The Screwtape Letters
|The Screwtape Letters|
First edition dust wrapper
|Author||C. S. Lewis|
|Genre||Epistolary novel, Christian apologetics, satire|
1961 (first omnibus)
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|Pages||160 pp (first)[a]
157 pp (first omnibus)
|Followed by||Screwtape Proposes a Toast|
The Screwtape Letters is a satirical Christian apologetic novel written in epistolary style by C. S. Lewis, first published in book form in February 1942. The story takes the form of a series of letters from a senior Demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter. The uncle's mentorship pertains to the nephew's responsibility for securing the damnation of a British man known only as "the Patient".
In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis provides a series of lessons in the importance of taking a deliberate role in living out Christian faith by portraying a typical human life, with all its temptations and failings, as seen from devils' viewpoints. Screwtape holds an administrative post in the bureaucracy ("Lowerarchy") of Hell, and acts as a mentor to Wormwood, the inexperienced tempter. In the body of the thirty-one letters which make up the book, Screwtape gives Wormwood detailed advice on various methods of undermining faith and promoting sin in the Patient, interspersed with observations on human nature and Christian doctrine. Wormwood and Screwtape live in a peculiarly morally reversed world, where individual benefit and greed are seen as the greatest good, and neither demon is capable of comprehending God's love for man or acknowledging true human virtue when he sees it.
Versions of the letters were originally published weekly in the Anglican periodical The Guardian between May and November 1941, and the standard edition contains an introduction explaining how the author chose to write his story.
Lewis wrote the sequel Screwtape Proposes a Toast in 1959, a critique of certain trends in public education (state schooling). An omnibus edition with a new preface by Lewis was published by Bles in 1961 and MacMillan in 1962.
The Screwtape Letters is one of Lewis' most popular works, although he claimed that it was "not fun" to write, and "resolved never to write another 'Letter'."
Both The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast have been released on both audio cassette and CD, with narration by John Cleese and Joss Ackland. A dramatized audio version by Focus on the Family was a 2010 Audie Award finalist.
The Screwtape Letters comprises thirty-one letters written by a senior demon named Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood (named after a star in Revelation), a younger and less experienced demon, who is charged with guiding a man toward "Our Father Below" (Devil / Satan) and away from "the Enemy" (God).
After the second letter, the Patient converts to Christianity, and Wormwood is chastised for allowing this to happen. Screwtape notes however, that they have the advantage of distraction, which could potentially dull his new faith. A striking contrast is formed between Wormwood and Screwtape during the rest of the book. Wormwood is depicted through Screwtape's letters as much closer to what conventional wisdom has said about demons, i.e., wanting to tempt his patient into extravagantly wicked and deplorable sins and constantly writing about the war that is going on for the latter half of the book. Screwtape, on the other hand, is not interested in getting the patient to commit anything spectacularly evil. As he says in Letter XII, "...the safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."
In Letter VIII, Screwtape explains to his protégé the different agendas that God and the devils have for the human race: "We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons." With this end in mind, Screwtape urges Wormwood in Letter VI to promote passivity and irresponsibility in the Patient: "(God) wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them."
Lewis's use of this "correspondence" is both varied and hard-hitting. With his own views on theology, Lewis covers areas as diverse as sex, love, pride, gluttony, and war. Lewis, an Oxford and Cambridge scholar himself, suggests in his work that even intellectuals are not impervious to the influence of such demons, especially being led towards placated acceptance of the "Historical Point of View" (Letter XXVII).
In Letter XXII, after several weeks of attempts to find a licentious woman for the Patient, and when Screwtape receives a painful punishment for a secret he divulges to Wormwood about God's genuine love for humanity, the irate Screwtape notes that the Patient has fallen in love with a Christian girl, and he is enraged. Toward the end of this letter, Screwtape becomes so incensed that he turns into a large centipede, mimicking a similar transformation that John Milton included in Book X of Paradise Lost, where the demons found that they had been turned into snakes.
Late in the correspondence, it is revealed that the young man is to be placed in harm's way due to his military duties. While Wormwood is delighted at this, Screwtape is appalled. While he takes pleasure in human suffering (all devils do), he understands that their primary focus must always be to ensure the young man's damnation. He admonishes Wormwood to keep the Patient as safe as he possibly can, in hopes that they can compromise his faith over the course of a hopefully long lifetime.
