven’t read it before, I do recommend it, and if you have an opportunity to see it performed, go!