The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, is one that I read in sixth grade and hadn’t read again. When I studied it with my language arts teacher it was a bit above my head: lots of big words and hard concepts. After rereading it four years later, I understood the message a lot better of what Lewis is trying to communicate in the book.
Under the cover of letters from a senior devil to a junior tempter tempting a human, Lewis tactfully yet clearly exposes different elements of our lives and of the Christian faith that are at fault. The book is all reversed however. Lewis is writing in the book the exact opposite of what he wants us to hear, therefore making our brains jump to the conclusions that his are. The book is about a junior tempter named Wormwood who is trying to tempt a young man away from Christianity. The entire book, however, consists of Screwtape, Wormwood’s uncle and a senior devil, writing letters to Wormwood and telling him what to do about his ‘patient’.
Lewis covers many things, from the perspective of a tempting devil being instructed what to do about a human soul. In doing this, he exposes many things in our lives that I had never thought about before. I will not go so far as to say that everything Lewis says are necessarily tactics that the devil uses to tempt us, but I do think that he does an excellent job of exposing our weaknesses as a race to ourselves.
Screwtape, in his letters, points out many weaknesses of a human and explains how they may be used to tempt one, such as Love, and cowardice, and the Church itself. One of the parts of the book that particularly resonated with me was Lewis’ description of the church. Screwtape says to Wormwood that the church has become ‘a secret club’ and that members of it often ‘look down on other club churches and those who are in no church at all’. This is very similar to some of the disputes and trouble that arise over denominations.
Lewis points out, through Screwtape, that prayer is often a false and routine thing that we go through. He says how people have become so routine in praying that they make their God wherever they are when they pray, or a specific object that they pray towards, such as a crucifix. He says that prayer, when it is not connected directly to God, is useless, because then the believer is not connecting to God.
Ultimately, at the end of the book, the ‘patient’ (Whose name is never given) is killed in a German air raid, but goes to heaven instead of hell. Thus, in the last letter Screwtape explains to Wormwood why the ‘patient’ was lost and what he should have done differently.
The Screwtape Letters is probably one of the most creative ways an author has used to get his view across yet. By instructing a junior tempter in how to bring down a human being, Screwtape presents many options for Wormwood. These different ‘options’ are the flaws which Lewis wants to expose.
Published on 26 April, 2010. Last updated on