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.

15 thoughts on “The Screwtape Letters & “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”

  1. I don’t know if your version has Lewis’ afterword, but in one of the versions I’ve read he commented that it was all too easy to slip into the mind of a devil, and that he found himself feeling turned inside-out….so as much as people clamored for more like Screwtape, he just couldn’t bare to take it on again. This is THE book that made Lewis into one of my favorite authors.

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    1. That’s so interesting! Just like Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost is sketched much more effectively and clearly than God is or Jesus. It’s somewhat unsettling but probably not surprising. I’ll have to look for Lewis’ afterword! Thanks for the tip!

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    2. Mine had that, too! Much respect to Lewis for not capitalizing further on the concept. I think his conscientious feelings really show in this book – in spite of the humor, and the convincing arguments by Screwtape, it didn’t seem gratuitous or distasteful to me.

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  2. I’ve read The Screwtape Letters a number of times and it’s definitely one of my favourites. I find that Lewis is a master of revealing “logs” to us, even though that was probably not his main intention. Your review has brought back great memories. I must try to fit in some Lewis this year, perhaps in the second half.

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    1. Yes, I had the same reaction when I read Till We Have Faces… I felt drawn in as *part* of the conflict and not just an observer. It was startling but masterful!

      Also, I feel like your Four Loves readalong was just yesterday, but that was 2019. 😮 I really enjoyed that readalong!

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      1. Especially the part about praying for people’s sins, and thus fixating on them and missing the person — and Screwtape’s chuckling over how he had gotten people to treat the prayed-for entity and the real person COMPLETELY differently. This was something on Lewis’ mind often — in A Grief Observed, he shared his fear that in his brooding over his wife, he was fixating on certain aspects of her, and thus mourning some creature of his imagination and not the real Person. The innate respect for people as distinct, unique Personalities is something I love about Lewis.

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  3. Great review Marian. One of the greatest milestones of a good book is when it opens us to new ideas or holds up a mirror to us and this book seems to be doing exactly that. I have not read this but now will do so, as soon as I get through my current pile that is!

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  4. All this talk about thinking like a demon is giving me the chills.
    I did read Screwtape a number of years ago, and of course, I’d like to read Abolition of Man and Hideous Strength. I’m assuming both of those are not written the way Screwtape is, and are more narrative…???

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