I'd recommend this be one of the first books you read as you start your spiritual journey. This is a profound book that will jolt you awake from your apathetic musings and stir you to the depths of your soul.
I was a Christian for 12+ years before I picked up this little volume and it was of inestimable worth for me, but I regretted not having read it much sooner.
It's one of those books (like E. L. Prentiss's "Stepping Heavenward") that feels like it was written JUST for you. "Screwtape Letters" has that same feel - that C. S. Lewis crawled into your consciousness and described every mental battle you've ever had - and explains that those subtle arguments which steered you away from spiritual growth, were cleverly disguised devilish whispers. As Lewis points out, the path to hell is a gentle slope.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn how to differentiate between God's thoughts and the lies of evil. "Screwtape Letters" pulls back the curtain and reveals evil's best kept secrets and oh-so subtle tricks.
on August 19, 2007
This is NOT a review of the book itself, otherwise it would be an easy 5-star review. Instead, this is a review of this particular printing with a study guide. I purchased this edition intending to use it for leading a Sunday School class on the subject. However, the study guide is extremely short and not particularly useful for much more than casual review of chapters. It certainly isn't at all worth the much larger price of this older edition in comparison to a cheaper copy of a new printing.
on December 28, 2005
Today I loaned a copy of "Screwtape" to a young woman - the receptionist where I work -- who just celebrated her 21st birthday. I HOPE she enjoys it, even as I wonder if a fifty year old book could strike a chord with her -- the way it did with me, when I was her age. She seemed eager enough to borrow a copy (I have two) just as soon as I described the book's delightful premise:
"Screwtape" I told her, "is letters from a senior devil to a junior devil - and it's the funniest thing C.S. Lewis ever wrote - Have you heard of C.S. Lewis?" I asked. "No? Well he authored `Narnia.' (Neither of us has seen the movie yet.)
I told her 'Screwtape' is funny because (like all good humor) it seems so TRUE. Or at least you want to BELIEVE it's real, as `Screwtape' the experienced devil coaches his nephew `Wormwood' in his first assigned task: to "secure the damnation" of his 'patient' -- a young man who has just become a Christian.
As with "Narnia," the story unfolds in wartime (WWII) England. That's a long time ago for someone 21 years old and "I'm really interested" I said "to find out if the 'dialogue' of this book still speaks to someone your age."
"Personally, I think it would make good movie" I said. "It has been made into a talking book - read, I think, by John Cleese - the funny guy who starred in the movie `A Fish Called Wanda" - I read somewhere he's recorded a version of `Screwtape.' "
So . . after loaning that copy of "Screwtape" today, I opened, at random, my OTHER copy -- it fell open to page 24 -- and I re-discovered why I've loved this book so much for so many years.
It's the sort of book you can open almost anywhere - years after you first read it -- and find yourself laughing out loud - and falling in love once again, with the written magic of C.S. Lewis at his 'finest hour.' Well here, if you can spare two minutes -- get comfortable and see if this random sampling, from page 24, "Chapter IV" -- 'speaks' to YOU:
"My dear Wormwood, The amateurish suggestions in your latest letter warn me that it is high time for me to write to you fully on the painful subject of prayer . . .
"The best thing, where possible, is to keep the `patient' (the young man who is spiritually up for grabs) from the serious intention of praying. When (someone like him) is an adult, recently re-converted to the Enemy' (Screwtape's term for Christianity's founder) - such as your man, this is best done by encouraging him to remember - or to THINK he remembers - the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood.
"In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and `un-regularized' And what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional MOOD . . . in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part.
"One of their poets, Coleridge, has recorded that he did not pray `with moving lips and bended knees' but merely `composed his spirit to love' and indulged a `sense of supplication.' That is EXACTLY the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence, as practiced by those who are far advanced in the Enemy's service, clever and lazy `patients' can be taken in by it for quite a long time.
"At the very LEAST, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.
"It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things OUT.
"If this fails, you MUST fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention. Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves.
"Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce FEELINGS there, by the action of their own wills. (So that) when they meant to ask Him for Charity, let them instead start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves - and not notice that this is what they are doing.
"When they are meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to FEEL brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to FEEL forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feelings, and NEVER let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment.
"But of course, the Enemy will not meantime be idle. Whenever there is prayer there is danger of HIS own immediate action. He is cynically indifferent to the dignity of HIS position (and to OURS as pure spirits!) and to human animals on their knees He pours out self-knowledge in quite shameless fashion.
"But even if He defeats your first attempt at misdirection, we have a subtler weapon . . ."
After describing that more subtle `weapon' in detail, -- and it concerns the true nature of God as opposed to the `composite images' that can be "derived from pictures of the Enemy as He appeared during (His) Incarnation" (20 centuries earlier) Screwtape advises his green nephew:
"Whatever the nature of his composite (picture of the `Enemy') you must keep your `patient' praying to IT - to the thing that he has made - be it something in his own head or a crucifix on the wall - and NOT to the Person who has made him.
"You may even encourage him to attach great importance to the correction and improvement of his composite object, and to keep it steadily in his imagination during the whole prayer. For if he ever comes to make the distinction, if ever he consciously directs his prayers `Not to what I think thou art, but to what thou knowest thyself to be,' our situation is, for the moment, desperate."
The good news, says the `senior devil,' is that, "in avoiding this situation - the real nakedness of the human soul in prayer - you will be helped by the fact that the humans themselves do not desire it as much as they suppose. There's such a thing as getting more than they bargained for!"
That "more than they bargained for," Screwtape explains (earlier in this same chapter) is that humans (at least the majority, who are far from saints) - "have never known that ghastly luminosity, that stabbing and searing glare (of true self-knowledge) which makes the background of permanent pain in our own lives (as devils).
Your affectionate uncle,
Late in life C.S. Lewis was asked WHY he never wrote a sequel (apart from a few pages entitled, "Screwtape Proposes a Toast"). The greatest of Christian `apologists' replied in effect, that it "hurt" him too much -- to maintain within himself the necessary state-of-mind where he was thinking purely as a devil -- in order that Screwtape's words could pour from his pen onto paper.
Living 'inside' "Screwtape" Lewis experienced an exhausting -- even terrifying -- spiritual/psychological torment that he was NEVER prepared to re-visit. Despite the fact this little book was, until "Narnia," his most enduring source of fame - so much so, it got C.S. Lewis onto the cover of TIME magazine -- fifty years ago -- a red cartoon devil on his shoulder, poised -- it seemed -- to whisper sweet words of prideful praise into Lewis' deaf ear.
This book was assigned reading when I was in 8th grade at a Catholic school. I remember I had no appreciation for it whatsoever at the time. I couldn't relate to the protagonist or his travails in wartime England. Perhaps one needs a little time in this world to appreciate the delicious simplicity of Lewis' allegory. Having read it recently I was struck by the wisdom, strength and genuine spiritualism this book exudes. One needn't, as commented upon elsewhere, be a believer to appreciate this work. Lewis never tries to foist any doctrinaire agenda upon the reader. Neither is he didactic. All that comes across (to this reader, at least) is a sense of hard-won wisdom. It offers some hints about how we might find a bit of peace and happiness on this earth if we are willing to think a little less selfishly and are able to set our powerful egos aside for awhile. I wish that those readers who wasted their money on The Celestine Prophecy and thought it provided wonderful spiritual insight would turn their attention Lewis' way. Here is the matter simply stated, without some wayward attempts at new-age jingoism.
on January 27, 2008
The Screwtape Letters is Lewis's classic collection of diabolical correspondence. In it, a senior devil gives continued advice to his protégé on how best to tempt his victim and keep him from salvation.
Lewis does not propose any concrete doctrine on devils here, and this is not his point. Rather he focuses on highlighting the ways, both large and small, that Christians are distracted from God. Lewis explores the dangers of not being purposeful toward God and life, as well as what happens to people when they give in to temptation.
