C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters has been on my mental list of books I should read for years. Boy, do I regret not getting to this witty, wise book sooner.
Written from the point of view of a modern devil, Lewis’ book is a collection of letters between Screwtape, an uncle mentoring Wormwood, a young tempter as he tries to win a human over to the side of evil. The letters are clever as well as perceptive. Screwtape must make his thoughts on temptation and salvation clear to Wormwood, who’s something of a blockhead. Screwtape makes it crystal clear that for the Devil to win, he doesn’t care about the “quality” of the fallen as much as about the quantity and the modern world where people’s thinking have become sloppy and morality fuzzy, allows for evil to win boatloads of souls. The book takes you on an interesting journey as Wormwood bungles his mission.
Reading from Screwtape’s point of view was tricky. I had to constantly remind myself that for him the “Enemy” was God and that he flipped his opinion of Above (heaven) and Below (hell). I’m used to seeing as the Above being the home of the good guys.
Much of the book examines modern British society’s failings but Lewis’ criticisms are still true, at least they fit in the US where morals have been shrugged aside as irrelevant, education’s been watered down and the word “democracy” is misunderstood.
Here are a few quotations:
“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,…Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”
“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.”
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”
“Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.”
“When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particular lift of his mother’s eyebrows which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it. Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy – if you know your job he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption. And, of course, never let him suspect that he has tones and looks which similarly annoy her. As he cannot see or hear himself, this easily managed.”