The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Rating:★★★★★ // A timeless masterpiece
Favorite Line: “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
I have read this book 3 times now, and it amazes me that each time I read it, it’s like I’m reading it for the first time. This book has the uncanny characteristic of “changing” as you do. If you read it in high school, something’s stick out like a sore thumb and you believe they are the main message in the book. Read it again in college and you see a whole different set of points that seem to be speaking directly to you, and you wonder how you missed them the first time. And then read them again as a young working adult, and you find points that are so clear and relevant to the world today, you almost doubt it is the same book you read 4 and 8 years ago.
If you are unfamiliar with The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, it is a series of 31 letters that were originally published in Tbe Guardian, a magazine in the U.K., from Screwtape, a master demon, to his nephew Wormwood, who is a tempter in training. Screwtape uses these letters to explain the tempting process to Wormwood, and gives him tips on how to properly steer his “patient” away from The Enemy (God) and to the devil.
The Screwtape Letters is such an interesting book. First of all it’s all written backwards, or I should say from the wrong point of view, so it is intended to be a “what not to do” book. For example, when Screwtape informs his nephew to help the patient strive for normality and lukewarmness, because those in the middle are easier to tempt than anyone with passions and strong convictions, we must do the opposite, we must strive to be passionate about the things we believe in.
These letters are kind of like an examination of conscious. As you read them it’s pretty impossible to reflect and think, “oh wait, have I done that?” or to ask yourself, “is that how I act?” These questions are good to ask because as human we should always be striving to be the best version of ourselves, and acknowledging our downfalls brings us a step closer to achieving that goal.
In these letters Lewis, through the voice of Screwtape, reminds us that while major sins are grave and horrible actions (like murder), the small ones can be just as detrimental to our soul. He also shows that the devil can take good things, such as humility, and twist it to bring you into sins, like pride.
“Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility.”
C.S. Lewis said that after writing these letters he became spiritually exhausted, and that is not surprising at all. He forced himself to go into the mind of a devil and to examine all the small failures, most assuredly some of his own failures, that could lead you away from God. This practice would be so exhausting and discouraging, but as Screwtape acknowledges as the end of the book, and Lewis found solace in after writing the Letters, God is still more powerful than the demons who fight against him.
This book is full of timeless advice about how to arm yourself against temptation, and while it has been described by some as a religious satire, the processes and the human nature portrayed in the book are so real, the idea of it being satire in is deniable.
While this book is full of countless lessons, I would say the most valuable one teaches us about the trickery of the devil and of sin. The devil isn’t able to force us to do wrong, but he is clever and cunning and can convince us to choose wrong, even when we believe we are choosing good.
“The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers when there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.”
I highly recommend this book for high schoolers and older, and if you have already read it, I recommend you read it again because you never know what will pop out to you this time.