A Brief Review of Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape Letters

Lewis, C.S. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1961. Print.

The Screwtape Letters was originally published on February 1942 by Geoffrey Bles and written by renowned Christian author Clive Staples Lewis. The novel takes place over a series of letters from a mentor Demon named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, who is also a Demon. Screwtape writes 31 different letters to his nephew Wormwood in an attempt to teach him how to tempt Wormwood’s first “Client” in order to keep him from “The Enemy”, who is God, and turn him to the ways of evil or sin. The “Client” is a British man, who lives in London, England during World War two and he is never given a name. At the beginning of Wormwood’s assignment, the Client is not a convert to Christianity.

However, during the first of Hitler’s bombing raids of London the emotional ups and downs of the air raid gave the Client a renewed faith in God. This is most frustrating to Wormwood and a disappointment to Screwtape. Shortly after this, the Client falls in love with another Christian woman, who is also never named. Then, during the second of Hitler’s London air raids, the Client dies by one of the bombs and proceeds to the afterlife with “The Enemy”. Thus, all of Screwtape’s advice to his nephew has been wasted and their attempt to tempt or sway the Client to evil is ultimately a failure. Screwtape is none too happy about this and plans to punish Wormwood for his mistakes.

Within this novel, C.S Lewis delivers the reader several ideas and concepts of moral dualism in regards to Satan and his Angels where he resides in Hell and God. And he even gives the reader concepts on Evil superpersonal in regards to man and temptation. With moral dualism, Lewis presents the idea that there are two opposite forces of absolute Good and absolute Evil at work in the lives of Mankind. God being the force of Good and Satan and his angels, like Screwtape and Wormwood, being the force of Evil. In following with the idea of moral dualism, Lewis does not seem to think that these two forces are equal to each other but are definite opposites of one another. Lewis shows us this by having Screwtape write to Wormwood, “…the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy.” (pg. 64) In this quote, Screwtape shows that he is in conflict with “the Enemy”, who is God, but since Wormwood fails to win the Client’s soul at the end of the story Wormwood and Screwtape are clearly not equal to God or else they would’ve been able to struggle against God and win.

Along with the idea of moral dualism, Lewis also presents the idea of evil superpersonal. This idea says that humans are good and that we fall prey to evil by an external supernatural force. This idea is clearly presented throughout the book as Wormwood attempts to lead his Client astray into evil and into Hell with them. This is seen best when Screwtape writes, “If…by steady and coolheaded application here and now you can finally secure his soul, he will then be yours forever-a brim-full living chalice of despair and horror and astonishment which you can raise to your lips as often as you please.” (pg.30) In the Novel, C.S. Lewis do not appear to present the idea that there is a internal evil within man, nor does he present the idea of non-dualism, which is the idea that man was good but turned evil due to Original sin in Genesis three. So it would appear that C.S. Lewis thinks that temptation is mainly caused by an external force, in this case, a Demon, and not by man himself.

What is possibly most interesting about The Screwtape Letters is the language C.S. Lewis uses to describe Demons or Hell. For example, the first use of language Lewis uses office, or business, type language to describe how the hierarchy in Hell works when Screwtape writes to Wormwood on his disappointment in him, “That is not the sort of thing that a nephew should write to his uncle- nor a junior tempter to the under-secretary of a department.” (pg. 24) The next insight we get on the hierarchy of Hell is in the seventh letter the Screwtape writes Wormwood on weather or not to reveal their existence to the Client when he says, “That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command.” (pg. 39)

So far in the Novel Lewis has used an office type language and a Military type language to describe the workings of Hell. There are two other phrases Lewis uses that raise some interesting questions; in the 28th letter Screwtape writes, “Even under Slubgob you must have learned at college the routine of technique of sexual temptation…” (pg. 91) The other language of Lewis in the Novel is in the 5th letter of Screwtape to Wormwood when he writes, “But what permanent good does it do us unless we make us of it for bringing souls to Our Father Below?” (pg. 30) So, in the Novel, the reader is presented with the idea of office, military, education and location language of Hell. This is odd language to use sense this is not the usual language one would use to describe Hell or Devilish things. However, that said, it is fully possible that Lewis just took some creative liberties in order to tell a good story. But if one were to analyze into this language they would find that the ideas in this language are not biblical ideas. For example, while it seems reasonable that there is a hierarchy of Demons, there is no biblical foundation to say that Demons work in an office. But, sense these Demons are fighting “the Enemy” for the souls of man it is also reasonable to say they operate in some sort of Military fashion. Lewis also uses the language of Education, in reference to Wormwood’s schooling in College, to describe Demons. Again, there is no real biblical foundation for this language either. The location of Hell is also touched on by Lewis when Screwtape writes, “Our Father Below”; this suggests that Hell is somehow below the Earth but again there isn’t a real biblical foundation for this idea either.

Within The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis addresses several ideas on Man, Hell, Satan and his angels. Weather or not all the ideas presented in the Novel are founded on the Bible is debatable but it does not seem that Lewis was trying to give a full Biblical analyze on Devilish things but on how Satan is at work against God in the everyday lives of Men.

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