The book is presented as a collection of letters, all from Screwtape to Wormwood. But Lewis does a good job of making the conversation not feel one-sided, and he does a fantastic job with the devils' personalities. In fact the book is rather deeper than this, as there are two other plots going on. First is the fate of Wormwood's man. Second is the relationship between the devils, and the fate of Wormwood.
The Screwtape Letters is deeper than it appears, and is thoroughly thought-provoking. Most every reader will find elements in it to which he or she can relate. Christians of all maturity levels can benefit from this book.
on November 11, 2007
Who can deny the insidious whisperings that infiltrate the noblest heart and penetrate the most virtuous mind?--those subtle impulses that beckon hither and thither to paths we ought not to travel upon. How often have we vowed never to yield to some enticement, only to succumb moments later to the very vice we had pledged to eschew? Whether manifested in the final, luscious slice of a calorie-loaded pound cake or in the tantalizing allure of a forbidden passion, temptation to choose wrong over right is ubiquitous in our lives as we daily make decisions of both trivial and profound significance. Yet while many have denounced the depravity of sin, C.S. Lewis, a mid-twentieth century British theologian, took a much more innovative approach - through the eyes of the devil himself. The resulting correspondence written between the seasoned devil Screwtape and Wormwood, his inexperienced nephew, is an insightful training manual on the art of human subjugation. In his masterful commentary The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis effectively employs satire, irony, and appeal to logos to enable his adult Christian audience to recognize and understand the devices of temptation.
From the beginning, Screwtape's writings unveil the real roots of temptation through satire. Wormwood's task is to bring about a soul's damnation, but as his uncle quickly observes, the newly christened tempter is prone to error. Critiquing his understudy, Screwtape chides, "Are you not being a trifle naïve? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy's clutches... Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church" (p. 1). This passage is satirical because it exploits Wormword's fallible use of argument to undermine his patient's faith when mere diversion would be sufficient. It is a direct critique of the book's adult Christian audience who allow meaningless "jargon" to distract them from their faith. As evident in this example, C.S. Lewis masterfully uses satire to establish lesser temptations as valid components of sin in the reader's mind.
Additionally, the satire in Screwtape's letters provides valuable insights on the tactics employed by the beguilers. After offering a slew of tips for diverting people from their prayers, Screwtape states, "It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality, our best work is done by keeping things out" (p. 15). Here he is specifically referring to the spiritual distance fostered by casual or self-promoting prayers, but the technique of distancing his patients from "the Enemy" characterizes all the devil's efforts. This example is satirical because it largely implicates the tempted - not the tempter - for planting seeds of temptation through a careless relationship with God. It reveals the devil's tendency to not only entice, but to encourage conditions where such enticements will be most compelling. By critiquing the audience's possibly cavalier approach to prayer, satire teaches the reader to recognize the devil's underlying tactics in temptation.
In addition to satire, C.S. Lewis uses irony to explore temptation's appeal to human flaws while simultaneously undermining the demon's methodology. On page 37, Screwtape writes, "Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation." Wormwood's patient had recently dropped into a spiritual trough, and Screwtape cautions that such deviations do not of themselves lend to damnation. His statement is ironic because it underscores change as mankind's only dependable feature. But the true irony is that Wormwood's efforts to discourage ultimately undermine his objective because they humble the patient to rely wholly upon "the Enemy." Lewis' irony reveals both human flaws and demonic arrogance associated with sin. It enables his Christian audience to better understand temptation by concisely illustrating both its strengths and failings.
