The Screwtape Letters (1942)
Author: C.S. Lewis
Screwtape, a demon under secretary to "Our Father Below, keeps in correspondence with his nephew Wormwood. The wise old demon gives him advice on how to improve his skills as a junior tempter and secure the damnation of a human man. Their evil tactics range from distractions from prayers in the form of materialism and excess to encouraging idleness and apathy. "It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out." An excellent study of the human condition and the triumph of good over evil.
Geographical Setting: The Underworld (Hell)
Time Period: World War II
Series: Followed by the publication Screwtape Proposes a Toast
This book will engage Christian readers who want to reflect on their spiritual lives and may not appeal to the typical fantasy reader. Although the characters are fictional, the letters closely resemble a series of essays. This book would be great for those who enjoy nonfiction. Only a few paragraphs in each letter are devoted to the life of the patient while the rest of each letter focuses on techniques devils like Screwtape and Wormwood use. The two devils are not individually characterized but are drawn to represent their kind as a whole. Screwtape is intelligent but fatally flawed because he does not understand how love can be unconditional or how it cannot be tied to an ulterior motive. The reader never meets the patient directly, and although some details of his life and spiritual state are given in the letters, he is not fully fleshed out. The topsy-turvy approach (Christian beliefs seen through a devil's eyes) presents fun moments for the reader to figure out what Screwtape is talking about and what Lewis is trying to say. Lewis's intention, it seems, is to characterize humanity as a whole rather than the specific traits of one individual. Although a book like this is not generally fast-paced, the letters are fairly short; this technique prevents Screwtape's revelations from dragging on. The tone is philosophical, instructional, and offers a glimmer of hope to readers because, in this patient's instance, the devils are foiled; readers are supposed to use Screwtape's lessons in the infernal arts to reflect upon their own heavenly aspirations.
Read-alikes: The best readalike for those who like Lewis is more Lewis. Silent Planet is a science fiction novel about a couple of unscrupulous men and their kidnapped companion who go to another planet and encounter a civilization there. Lewis uses this setting to explore weighty Christian philosophy such as the nature of the soul while creating a good novel as well. The philosophy is more disguised than in The Screwtape Letters, and the tone is less juvenile than Lewis's other major fiction work, The Chronicles of Narnia. If a reader likes stories about devils trying to destroy humanity then try Phantom Banjo by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. The tone of this book also captures the same comical and satirical approach of C.S. Lewis in describing the demon's tactics and thought processes. Another excellent novel that tackles temptation and good versus evil is The Fleetwood Correspondence: A Devilish Tale of Temptation by William Griffin offers a strikingly similar premise (perhaps a modern-day adaptation) about a demon named Fleetwood who is striving to snag his female victim. This story also features the presence of guardian angels and presents new tools and challenges for Fleetwood, and, in book reviews, it is touted as one which mimics the conventions of C.S. Lewis' book. Three other novels with similar storylines are Devil's Inbox by Barbara Laymon, The Snakebite Letters by Peter Kreeft, and Lord Foulgrin's Letters: How to Strike Back at the Tyrant by Deceiving and Destroying His Human Vermin. Devil's Inbox uses email messages as the means of communication between Anesthesia and her trainee, Termite. The Snakebite Letters uses a satiric tone to share secrets from a tempter's training school in the form of 15 letters from Snakebite to his trainee, Braintwister. Finally, Lord Foulgrin's Letters follows the same premise of presenting letters about the art of corrupting humanity. The Ishbane Conspiracy by Randy and Angela Acorn is the sequel to Lord Foulgrin's Letters and presents the struggle for the souls of four college students who are each coping with different life situations. Twilight of the Gods and other tales by Richard Garrett has a healthy mix of Christian beliefs like hell and heaven, the devil and sin, but also has many interesting stories which embark on the exploration of alternative histories regarding religion: for one who enjoys Christian themes but different approaches to the storytelling. Another C.S. Lewis novel addressing Christianity on a more sober level is Mere Christianity which examines the similarities between the four denominations in Britain. A role model of C.S. Lewis is George McDonald. His book At the Back of the North Wind, like Lewis', examines good versus evil and contains allegories of heaven and hell. The Screwtape Letters is dedicated to Tolkein, and the two men often critiqued each others' work. The Lord of the Rings (the first title in the series is The Fellowship of the Ring) is far less overtly Christian, but Tolkein's story of a quest to destroy the most powerful weapon for evil in the world is brimming with Christian values and beliefs. Especially, he explores themes of temptation and mercy (Gandalf's lines about pity early on in the book set the tone for the whole work: how we treat others affects who we are, and a good end does not justify horrible means). The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton is a Christian allegory masquerading as a fast-paced spy hriller. The Man Who Was Thursday tells the story of a man who infiltrates a gang of anarchists in London at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Chesterton's tale eventually escalates to encompass God and His nature, and His relation to humans. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift is not so much a Christian work, but Swift's novel is another classic
of social satire. If that's what appealed to the reader in The Screwtape Letters, then this story of shipwrecks and voyages to strange lands is a good follow-up.
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