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The Screw Tape Letters

Pastor’s Bookshelf - Welcome to my bookshelf!

Each month I will discuss a recent book that I’ve finished.

This time I’d like to talk about

The Screw Tape Letters

By C.S. Lewis

I LOVE THIS BOOK. It’s a fairly famous book both in content and construct - but in case you’ve never read it, I’ll explain. The whole book is set up as a series of letters written by a Demon named “Uncle Screwtape” to his young nephew “Wormwood.” In each letter his gives advice to Wormwood on how best to torment his human, and using that framework, C.S. Lewis gives a series of commentaries on Christianity and the lifelong process of following Christ.

It is such a famous construct that there have been loads of copycats and those trying to give social commentary using the same outline. On social media you can find all sorts of “Screwtape letters” that are not actually in the book - but created in the same framework to sound like they were in the book.

They were so popular, in fact, that CS Lewis was many times asked to write MORE Screwtape letters. But, in the authors note at the end of recent editions, Lewis explains that getting himself into the mindset of “Uncle Screwtape” is not a healthy practice, and quite unpleasant. For his own mental health, he decided against writing more (although he did write an epilogue in which Screwtape is addressing a graduating class of some sort of “Demon university” as if it was a commencement speech, or at a celebration banquet of some sort.

Further, I want to give a HUGE shout out to Joss Ackland, who reads the audio book. He has such a perfect voice for the letters - very creepy, gravel-y old man voice. And there’s moments in the letters where it downright gives you the shivers. I have a physical copy of the book that I’ve thumbed through, but the audio book was a delight.

I think it’s a tough book to classify (whether fiction or non-fiction). Obviously the structure of a demon writing letters to another demon is fictional. The characters are all fictitious and even the events are basically made up. And yet, it’s couched in such common terms - you could almost apply the events of the book to half a dozen real life people you may truly know. The story follows a man who slowly discovers God in his interactions with the church, his marriage, his work and even his country’s connection to the war (which for Lewis would have been the second World War).

Further, it’s really more of a theological thought experiment, than a fiction book - poking at the journey of every Christian and showing how many of our complaints and struggles are not quite what they seem to us. Despite it being a book about demons trying to influence humans, none of it is particularly supernatural. The advice given from the mentor to his mentee just falls along the lines of the normal nudges and twists that each of us have felt in our own faith walk. It’s been out forever, and it’s a very famous book. I had read pieces of it when I was younger, but I finally sat down and listened to the entire work recently - and it was worth it. Highly recommend.


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