Released in 1942, C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters serves as the author’s second standalone novel, and is widely respected for its original concept and smart reimagining of Christian themes. Lewis is primarily known for his children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia, wherein he adapts biblical stories into an easily digestible fantasy world for young readers. In The Screwtape Letters, however, Lewis abandons his goal of making Christianity an easy concept for the reader; the novel takes an infinitely more grim approach to the idea of sinning and salvation. In an interview with Dr. Shirwood Wirt of Decision magazine, Lewis stated that of all his books, The Screwtape Letters was “was only one [he] did not take pleasure in writing.”
Within the novel, Lewis constructs a universe where demons follow a normal arc of human life; from birth, they are trained to effectively damn people to hell, and, upon reaching adulthood, they make it their mission to condemn a particular individual to hell. The novel is set up as a series of 31 letters from a high-ranking demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood. Within these letters, Screwtape leverages his experience to provide Wormwood with advice on how to efficiently make humans stray from God.
However, Screwtape grows increasingly frustrated with his nephew as the human that Wormwood has been assigned grows steadily closer to a Godly life. Screwtape emphasizes that, although people can outwardly act like good Christians, it’s the point of their thoughts that matters—passing judgement on people within the Church and genuinely believing the word of God is what will lead a human to salvation. By the second letter, the human that Wormwood has been assigned has just begun to convert to Christianity, and Screwtape openly chastises his nephew for allowing this to happen. As the novel progresses, Screwtape grows increasingly more agitated with Wormwood’s inability to condemn his human.
By constructing the narrative from the point of view of a demon, Lewis manages to force the reader into introspection—whether they identify as Christian or not. The letters from Uncle Screwtape show Lewis’ understanding of how impure thoughts are ultimately what lead a person to commit evil, and they encourages the reader to embrace a complete awareness of the way they think. Lewis makes almost poetic exploration of Christian themes—writing from the perspective of Screwtape necessitates that the author be aware of his own faults and flaws—there’s something brave in an author that is humble enough to do that for the sake of his work.
The Screwtape Letters is a well-constructed piece that pulls the reader in with a novel concept and keeps them for the sake of bettering their understanding of themselves. While the piece is largely a Christian metaphor, the themes and importance of the piece extend beyond organized religion. It’s a piece that encourages intense introspection and a total sense of self-awareness despite outside temptation. Ultimately, the novel manages to demonstrate how people perceive themselves as righteous and reimagines it through the words of their demons.