Goodreads: The Screwtape Letters
The demon Screwtape writes letters of advice to his nephew Wormwood, describing different methods Wormwood should use to lead the human soul under his charge to damnation.
C. S. Lewis possesses a talent for illuminating the importance of everyday moments. In this brilliant satire, written as a series of letters from the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood on how to lead a soul to damnation, Lewis reveals how the smallest occurrences, the words, thoughts, actions that individuals would brush aside as ordinary or as no consequence, are really the first stepping souls on the path to heaven or to hell. Screwtape takes everything seriously, from the way Wormwood’s patient talks about acquaintances to what type of tone he uses when responding to his mother’s requests. And if the devil takes these moments seriously, apparently so should we.
However, Lewis’s book reveals more cause for hope than for despair. If little actions or words can become habits that lead one into serious vice, so can little actions or words lead one to virtue. Screwtape is alarmed every time Wormwood’s patient takes time to pray, even if he isn’t feeling particularly close to God when he does so. He panics when Wormwood’s patient recognizes his weaknesses and humbles himself instead of giving up. He is furious when he discovers that Wormwood’s patient is talking to Christians and going to church! He has to scramble to find ways to corrupt these moments.
Corruption, as Screwtape reveals, can come as a stealth attack. His advice to Wormwood warns readers to guard themselves against many a feeling or a thought they might think innocuous. On being in love, he writes that Wormwood should keep in mind that humans forget the euphoria of falling in love cannot last forever and many couples splinter when, years later, they find it difficult to continue being unselfish the way they were when they were first dating. On selfishness, he writes about the people who make themselves bitter by pretending to give up what they want, only to become furious when people take them at their word: “When I said I didn’t care if we went to the Italian restaurant, you should have known that I really wanted Chinese food!” On flippancy, he writes that speaking poorly of others can lead individuals to pride. Suddenly everything takes on a new dimension.
Of course, many today may feel that C. S. Lewis has nothing to say to them. Right and wrong are antiquated ideas. Chastity is oppressive. Sin is a myth. Lewis would respond that this attitude is the devil’s greatest triumph. He works best when no one believes in him. He wants his attacks to go unnoticed. To recognize that Lewis might onto something and to begin to question one’s own moral responsibility is exactly what Screwtape and his kind don’t want.