In the last letter, it emerges that the Patient has been killed during an air raid (World War II having broken out between the fourth and fifth letters), and has gone to Heaven. Wormwood is to be punished for letting a soul 'slip through his fingers' by the consumption of his spiritual essence by the other demons. Screwtape responds to his nephew's desperate final letter by tauntingly assuring him that he may expect just as much assistance from his "increasingly and ravenously affectionate" uncle as Screwtape would expect from Wormwood were their situations reversed, paralleling the situation where Wormwood himself turned his uncle over to Satan for making a religiously positive remark that would offend him.
Screwtape Proposes a Toast
The short sequel essay Screwtape Proposes a Toast, first published in 1959, is an addendum to The Screwtape Letters; the two works are often published together as one book. It takes the form of an after-dinner speech given by Screwtape at the Tempters' Training College for young demons. It first appeared as an article in the Saturday Evening Post.
Screwtape Proposes a Toast is Lewis's criticism of levelling and featherbedding trends in public education; more specifically, as he reveals in the foreword to the American edition, public education in America (though in the text, it is English education that is held up as the purportedly awful example).
The Cold War opposition between the West and the Communist World is explicitly discussed as a backdrop to the educational issues. Screwtape and other demons are portrayed as consciously using the subversion of education and intellectual thought in the West to bring about its overthrow by the communist enemy from without and within. In this sense Screwtape Proposes a Toast is more strongly political than The Screwtape Letters where no strong stand is made on political issues of the day, i.e., World War II.
Comic book adaptation
The Screwtape Letters is a planned film based on the novel. 20th Century Fox bought the film rights to the book in the 1950s. Fox partnered with Walden Media to make this film just as they were doing with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Walden originally intended to release the film in 2008, however the current release date was set for 2012. Ralph Winter, the producer, credited the success of the Chronicles of Narnia film series for the greenlighting of The Screwtape Letters. The Screwtape Letters is to be a live-action film. Because the novel is a series of letters with limited action, critics have questioned how a film adaptation is possible.
The stage play Dear Wormwood (later renamed Screwtape), written by James Forsyth, was published in 1961. The setting is changed to wartime London, where we actually see Wormwood going about the business of tempting his "Patient" (in the play, given the name "Michael Green"). The ending is changed as well, with Wormwood trying to repent and beg for forgiveness, when it appears that his mission has failed.
Philadelphia playwright and actor Anthony Lawton's original adaptation of The Screwtape Letters has been staged several times since 2000 by Lantern Theater Company, most recently in May/June 2010. In Lawton's adaptation, each of Screwtape's letters is punctuated by varied dances including tap, Latin ballroom, jazz, martial arts, and rock – and whips and fire-eating. Screwtape performs these dances with his sinuous secretary, Toadpipe.
The Fellowship for the Performing Arts obtained from the Lewis estate the rights to adapt The Screwtape Letters for the stage. The initial production opened off-off-Broadway at Theatre 315 in New York City in January 2006. The initial three-week run was extended to eleven and finally closed because the theater was contractually obligated to another production. It was co-written by Max McLean (who also starred) and Jeffrey Fiske (who also directed). A second, expanded production opened off Broadway at the Theatre at St. Clements on 18 October 2007, originally scheduled to run through 6 January 2008. The production re-opened at the Mercury Theater in Chicago in September 2008, and continued on a national tour including San Francisco, Phoenix, Louisville, Chattanooga, Ft. Lauderdale, Houston and Austin, through January 2010 as well as playing at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. for ten weeks. The Screwtape Letters played for 309 performances at New York City’s Westside Theatre in 2010. The 2011 tour visited performing arts venues in cities throughout the United States including Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Boston. The 2012-2013 tour began in Los Angeles in January 2012, with return engagements in San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago and Atlanta as well as stops in several other cities. The Screwtape Letters has been described as "Humorous and lively...the Devil has rarely been given his due more perceptively!" by The New York Times, "A profound experience" by Christianity Today and "Wickedly witty...One hell of good show!" by The Wall Street Journal.
The Barley Sheaf Players of Lionville, Pennsylvania performed James Forsyth's play Screwtape in September 2010. It was directed by Scott Ryan and the play ran the last 3 weekends in September. The Production was reviewed by Paul Recupero for Stage Magazine.
Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, a project of Focus on the Family, was granted the rights to dramatize "The Screwtape Letters" as a feature length audio drama. Production began in 2008 and the product was released in the fall of 2009. Andy Serkis, known for playing Gollum in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, provides the voice for Screwtape. There is a 7-and-a-half minute video preview of the Radio Theatre production with interviews and making-of footage.
