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The Screwtape Letters

College Bound Reading List

Book (left) & Focus on the Family’s Audio Dramatization (right)

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis

How a Senior Devil Instructs a Junior Devil in the Art of Temptation

This timeless classic portrays a typical human life with all of its temptations and failings, shown from the demon/devil’s viewpoint. C.S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters in an epistolary style, as a series of letters providing moral lessons.

In the story, a junior tempter named Wormwood has been given his first earthly assignment, to secure the damnation of a young man. He seeks the advice of an experienced demon, his Uncle Screwtape. Their correspondence discloses the psychology of temptation from the other side. 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 or acknowledging true human virtue when he sees it. God is considered the Enemy, and they view the humans as their “patients.”

The Screwtape Letters is one of the greatest Christian literary works of the 20th century. Whether you’re a devoted C.S. Lewis fan or just reading his work for the first time, this book is sure to give you insight into conquering everyday spiritual struggles. Although written in 1941, the following excerpts show that the book’s theme still rings remarkably true today:

“I note what you say about guiding our patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naïf? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ of ‘false,’ but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical,’ ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary,’ ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless.’ Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about…. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it ‘real life’ and don’t let him ask what he means by ‘real.’” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, chapter 1.)

“The age of jazz has succeeded the age of the waltz, and we now teach men to like women whose bodies are scarcely distinguishable from those of boys. Since this is a kind of beauty even more transitory than most, we thus aggravate the female’s chronic horror of growing old (with many excellent results) and render her less willing and less able to bear children. And that is not all. We have engineered a great increase in the licence which society allows to the representation of the apparent nude (not the real nude) in art, and its exhibition on the stage or the bathing beach. It is all a fake, of course; the figures in the popular art are falsely drawn; the real women in bathing suits or tights are actually pinched in and propped up to make them appear firmer and more slender and more boyish than nature allows a full-grown woman to be. Yet at the same time, the modern world is taught to believe that it is being “frank” and “healthy” and getting back to nature. As a result we are more and more directing the desires of men to something which does not exist—making the role of the eye in sexuality more and more important and at the same time making its demands more and more impossible. What follows you can easily forecast!” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, chapter 20) [For more on this topic, see: http://www.homeschoolingteen.com/2009/11/the-hidden-agenda-of-advertisers/]

Did You Know…? C.S. Lewis dedicated The Screwtape Letters to his friend, J.R.R. Tolkien. Cartoonist Bill Watterson named the character of Mrs. Wormwood, Calvin’s teacher, after Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters.

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