Book Review: The Screwtape Letters

This month I’m taking part in RainbowCatcher’s Infertility Bloggers Book Club (technically I’m not infertile, but I think going through fertility treatment and a miscarriage qualifies me). The idea is simple: each month we read at least one book we’ve never read before, then post a review of it on a set day. For October I’ve chosen to read C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, an epistolary novel set during the Second World War.

Cover of The Illustrated Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

The book takes the form of a series of letters between Screwtape, a senior devil in Hell, and his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood’s job is to tempt and corrupt a man known only as “the patient”, but he is inexperienced and fairly incompetent. Most of Screwtape’s letters follow the same pattern: he starts by chastising Wormwood for his mistakes, during which the reader learns a little about what has happened in the patient’s life, and then he offers Wormwood guidance and advice – most of which Wormwood seems to ignore.

Very few details are given about the patient: we know that he lives in England, works in an office and is unmarried, but little else. He is definitely an ‘everyman’ character, and the novel is heavily didactic. I don’t think Lewis’ aim is to convince us that we each have a personal devil doing their utmost to make us do evil, but rather to highlight the traps that humans – especially Christians – can fall into while believing ourselves to be good. As Wikipedia points out, there is a stark contract between Wormwood, who wants to tempt the patient into extreme wickedness and probably corresponds to most people’s idea of a demon, and Screwtape, the more experienced devil, who aims to confuse and corrupt in more subtle ways and says that “the safest path to hell is the gradual one”. (Why, yes, I do tell off my students for referencing Wikipedia.)

In retrospect, I should probably have chosen some lighter reading while coming to terms with pregnancy loss. I wanted to seriously consider each of Lewis’ points and take them on board, but often found myself unable to concentrate. This is a book I will probably read again when life is less of a struggle.

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7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Screwtape Letters

  1. I like the Screwtape Letters, though I haven’t read it in a while.
    Have you tried the Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass? That is gentle, light humour and makes some serious points. I’m a big fan of him actually, Bacon Sandwiches and Salvation is another good one, an A-Z of Christian life. I read his stuff before bed when I want to wind down, so you’d maybe like that at the moment?

  2. This will seem silly, but I loved this review. You had me at epistolary (my new word of the day). Having to look up the word made me realise how much I have learned from your blog. Not just this word, but I have learned from your strength. Thank you 🙂

  3. We are supposedly reading this book, The Screwtape Letters, in Book Club. I have read ten pages and then I reviewed several other letters, and cannot find a plot. It presumes ones knowledge of Chrisitianity. It alludes at the Devil. It baffles and confuses one looking for a plot or at least coherent arguments based on a premise or at minimum opinion. It is babblling, baffling, and boring. The closest I have ever come to reading something similar is in Philosophy I and II; college courses required in Psychology programs, upper division. After reading the euphemisms and endearments in these reviews, I think and feel that such false advertising is either intentionally proselytizing or misrepresentation for other ulterior motives. I cannot imagine setting out an entire play let alone returning to this manipulative read. My only hope is that it is a book out of a series, that I have not been privy to. Thusly, any forerunners might have set a foundation for the premise of this one….that comes out of left field for me.

    • Sorry to hear you haven’t enjoyed the book. It does take quite a ‘bare bones’ approach to plot – if you keep reading beyond the first ten pages, you will find that some things happen, but not in every letter, and I don’t think the plot is the main point of the book – it is Lewis’ views and teachings aimed at Christians, as you said. The story about the patient and the relationship between the devils is more of a framework in which that is set.

      It’s interesting that you felt it presumed knowledge of Christianity. It is very much a Christian book, but I didn’t feel as though a lot background knowledge was required – then again, I was brought up as a Christian from a young age, so it’s hard for me to judge.

      I’m not sure which reviews you’re referring to, but I feel I’ve been honest in mine and don’t think there’s any false advertising here.

      I guess the problem with conventional book clubs is from time to time you’ll be asked to read a book you absolutely hate, and to be honest that’s put me off from joining one. I got enough of that at uni. 😉

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