Friday, April 1, 2011

Completed: The Screwtape Letters

Dear Jenny,

I finished this book a week or so ago and... I'm just not quite sure what to say about it. Let's start with a brief overview and then see where I go from there...

Summary (no spoilers)
The Screwtape Letters is a collection of letters written by a senior (semi-retired?) demon named Screwtape to his nephew, a lesser demon named Wormwood. Through these letters, Screwtape is counseling Wormwood on securing the soul of a particular man, referred to only as "the patient." And by "securing the soul," I mean, of course, "to hell."

Black is white. White is black.

The brilliance of this book is that everything we ("we" meaning you and I -- mostly moral, good, uncorrupt folks -- and others like us) think of as "good" (heaven, kindness, charity, etc.) is referred to as "bad" and things we generally think of as "bad" (hell, corruption, the devil, etc.) is "good."

So there is a lot of mind-bending when reading this book. God is "the Enemy," Satan is "Our Father below" and whenever "the patient" does something positive/good/Christian, it's a "bad" thing. Sometimes I got into the flow of it, but other times I had to back up as I stumbled over concepts: "Whoa, whoa... why is ____ bad? Oh, right. Demons. Demons think 'good' is 'bad.' Got it. Carry on."

Here is where my "insight" should go
I actually have a lot to say about this book. Maybe too much. I have about 20 pages bookmarked and I had many amazing "A-ha!" moments while reading. But, for whatever reason, I'm just not able to put them into words. Maybe I'll revisit this at a later date. For now, I just want to mark this book as "completed" so I can move onto April.

I have enjoyed writing about books I've read this year, but this one just wants to live in my head. Screwtape, we may hear more about you later. Or not. We'll see.

Screwtape, the website
While poking around the internet, I found a pretty great site,, created to promote and sell an audio version of the book. Looks like it hasn't really been updated since 2009, but there's some pretty fun stuff there.

One of the premises of the book is that Hell didn't want humans to see these letters -- no one knows how they got out. So I love the animations on that site -- hover over links and they get changed ("Downloads" becomes "meaingless distractions") in an effort to dissuade us, as humans, from learning too much about the workings of Hell and their plans. Heh.

The site also includes a very well done 7 minute "making of" video. Andy Serkis, the actor who played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, plays the voice of Screwtape in the audio book. And he does so brilliantly. It's worth a gander.

After I put this book down, I thought, "Did I like it?" I think the answer is, "Yes." It's not like any book I have ever read and it was not an "easy" read. But the flashes of insight make it really worth it. There were times when I put the book down just to mull over some of the ideas presented, soo... I think that Lewis's intended effect was achieved.

Would I recommend this book? I think so. It's short -- you'd burn through it. If you've ever been remotely interested in reading it, go for it. And hey, maybe we can discuss it here if you do decide to read it. But know this: it sure as shit ain't no Narnia.



  1. I will absolutely read it. I do think many books benefit from the opportunity to discuss them. I'm actually pretty bummed I don't have a book club here. Even in miserable Seattle I had a book club! How has this happened to me?

    I will probably try to check it out of the school library this week. I will check out the website soon.

    I can imagine it's strange to read from the opposite point of view. It's a clever idea. When was Screwtape published? I always think of CS Lewis as being pretty old, but that sounds like such a hip stylistic choice! It also reminds me of something else, but I can't think of it right now. Maybe Paradise Lost? Pfftt.

    Off to drink more coffee!

  2. The book was originally published in 1942, although the individual "letters" were published as a series in The Guardian throughout 1941.

    Ooof. I have not read Paradise Lost since college and remember almost nothing about it. There is at least one similarity between SL and PL, though: At one point, Screwtape gets so pissed off at Wormwood, he works himself into a frenzy that results in... him turning into a centipede! (I actually laughed out loud when it happened -- it's really well written and totally hilarious.) In PL, I think I remember someone getting so worked up they turn into snakes, so I thought of that when I read this.

    (I also thought of The Metamorphosis -- that is a book with staying power for me. I rarely remember books, but that one? Yeah. I remember. Kind of which I didn't.)