Another example of irony is Screwtape's inability to comprehend love. Referring to God as "the Enemy," he writes, "All His talk about Love must be a disguise for something else - He must have some real motive for creating them and taking so much trouble about them" (p.100). Because, as a devil, he is himself incapable of virtue, Screwtape incorrectly assumes that all righteous actions must also have ulterior motives. This non sequitor fallacy is satirical because it exhibits the tempter's deficiency in understanding, while reinforcing to the Christian audience that love really is "the Enemy's" driving motive. This satire provides dramatic insights by suggesting that temptation is only a pervasion of virtue which cannot supplant righteousness. Through this satirical device, Lewis convinces the reader that while Satan can mimic love as lust and induce man to commit all manner of sexual transgressions, he can never understand the true nature of love. This conundrum is further reinforced by the statement, "We know that He cannot really love: nobody can: it doesn't make sense. If only we could find out what he is really up to!" (p. 101). By satirically emphasizing Satan's misunderstanding of truth, Lewis establishes in his reader's perception the subtlety of sin as a perverted reflection of truth.
Lewis's irony is further bolstered through the use of distorted diction. The polarity of his word choice is best exemplified on page 117. Describing one particularly righteous girl, Screwtape writes, "Not only a Christian but such a Christian - a vile, sneaking, simpering, demure, monosyllabic, mouse-like, watery, insignificant, virginal, bread-and butter miss." The contrast between this vitriolic stream of adjectives and the virtuous purity of Christianity is deliciously ironic. God becomes "the Enemy" while Satan is tenderly patronized as "Our Father Below" (p.2). This ironically polarized diction reinforces the audience's understanding of sin as corruption. What Screwtape loves we should disdain, and Screwtape loathes we should embrace. By intensifying the contrast between good and evil, the irony of Lewis's "black is white" diction immediately alerts his reader to recognize temptation.
Finally, Lewis' rational dissection of temptation as a systematic progression appeals to the reader's sense of logos. Defining his intentions on page 44, Screwtape gloats, "We always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula." With this object established, the devil then works systematically toward his victim's destruction. First he plants doubts so that a patient will question the value of religion. He then lets the person acclimatize to a lowered spiritual condition and finally moderate into complete religious complacency (p. 45-46). This progression toward captivity appeals to the reader's sense of logos because it follows a coherent chronology. By understanding the general logic of temptation and the ensuing misery, the audience is empowered to identify similar patterns in their own lives.
The appeal to logos is similarly employed in Screwtape's discourse on the sin of "fashion." On page 137, the devil lays out the consequences for yielding to fashion in an orderly, logical manner. First, an obsession with novelty "diminishes pleasure while increasing desire." Second, it costs money. Third, it leads to "excesses of lasciviousness, unreason, cruelty, and pride." And ultimately, it "distracts the attention of men from their real dangers." This appeals to the reader's sense of logos because it clearly illustrates the sin-driven regression from desire to danger. By appealing to logos, Lewis clearly displays the mechanics of beguilement to his audience.
As a whole, The Screwtape Letters provide invaluable insights into the world of temptation. From sensual passions to trendy fashions, and distracting jargon to cavalier prayers, C.S. Lewis thoroughly exposes his reader to the twisted realities of the devil Screwtape and his minion Wormwood. In so doing, he empowers his adult Christian audience to resist temptation when it strikes. The scathing satire, delicious irony, and rational appeal to logos unravel the tangled intricacies of temptation by defining its roots, devices, and systematic methodology. In a world filled with temptation, this book is a must read for any Christian adult eager to avoid an unpleasant reunion with "Our Father Below."
on August 26, 1998
This small book contains within its pages a powerful example of the authors' penetrating insight into human nature. Although aimed primarily at christians, it provides observations of the human condition useful to any student of moral psychology. These lessons are set in a series of fictional correspondances between Screwtape, a high ranking demon, and his young protege Wormwood, a young demon that has been sent out on his first assignment to ensnare a human. The seemingly gentle and fatherly advice to the young demon from his patron exposes the true designs of the masters of Hell, as well as the frailties of the human psyche that they seek to exploit in their attempts to gain a convert for their side. The demonic viewpoints are presented in an ironically sensitive and almost plaintive voice, expressing the motives and problems of the demons from their viewpoint. This wonderful literary mechanism adds power to this probing treatise on the common frailties and pitfalls of humans as they struggle in a morally ambiguous universe. Short, concise, and easily apprehended, this is a classic example of Mr. Lewis' great value as a christian apologist and an observer of human nature. Highly reccommended.
