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The Screwtape Letters: Includes Screwtape Proposes a Toast Paperback – June 3, 1996
The Amazon Book Review
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Who among us has never wondered if there might not really be a tempter sitting on our shoulders or dogging our steps? C.S. Lewis dispels all doubts. In The Screwtape Letters, one of his bestselling works, we are made privy to the instructional correspondence between a senior demon, Screwtape, and his wannabe diabolical nephew Wormwood. As mentor, Screwtape coaches Wormwood in the finer points, tempting his "patient" away from God.
Each letter is a masterpiece of reverse theology, giving the reader an inside look at the thinking and means of temptation. Tempters, according to Lewis, have two motives: the first is fear of punishment, the second a hunger to consume or dominate other beings. On the other hand, the goal of the Creator is to woo us unto himself or to transform us through his love from "tools into servants and servants into sons." It is the dichotomy between being consumed and subsumed completely into another's identity or being liberated to be utterly ourselves that Lewis explores with his razor-sharp insight and wit.
The most brilliant feature of The Screwtape Letters may be likening hell to a bureaucracy in which "everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment." We all understand bureaucracies, be it the Department of Motor Vehicles, the IRS, or one of our own making. So we each understand the temptations that slowly lure us into hell. If you've never read Lewis, The Screwtape Letters is a great place to start. And if you know Lewis, but haven't read this, you've missed one of his core writings. --Patricia Klein
About the Author
C.S. Lewis was a professor of medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford and Cambridge universities who wrote more than thirty books in his lifetime, including The Chronicles of Narnia, the Space Trilogy, and Mere Christianity. He died in 1963.
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Don't worry about reading about the devil, as I was concerned with when I started to read it. But the more you read it the better and closer relationship you can develop with God, which of course is what Mr. Lewis has intended.
The author is pure genius. I have read Mere Christianity, The problem with pain amd A Grief Observed. I have also read his space trilogy Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength; which are all wonderful.
Word of warning, A Grief Observed is a difficilt, depressing book. DO NOT READ IT if you are grieving about anything or one.
I hope this helps and helps people discover the genius, as I have, of C. S. Lewis.
The point of the book is that Satan acts in subtle ways in human lives. Don't think he is likely to knock you over the head with a manifestation of his power and contrariness. He is much more subtle, and thus much more successful. And that is where the danger lies. If we are aware of and sensitive to spiritual things, we no doubt have seen this. At least that is my experience.
When we read this book in our parish book club, it did not receive a raving review, although it receive a solid one. (Some, being unfamiliar with this type of literature, found it a bit confusing.) I'd recommend it, as part of the Christian canon of books. And more. After all, it is not good to ignore what can destroy the life and love of God in us.
Wow! It is good. It is, despite some dated references in a dated setting, still relevant to present-day mankind and their souls. The story is so well-known, and so easily findable on Wikipedia and the like, that I won't give any sort of recap. A million other reviewers have praised this work's virtues, so I will just say that Lewis's take on how and why mankind could be tempted to hellfire is brilliant.
As I said, still relevant too. I will give a few examples of Lewis's prescient warnings and insights. In "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" he derides the educational system.
"At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit from higher education or not. At schools, children who are too stupid of lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing things that children used to do in their spare time. Let them, for example, make mud pies and call it modelling." (pp. 125-126)
How familiar does that sound? The dumbing down of our educational system? The rampant student loan debt because everybody MUST go to college!
Or on the pitfalls of democracy. Democracy as in everyone is equal, which is how the demons want to define it. "..they [the humans] should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning." Why? Teach man that instead of all men being created equal, and how every man is equal before the law, the government, and God, no, falsely teach man that "all men <i>are</i> equal" (p. 122, emphasis in the original). Why? "As a result you can use the word <i>democracy</i> to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of all human feelings. You can get him to practise, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided." (p. 122).
Does that not sound like the decline of Western thought and values in a nutshell? "We are all equal! All the same! Democracy! So do what everyone else is doing!" Or, to give it a socialist tinge, which is what Lewis mainly meant I think. You would not steal another man's property as a burglar, but call it a tax to pull down the rich so all men are at the same level! Democracy!
A classic, and rightly so. Highly recommended.
Reviewed ISBN 0684831171. Two prefaces by the author included.