The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

Most people are probably familiar with C.S. Lewis by means of The Chronicles of Narnia. However, he has written quite a bit more. A few years ago I scavenged through my parents’ library and read Mere Christianity, which I quite enjoyed.

This time I embarked into The Screwtape Letters, in which Lewis takes on the voice of demons who are corresponding via letter in how to distract their patient from his new faith and ultimately secure his soul away from the enemy (God) for their Father (Satan). They use various means, including: pride, vanity, lust, weakness, hypocrisy in others, addiction, claptrap, complacency, boredom etc. It is a heavy read. I honestly could have taken a day to a week with each letter, in order to absorb the message fully. And although this book was written in 1942, I have to say that Lewis was dead on in a lot of how current society has turned out and relates to itself.

I was curious about how C.S. Lewis adopted the frame of mind to write this piece. Luckily I found some clarity in his introduction to the adjoining work Screwtape Proposes a Toast:

“…Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment. The ease came, no doubt, from the fact that the device of diabolical letters, once you have thought of it, exploits itself spontaneously, like Swift’s big and little men, or the medical and ethical philosophy of  ‘Erewhon’, as Anstey’s Garuda Stone. It would run away with you for a thousand pages if you gave it its head. But though it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp. The world 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. It would have smothered my readers if I had prolonged it.

I had, moreover, a sort of grudge against my book for not being a different book which no one could write. Ideally, Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood should have been balanced by archangelical advice to the patient’s guardian angel. Without this the picture of human life is lop-sided. But who could supply the deficiency? Even if a man-and he would have to be a far better man than I- could scale the spiritual heights required, what ‘answerable style’ could he use? For the style would really be part of the content. Mere advice would be no good; every sentence would have to smell of Heaven. And nowadays even if you could write prose like Traherne’s, you wouldn’t be allowed to, for the cannon of ‘functionalism’ has disabled literature for half of its functions. (At bottom, every ideal of style dictates not only how we should say things but what sort of things we may say.)”

claptrap (n): absurd or nonsensical talk or ideas

Screwtape would advise Wormwood whether or not  to whisper claptrap into the ear of the patient.

screwtape letters

Books Read: 8


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