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Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis

This month's book club read is The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. Barbara from Stray Thoughts selected this read for us and I was glad of it because I had been wanting to read it again but hadn't made the time. She gave me the time and that's rather a lovely gift.

I sat down with The Screwtape Letters late last week and read it in about two sittings. It's not a hard read or a long one. In case you are unaware of the premise of this book, it is one of Lewis's fictional works which was published in 1942. The story is told in letter form, wherein a head demon by the name of Screwtape is writing letters to his demon nephew, Wormwood. Wormwood's job is to keep the human from committing his life to "the Enemy" (who is, of course, the Christ) and his uncle is attempting to give advice and tips as to how Wormwood might go about accomplishing this task. It is, for the reader, a book about temptations in life and how to identify them properly and keep our eyes focused on Jesus.

In this book I think C.S. Lewis does what C.S. Lewis does best: he describes human nature to his readers in a clever way, using a dollop of wit and a garnish of irony. Some people aren't very prone to self-evaluation but Lewis most definitely made a regular habit out of doing so. In pondering his own attitudes he was able to pinpoint areas where humans think themselves noble or superior when they are, in fact, suffering from delusions of grandeur. We are a sad lot of humanity who think we have so many answers to all of life's many and varied problems. Yet so easily we give into the temptation to think ourselves "not as bad as all that" - an attitude which repeatedly dunks us into hot water time and time again. In The Screwtape Letters Lewis focuses a lot on how humans are so easily distracted from pursuing Christ by thinking of themselves when it comes to war, sex, intellectual capabilities, or taking some sort of moral high ground. He uses the demon characters of Screwtape and Wormwood to explain exactly how we humans let pride block our view of truth. This book a compelling and ingenious way to knock some sense into Lewis's readership.

Interesting to note, Lewis did not enjoy writing this book. He found it laborious and vowed never to write another book in letter form again. Unbeknownst to me, he did write an essay sequel to The Screwtape Letters called Screwtape Proposes a Toast. This was written in 1959. (Apparently in that one, Lewis uses Screwtape to raise some particular criticisms of public education.) The two are frequently printed together but as I have an old copy of Screwtape Letters I didn't know!

As you may or may not also be aware, The Screwtape Letters has been turned into an off-Broadway play, a fact I find rather unbelievable. (How was this done? Why?)

In case your imagination needs as much help as mine did:


Apparently there's been some talk of making a feature film out of it - rights have been purchased! - but that idea seems to have been shelved. I think that's a good choice. I think The Screwtape Letters is a story better left on the page.

I tried to pick out one particular passage that stood out to me as being rather convicting in order to talk about it, but this particular reading produced no such thing for me. I enjoyed it generally speaking but have nothing specific to highlight.

I do very much think it's a book that ought to be read by Christians everywhere. Although about demons, it's not at all spooky or scary. Rather it pushes the reader to a little self-evaluation which is always a profitable thing.

Thanks, Barbara, for selecting it for us! I look forward to hearing other people's thoughts on this title next Wednesday, September 30th.

Reading to Know - Book Club

5 comments:

Stephanie Shepherd said...

I'm about half way through (this is my 2nd read through). When I read it the first time, I ended up reading about 1/2 of it outloud to Travis on a roadtrip and that helped me understand it immensely. There is a ton of great stuff in there, but his "backwards" way of writing it always confuses me. : ) I have to stop quite a bit and remind myself of the point of view he's writing from. I think it just means I'm not as clever as CS Lewis - which is very true!

Barbara H. said...

I'll come back and read this more fully after I've finished - not too far from being done. I watched a little of the video - I don't think I could sit through a whole evening of that, especially the weird sound effects! I think this is best read rather than viewed.

I wanted to tell you, too, that apparently the Nightstand link-up is next week. I don't know if it is being permanently moved (which I would prefer!) to the last Tuesday rather than the fourth or if they just forgot about it til they had another post already up for the day. They didn't say - just had a note on their Tuesday post that Nightstand would be next week. So there is still time if you want to do one this month. :-)

Barbara H. said...

I've finished - your review is much more concise than mine - I tend to go on a bit too much sometimes. :-) But I gleaned a great deal from this book - thanks for the Book Club providing an opportunity to choose and finally read it.

bekahcubed said...

I've been reading this quite a bit more slowly than you did - but I've been enjoying my re-read. While I enjoy the occasional movie or mini-series adaptation (Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice?), I tend to feel that *most* stories are best left on the page.

BerlinerinPoet said...

The Broadway show is NUTS!
Interesting about the sequel to this book. I'll have to look that up at some point.

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