Biblical Studies/Christianity/Famous works of fiction/The Screwtape Letters

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C. S. Lewis was one of the greatest Christian Writers of our age. His "Screwtape Letters" still stirs considerable controversy. He wrote from the perspective of a devil giving advice to another devil in how to tempt a Christian. In doing so, he reveals to us how we let evil into our own lives. Lewis's work has influenced three generations of Christian thinkers and will continue to be a seminal Christian work.

Synopsis of the Screwtape Letters: "The Screwtape Letters" is fiction. But only fiction in the sense that the characters and the dialogue sprang from the imagination of one of the greatest modern Christian writers. Yet in our terrestrial reality the issues confronted in this book play out in our lives every day.

The book contains thirty-one letters from Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood, who is screwtape's underling in fiendishness. Screwtape is an upper-level functionary in the complex bureaucracy of the underworld. The "Screwtape Letters" are friendly advice from this elder statesman to a front-line tempter on how to procure the soul of his "patient", a young Christian man just trying to live out his everyday life.

We get the letters only from one side of the correspondence (Screwtape's), yet the story of the meanderings of the Christian "patient's" soul is clearly read between the lines. The letters begin with Wormwood's failure to keep his subject from becoming a Christian. The urbane Screwtape informs him that, although this is an alarming development, his patient is by no means lost to the dark forces of evil.

World War II serves as the backdrop for the Letters. Yet war and strife do not play a significant roll in the work. The book is about more everyday and universal problems. Problems every individual must deal with even today.

Thus, each letter addresses various aspects of the travails of the human soul and how the devil tempts that soul away from goodness and toward evil - not evil on a grand scale, but evil on a petty scale. They show how evil can seep into a Christian's relationships with friends and family, in his views on the church, even in his practice of prayer.

As each letter unfolds, we find the Christian "patient" slipping more and more out of the hands of Wormwood and his temptations. Screwtape's advice to the tempter becomes more firm and yet more subtle. And, by degrees, we come to see the workings of evil in our own hearts. "The Screwtape Letters" is a book that entertains while it instructs. It is a book to be treasured and studied.

Analysis of the Screwtape Letters: The correspondence of devils would not be an easy composition for most writers. Yet C. S. Lewis was a master at revealing subtleties of the diabolical mind. We find Screwtape to be urbane, intelligent, witty and even charming. These qualities are tools. Like a hammer or a screwdriver, in the right hands they can build a cathedral. In the wrong hands they could destroy a high-speed turbine in motion.

Through the "Screwtape Letters" we come to realize that evil seldom pops up as the genocidal maniac slaughtering millions (though it does on occasion show up in the guise of a Stalin or a Hitler). For individuals, it generally takes the form of little urgings that come from within, telling us to respond brusquely to a family member or to frown on that poor soul in the neighboring pew with the funny hat.

It is evil in our everyday lives that Screwtape addresses, petty evils that add up in the end to the destruction of our morality, the demise of our individuality and the utter destruction of our souls.

The book is sprinkled with advice from Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood, telling him what he must do to gain the soul of a Christian for the underworld. This mostly involves "muddying the waters". That is: not allowing the "patient" to clearly see the truth. Thus we are shown how evil is overcome by simple, clear actions and thought.

In the end we find that the battle between good and evil is fought out on the field of our relationships with others and most of all our relationship with God.

Each Letter has something important to say, and should be read and reviewed in detail.