The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

November 21, 2009

screwtape letters Summary (with spoilers): The Screwtape Letters is an epistolary novel in which author C.S. Lewis presents his ideas of the Christian faith. He writes from the point of view of Screwtape, who is a senior demon in the “Lowerarchy” of Hell. One of Screwtape’s duties is to mentor junior demons, including Wormwood, whom Screwtape refers to as his nephew throughout the letters. But don’t let that fool you: Screwtape is definitely not the kind of uncle that sends birthday and holiday cards with a $50 bill tucked inside. He’s not nearly as innocuous as that.

Readers only get Screwtape’s side of the correspondence, but it’s clear that Wormwood is writing back. Screwtape constantly gives Wormwood advice about how to secure the soul of a particular man (referred to as “the Patient”) through various temptations meant to shake the Patient’s faith in God and turn him towards sin. Of course, the reader is to assume that in order to be a good Christian, he should do the exact opposite of whatever Screwtape advises; thus Lewis pushes his brand of Christianity across.

The story unfolds over the course of 31 letters. In the last letter, it is revealed that the Patient has been killed in an air raid (during World War II), and his soul “lost” to heaven. Wormwood’s sentence for having failed to secure this soul is to be himself consumed by demons — the same fate that would have been the Patient’s.

Liked:

  • Well, this was certainly a much more interesting way to present the tenets of Christianity than a straightforward nonfiction essay or treatise would have been. C.S. Lewis was nothing if not imaginative!
  • Lewis is also a terrific writer. Despite the “story” being told through letters — and through only one side of the correspondence to boot — the reader is never at a loss as to what’s going on. The author does a wonderful job of making the details known despite the limitations he placed on himself.

Disliked:

  • I’m not Christian, so I wasn’t particularly interested in the subject matter and found the book to be pretty boring most of the time. I only read it because it’s mentioned so often as a wonderful book and I wanted to see what it was about. In that sense, mission accomplished, I guess.
  • Because I’m not a Christian, I have a feeling that I missed out on a lot of significant allusions or references, and that perhaps much of the book’s wit, insight, and charm were lost on me.

Rating
I did not enjoy The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis very much, but that is more my fault than the author’s. I certainly don’t fit into the book’s intended audience and wasn’t very receptive to the subject matter to begin with. If you enjoy reading Christian lit, you will probably like this book. But if you’re simply looking for an interesting novel, you might want to skip this one. I give it 2 stars out of 5.

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