The Screwtape Letters

From Academic Kids

The Screwtape Letters is a work of Christian fiction by C. S. Lewis first published in book form in 1942. Versions of the letters were originally published in The Guardian newspaper.

As an epistolary novel, it purports to be a collection of letters from a senior devil, Screwtape (an Under Secretary in the Lowerarchy), to his nephew Wormwood, an incompetent and very junior devil. We do not see Wormwood's letters to Screwtape, but the contents can be inferred from Screwtape's replies. Screwtape gives advice to Wormwood on how to secure the damnation of a human, known only as 'the Patient', in the face of 'The Enemy' (God).

While The Screwtape Letters is one of Lewis' most popular works, Lewis himself claimed that the book was both easy and distasteful to write. He vowed never to write a direct sequel for this reason, although he did write an essay entitled Screwtape proposes a toast, in which Screwtape gives an after-dinner speech to the College of Tempters.

Plot

After the first letter, the Patient converts to Christianity, and Wormwood is given a severe rebuking and threatened with the "usual penalties" at the House of Correction for Incompetent Tempters. Wormwood's task is now to undermine the Patient's faith as well as to tempt him to explicit sins which may result in his ultimate damnation, thus reflecting the Catholic-Anglican view on "mortal sin" and salvation. It is important to note, however, that the nature of the explicit sins is discussed in such a way as to give rise to a thoughtful and reflective speculation of the nature of the distance sin creates between God and Man, as Screwtape explicitly tells Wormwood that the gentle, sliding slope of habitual small sins is better than any grandiose sin (we may assume that such things as murder, rape, etc are meant here) for the devils' purposes in terms of damning a patient.

Lewis' use of this 'correspondence' is both varied and hard-hitting. With his usual unexpected mix of lenient and hardline theology, Lewis covers areas as diverse as sex, love, pride, gluttony, and war.

In the last letter, it emerges that the Patient has died during an air raid (World War II having broken out between the third and fourth letters), and has gone to Heaven. Wormwood is punished for letting a soul 'slip through his fingers' by being handed over to the fate that would have awaited his patient had he been successful: the consumption of his spiritual essence by the other demons. Screwtape responds to his nephew's desperate final letter by assuring him that he may expect just as much assistance from his loving (and ravenous) uncle as Screwtape would expect from Wormwood were their situations reversed.

(It is interesting that we are given no cause to think that, though Wormwood is to be consumed, he will entirely cease to be. Indeed, at one point in their correspondence, Screwtape cautions Wormwood against getting too excited by his patient's sufferings, reminding him that a man's sufferings on Earth are temporary but a soul's sufferings in Hell are eternal.)

Related works

The state of the damned soul is touched on by Lewis in his science fiction novel, Perelandra, in the person of Professor Weston, who sells his soul to the devil by, perversely, both denying and summoning him. Perhaps Weston and Screwtape's desired 'materialist magician' are one and the same.

Cultural references

Cartoonist Bill Watterson named the fictional first-grade teacher in his Calvin and Hobbes after the devil Wormwood [1] (http://www.ucomics.com/calvinandhobbes/characters.phtml).

In the animated video to U2's "Hold Me, Touch Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me", a copy of Screwtape Letters is seen falling from Bono's coat pocket.bg:Писма на Душевадеца

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