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.
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.