80 years of The Screwtape Letters

May 4, 2021 by

from The Christian Institute:

On 2 May 1941 the first of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters appeared in print.

Beginning in late spring 1941, the Anglican newspaper The Guardian (not to be confused with today’s paper of the same name) published a series of letters penned by Lewis, which charted the diabolical advice of a senior devil called Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood.

The complete correspondence, amounting to 31 letters in all, was released as a book the following year. Lewis would later add a final scene to the collection in 1959, which he entitled Screwtape Proposes a Toast.

Devilish weapons

Screwtape’s mission is to train a “junior tempter” in the dark art of devouring a soul. If Wormwood is to deliver his “patient” – a recently converted Christian – from the clutches of “the Enemy”, i.e. God, he must employ a wide array of devilish weapons and ploys.

Wormwood is taught how to distract the new Christian with religious jargon, disappoint him with the ‘ordinariness’ of the church, and preoccupy him with his inner life – keeping him from “the most elementary duties” of faith.

According to the senior devil, fear, flippancy, superficiality and complacency will all assist Wormwood in his cause – to “edge the man away from the Light” and set him safely on his way down the “road to Hell”.

But as the one sided-conversation develops – for Lewis only provides the reader with the letters from Screwtape himself – the senior devil becomes increasingly exasperated with his nephew’s failings in “undermining faith and preventing the formation of virtues”.

He complains bitterly to Wormwood when he hears of the man’s increasing dependence upon “what the other side call ‘grace’” and of his humble resistance to temptation.

Ultimately, Wormwood is “out-manoeuvred”. In death his charge is safely snatched from him.

Screwtape ends his correspondence by scolding Wormwood for letting a soul slip through his fingers, as his intended prey is caught up into heaven: “that world where pain and pleasure take on transfinite values and all our arithmetic is dismayed”.

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