By Carol Starkey
Many people are familiar with C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. I remember the first time I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and being transported to a magical land through a wardrobe. In college, I encountered more of his works like the Space Trilogy and Till We Have Faces. A friend in my freshmen year introduced me to The Screwtape Letters. I thought it was an interesting take on how devils would act, but it wasn’t until I read it for myself many years later that I came to see Lewis’s full brilliance.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the work, it comprises a series of letters from the demon, Screwtape, to his nephew Wormtail. Wormtail is in charge of tempting a human to desert his faith, and Screwtape helps his nephew when problems arise.
Lewis said of this work that “though I had not written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment.” In the span of 31 letters, Screwtape guides and coaches his nephew in the downfall of this unidentified man, growing more and more irritated with Wormtail as the young man, instead of being tempted to sin, grows stronger in his faith.
One thing I really liked about this book is you can’t trust Screwtape. He urges Wormtail to tempt his young man to sin in subtle ways (letting his mind wander while praying, holding a grudge against his mother, using his feelings for a girl against him), but as this is a book about demons and how they try to lead their humans astray, they don’t see the good in people. Is the young man’s mother really that unpleasant? Is his girlfriend really that much of a goody-two-shoes? Is his faith really that shallow?
It’s disconcerting to read how the demons refer to the Devil as “Our Father,” while constantly casting hate and loathing toward God. It’s clear they don’t understand how Jesus loves man, that His sacrifice was real, and He doesn’t lie. Screwtape judges God according to how he, the demons, and the Devil would act and when they still can’t figure out God’s motives thousands of years later, do they give up? No. Instead, Screwtape urges Wormtail on. He doesn’t tell him to lead his human to anger, only to hold a grudge. He doesn’t tell him that his man should run from battle, but that he should fear for his life.
More than anything else, Wormtail targets his human’s mind. If Wormtail can control his mind, the rest will soon follow. In the end, Wormtail fails. And when his man dies in battle and goes on to heaven, Screwtape is furious. In his final letter, he promises he will come for Wormtail, and though Wormtail’s punishment is only hinted at, you know it will be gruesome.
This book has shown me how it’s not necessarily the big sins I have to watch out for. Everyone knows murder, adultery, and theft are wrong. But all too often, we give a free pass to anger, jealousy, and malice. Who know, maybe I have my own Wormtail who’s been trying to bring about my downfall all these years.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carol Starkley lives with her husband, three daughters, and numerous pets. She likes to read, write, bake, and dabble with the clarinet. She also infrequently blogs.