The Screwtape Letters

By: C. S. Lewis

Star Rating:



Spoiler Disclaimer


Screwtape, a senior demon, corresponds with his young nephew and protégé, Wormwood, who is just starting down the path of becoming a master manipulator. In his letters, Screwtape informs Wormwood on how best to lead humanity astray. With a sharp satirical style and by turning our perceptions of right and wrong upside down, C. S. Lewis offers guidance to believers on how to avoid temptation, while delving into questions of good and evil and what it means to be Christian.


I'm a big fan of C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series, but until now those were the only books of his I've read. They're very enjoyable, but they're aimed at a younger audience. Since Mr. Lewis was a prolific author, primarily of many non-fiction books that are considered classics of the Christian faith, I thought it would be interesting to try out something different. The Screwtape Letters have been at the top of my list, so when it was chosen as our latest church book club read, I was quite excited to finally delve into it. However, now that I've read it, I have to admit that I didn't end up enjoying it as much as I thought I would.

Normally I have excellent reading comprehension, so at the risk of sounding ignorant, I really struggled with understanding much of the text. I generally figured out the gist of the meaning behind some of Screwtape's letters, while others eluded me. I identified several possible reasons for this. First is that the book is written in a more classical, scholarly literary style, and I can't say that I've been much of a fan of classic literature. In fact, according to LibraryThing, I can count on one hand the number of books in my collection that were published before the 1970s (aka the era in which I was born).:-) One of the reasons, I don't read many classics is because the writing style tends to be different and harder for my modern brain to comprehend. Not to belittle those who enjoy this style (you have my admiration for being able to wrap your head around it), but I primarily read for pleasure, so if I'm wracking my brain to make sense of a book, it just isn't that much fun to read it. Secondly I guess I mistakenly thought that the book was a fictional story, when in fact it's Christian apologetics wrapped in satire or allegory (depending on your point of view). I've enjoyed both of these literary styles on occasion, but for some reason this one simply didn't grab me. I've seen many people say how witty or humorous it is, but I didn't really find it funny at all. However, I freely admit that maybe my humor detector is broken (my husband has said so on occasion).:-) Last I had a hard time with how dark and diabolical the narrative is. Yes, I know it's supposed to be, since it's purportedly written by a devil with extensive experience in tempting humans to fall. But the whole black is white and white is black juxtaposition was confusing to me at times. I know many readers enjoy symbolism and parsing hidden meanings, but I'm not generally one of them. Therefore, I think I would have done better with a similar book, covering the same type of message, that was written in a much more straightforward fashion.

As for what I did glean from the pages, I understood that Screwtape is a very exacting uncle who doesn't suffer Wormwood's failures to tempt his human to the dark side lightly. In fact, he regularly berates his nephew for his shortcomings. Perhaps I would have understood the dynamics here better if Wormwood's correspondence had been included as well, which is what I thought was the case, going into reading it. However, Screwtape merely makes reference to some of the things his nephew said. While the rest can generally be inferred, I still felt like a key perspective was missing. One lesson I learned is that Screwtape makes it clear that almost anything can be used to make a human fall, even things we think are good. Therefore we must always be on our guard against possibly being misled or simply becoming complacent. I also think I picked up on a few tidbits that would apply nicely to the current world in which we live where the intersection of politics and religion have become such a prominent part of our daily lives. In fact, there were several little things I discerned, but unfortunately they never quite gelled for me into the bigger picture. It truly pains me to give such a beloved classic of my faith a middling rating. But as I said before, if I'm not understanding a book, I'm not enjoying it, and my enjoyment level is primarily what I base my ratings on. I do admit that this may be more a failing of my own mind than the book's message, as would seem to be born out in the high ratings that it receives at online books sites and the recommendations I've heard off-line, as well, so feel free to take my review with a grain of salt.


C. S. Lewis