Letters written by a devil for a devil? Odd reading for Christmas, wouldn’t ya say?
I had something of this thought when I settled down to read The Screwtape Letters over Christmas Eve & Day. Knowing, however, C. S. Lewis’s approach to writing—plus the praise I’ve heard about this book from different friends (most recently Stephen’s review)—I was inspired to go for it, at long last.
Our narrator is Uncle Screwtape, an old and “wise” devil who is writing to his nephew Wormwood, who is a devil in training. Wormwood’s assignment is to try to malignly influence a certain young Christian man, who remains unnamed, as the Christian journeys through young love and the horrors of the Second World War. Think of it as a Pilgrim’s Progress, except from the antagonist’s perspective.
I was amazed how Lewis managed to write a dark humorous satire without making me feel icky about it. Truly, some humans I’ve interacted with speak more detestably than Screwtape. However, the point of this book is not to shock the reader (not even to the extent of my favorite of Lewis’s novels, Till We Have Faces). What Lewis is doing here is opening the reader’s eyes to threats and diversions encountered in a Christian’s life, some of them so subtle because they are masked under a more “administrative” or contemporary terror. Apart from illuminating issues in the wider world, I also felt he brought up one or two “logs in my own eye” which was unexpected and effective. Finally, the character of the off-screen Christian was beautifully painted, even though we could only get to know him through the unsavory narrator.
The Screwtape Letters is a new favorite of mine. I felt it covered some of the same ground as The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength but in a stronger way.