"The Screwtape Letters" is one of those books that teaches you a lesson without you even realizing it... or even if you do, it's in the most non-threatening manner imaginable. It's akin to learning about duty and loyalty from watching "Star Wars." The work takes the concept of "the Devil's advocate" to a whole new level. By a strange set of circumstances (covered in the book's Introduction/Forward), we are privy to private written correspondence from one devil to another devil on the finer points of directing their "patient" to think evil thoughts and to commit evil deeds.
The concept of a little devil sitting on your shoulder is magnified by the dubious fiends whose ultimate goal is consume the souls of those they lead astray as though they were food. Lewis brings forth several ways of re-thinking how we think and addressing the real heart of the matter. The book is an easy read and is entertaining to boot. Lewis intended this work (as his other books such as "The Narnia Chronicles" and "The Great Divorce") to be a fantasy that teaches, not a dramatized version of doctrine. Regardless of your background or your beliefs, the book's underlying themes concern the true nature of good an evil and how we use our will to apply good or evil onto those we care about and onto those we don't.
on May 28, 2002
Leave it to C.S. Lewis to do the undoable--write an epistolary novel from Hell's vantage that delights as much as it educates, and illuminates even as it sends cold chills up your spine. But Lewis was a genius, and The Screwtape Letters is literary proof.
Written as a series of letters from old devil Screwtape to his apprentice nephew, Wormwood, Lewis's novel tells the story of Wormwood's increasingly desperate efforts to ensnare the soul of a young Englishman during World War I. Through this correspondence we follow Wormwood's "patient" through conversion, to doubt, love and his ultimate fate. The novel's suspense comes from the question of whether or not the young man will actually escape becoming a midnight snack for Wormwood, and besides being a genuinely fun read the novel is packed with ingenious observations about innumerable human fallacies: from lust to "falling in love," to cowardice to fanatic patriotism, piety to self-righteousness. One of Lewis's great literary gifts was his ability to pinpoint the subtle flaws in human nature that most of us probably don't think twice about but which we may end up regretting for all eternity. His eye for the touch of evil in the most seemingly innocuous areas of life lets Lewis hit all the major spiritual pressure points with amazing--and sometimes painful--accuracy.
Deliciously funny as only a grand parody can be, yet likewise terrifying in its implications, The Screwtape Letters is a must-read for everyone who ever even thought about religion. A magical novel of wisdom, encouragement, and dire warning, The Screwtape Letters has my wholehearted recommendation.
on August 12, 2010
"The Screwtape Letters" is one of the most profound and unique works by C.S. Lewis, himself a profound and unique author. The startling originality of "The Screwtape Letters" remains as fresh today as it did when Lewis first published it. Lewis' work deserves a definite 5 stars.
But I'm afraid that I can't rate this illustrated version of "The Screwtape Letters" nearly as highly. It's important that the illustrations in a book enhance the mood and meaning of the text, which is not the case with this set of illustrations.
Most of these illustrations are whimsical, and I normally like whimsical things. But that's just the problem. Although there are moments of ironic humor in "The Screwtape Letters", the book is essentially dark and diabolical. I realize, as well, that in the tradition of Martin Luther and Sir Thomas More, Lewis is mocking the devils.
However, Lewis himself wrote: "The work into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst, and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness, and geniality had to be excluded. It almost smothered me before I was done." This is not the kind of Screwtape Letters that these illustrations convey. Also, the illustrations are very ethereal and light, and Screwtape, even though he's a bungling devil, is dark and heavy. They seem more appropriate for a children's book, which The Screwtape Letters most certainly is not!
Some may find these illustrations to enhance their reading of the text or that they illuminate certain aspects of it; if so, then they will find the book of more value than I did. One very welcome aspect is the illustration near the beginning titled, "His Abysmal Sublimity Under-secretary, Screwtape, as Imagined by the Author, C.S. Lewis." The book itself is beautiful and would make a handsome gift. Ultimately, however, I think a different set of illustrations would complement the text much better.