Welcome to our first post in The Inklings Series! I’m so glad you’re here 🙂 If you’re wondering what this is all about, check out the description of the monthly series here. Now onto the awesomeness known as Screwtape Letters.
First, I feel we all need to take a moment to appreciate the dedication of this novel:
Seriously. Way too much genius for one friendship circle.
Alright, now onto discussing this fabulous book! Although written in 1941, the lessons and wisdom from this book apply just as much as today as it did then. That alone blows my mind. It’s an original and genius piece of work, whether you consider the truths Lewis wrestles with, the names (Our Father Below (satan) vs. The Enemy (God) ) or any other aspect of this book. I want to include every quote I highlighted, but that would quickly escalate into the world’s longest blog post, so instead I’ll settle for some key points :).
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is a classic masterpiece of religious satire that entertains readers with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life and foibles from the vantage point of Screwtape, a highly placed assistant to “Our Father Below.” At once wildly comic, deadly serious, and strikingly original, C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters is the most engaging account of temptation—and triumph over it—ever written.
There were several times throughout the letters where it seemed as though it was written just for me. Today. Here and now. That’s when you know it’s a classic. Whether the chapter on prayer (I was rather encouraged to become “very far advanced in the Enemy’s service.”), humility (i.e. becoming proud of one’s humility) or modesty (which he called what modern day advertising would become decades before it happened), each chapter had me thinking through plenty of things.
“For if he ever comes to make the distinction, if he consciously directs his prayers ‘Not to what I think thou art but to what thou know art thyself to be’, our situation is, for the moment, desperate.”
One of the biggest themes (or tools of “The Father Below”) I found was one of distraction. That’s definitely how I become complacent in my faith and in my life. Never does temptation come across as a little devil on our shoulder with a pitchfork, but as Lewis so eloquently points out, it’s in a quieter, almost non-noticeable way. Those times of simply getting people to focus on daily life distractions. Before we know it, something good has become twisted.
“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.”
“Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us.”
This is one of my favorites:
“You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…” (emphasis mine)
On the other hand, God isn’t about removing things, but rather filling us up. A great example of the opposite of this is Screwtape’s anger toward Wormwood reveals how satan works (i.e. when he gets so mad he turns into a centipede). Yet, Lewis gives us hope in the truths that God wants to make our lives beautiful and full.
“The real centre, what the Enemy calls the Heart.”
“We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.”
“To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return – that is what really gladdens Our Father’s heart.”
I’ll close out my thoughts with this quote – I love the description of the Patient’s understanding upon reaching the heavenly realms.
“But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realised what part each one of them played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not ‘Who are you?’ but ‘So it was you all the time.’ “
Alright, here’s some questions to open up discussion:
1. If you could sum up the message(s) of this book in a sentence, how would you? Think elevator pitch for this book. 😉
2. What are some of your favorite quotes?
3. What did you think of the ending? It’s been so long since I’ve read it, I totally forgot how it ended! Anyway, would love to hear what you thought!
And here’s my answers:
1. I’ll just sum it up right quick: That what God wants for each of us is better than we can imagine. That when he asks you to “lose yourself” in Him, it’s so we can gain something much more beautiful. On the other hand, satan seeks out ways to destroy our souls. (Like when Screwtape asks Wormwood “And anyway, why should the creature be happy?”). Also, satan’s attacks are much more subtle and dangerous than blatant attacks.
2. Since I’ve already included about 57,000 quotes, here’s one more that had me laughing out loud:
“For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created…” (I wasn’t laughing at the part of He loves us – because internet high fives all around for that – but the part where Screwtape calls humans hairless bipeds. Cracked me up!)
3. I forgot that the Patient was killed during an air raid. It takes a skilled writer who can create a character with no name, yet one the readers (or at least me) become attached to. And was that not a fantastically creepy way to sign off a letter? “Your increasingly and ravenously affectionate uncle”…aka “I’m going to eat you.” Have I mentioned I love this book?
Just because I really enjoyed reading C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on writing this book (and in case your version didn’t include C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on writing it), here they are:
“Though it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp. The world into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness and geniality had to be excluded. It almost smothered me before I was done. It would have smothered my readers if I had prolonged it.”
Please feel free to include any other thoughts or questions! I’m all about a good discussion 🙂
I hope you enjoyed the first in the series! Have you seen next month’s announcement? We’re tackling Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien! Discussion post will go live on June 18th.