Though C. S. Lewis had resolved not to write another letter, and only revisited the character of Screwtape once in "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," the format, referred to by Lewis himself as a kind of "demonic ventriloquism," has inspired other authors to prepare sequels, or similar works, such as:
- Screwtape Writes again by Walter Martin (1975)
In 1995, the music video "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" by U2, an animated Bono is seen walking down the street holding the book The Screwtape Letters. While on stage during the Zoo TV Tour Bono would dress as Mr. MacPhisto, his alter ego. Bono would wear a gold suit and devil horns and usually make prank calls to politicians.
In 2010, the Marine Corps Gazette began publishing a series of articles entitled "The Attritionist Letters" styled in the manner of "The Screwtape Letters." In the letters, General Screwtape chastises Captain Wormwood for his inexperience and naivete while denouncing the concepts of maneuver warfare in favor of attrition warfare.
On October 6, 2013, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was interviewed by New York Magazine, wherein he professed his admiration for the book. Scalia suggests, "The Screwtape Letters is a great book. It really is, just as a study of human nature." The book was discussed in the highly publicized interview during Scalia's discourse regarding the nature of his Catholic faith.
- The Screwtape Letters title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
• ISFDB shows unillustrated covers, and credits no cover artists, for both first editions published by Geoffrey Bles, the Letters (1942) and the omnibus with "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" and a new preface by Lewis (1961).
- Lancelyn Green, Roger & Hooper, Walter (2002). C. S. Lewis: a biography. London: HarperCollins ISBN 0-00-628164-8; p. 237.
- Lancelyn Green and Hooper, C.S.Lewis: A Biography, p.236
- Griffin, William (2005). C.S.Lewis: The Authentic Voice, p. 188. Lion Hudson, Oxford. ISBN 0-7459-5208-9
- Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters. New York: HarperCollins, 2001, p. 184.
- Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters. The Christian classic series. New York: Marvel Comics, 1994. ISBN 978-0-8407-6261-0
- Nicole Laporte (2007-01-31). "'Screwtape' attaches Walden". Variety. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- "Update on The Screwtape Letters Movie From Producer Ralph Winter". The Stone Table. 2007-02-17. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- "‘Screwtape Letters’ to be released on film". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- "Another CS Lewis Film In The Works". Empire. 01-02-2007. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- "About the NYC Production of C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters". Retrieved 2007-10-06.
- "About The Screwtape Letters", ScrewtapeOnStage. Retrieved on 27 January 2012.
- "Barley Sheaf Players Screwtape"
- Recupero, Paul. "Turn of the SCREWTAPE", Stage Magazine Review, September 10, 2010.
- "Radio Theatre". Radio Theatre. 2013-03-23. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
- Video preview of audiotape
- "Called to Arms is Rad | News". Indie Vision Music. 2010-05-21. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
- "Called To Arms - Profile". AbsolutePunk.net. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
- "David Foster Wallace: R.I.P. | newsobserver.com blogs". Blogs.newsobserver.com. 2008-09-16. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
- "Disappear (Oubliette) Lyric Meaning - The Receiving End Of Sirens Meanings". Songmeanings.net. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
- "The Attritionist Letters (Archives) | Marine Corps Gazette". Mca-marines.org. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
- Watterson, Bill (1995). The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book. 4900 Main Street, Kansas City, Missouri 64112: Andrews and McMeel. p. 25. ISBN 0-8362-0438-7.
- "In Conversation: Antonin Scalia - The New York Magazine". The New York Magazine. Retrieved 2013-10-06.
- Lewis, C. S. (2001). The Screwtape Letters, with Screwtape Proposes a Toast. HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0-06-065293-4.
- Hein, David. "A Note on C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters." The Anglican Digest 49.2 (Easter 2007): 55–58. Argues that Lewis's portrayal of the activity of the Devil was influenced by contemporary events—in particular, by the threat of an imminent Nazi invasion of Great Britain.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: The Screwtape Letters|
- Focus on the Family's "The Screwtape Letters website
- Commentary on The Screwtape
- Quotations and Allusions in The Screwtape Letters
- Screwtape On Stage
- Free Screwtape Letters Study Guide (From a Christian Perspective)
- Screwtape Proposes a Toast. Canadian public domain edition (PDF)