on 2 December 2012
Throughout the years, I have written a number of reviews that have never been published online on Amazon. These writings comprise two types of reviews: unfinished reviews, abandoned during various stages of composition, and completed reviews that for life reasons were never posted. Of the later type, back in September 2001 I wrote a cache of work, a full sixteen reviews of several different C. S. Lewis books which have never been released. I am publishing these reviews now for the first time, over a decade after they were initially written. Mike London 10-3-2012]
One of Lewis's most famous books, "The Screwtape Letters", written in late 1940 to early 1941, are letters "From One Devil to Another" (the original title o fthe work). The book is a fictional account of an older devil named Screwtape, giving a younger devil, Wormwood, advice on how to lead Wormwood's first "patient" astray. Both profound and psychologically astute, Lewis displays a mental virtuosity in these letters that has garnered him such acclaim. Most editions also include a second piece, "Screwtape Proposes a Toast", written in the early 1960s just before Lewis died, years after initial composition.
Before I continue, be aware of newer editions of Lewis's works in regards to textual accuracy. In Letter 22, the sentence read "A more modern writer - someone with a name like Pshaw", was changed to Lewis's name himself. If you read any copy that Screwtape refers to the works of C. S. Lewis, know you are dealing with a tampered, adulterated text. Why the estate would allow such hackeyed editing to take place is beyond me.
[Of interest is Lewis's decidication.] Lewis dedicated the book to J. R. R. Tolkien. Written in a draft letter to his son Michael Tolkien after Lewis's death (Letter 252 in "Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien)), Tolkien discussed his relationship with Jack, and how by various events (first, the appearance of Charles Williams, who died in 1945, and secondly his marriage), they drifted apart, although they remained friends with deep affection and love for one another, though not as imitate as once they were. To quote Tolkien "I was wrly amused to be told (D. Telegraph) that `Lewis was never very fond of `The Screwtape Letters' - his best seller (250,000). He dedicated it t me. I wondered why. Now I know - says they." Lewis also dedicated "The Problem of Pain" to the Inklings (the same group the initial first editon of "The Lord of the Rings" was dedicated too). Tolkien and Humphrey Carpenter made numerous suggestions that Lewis incorporated in "The Problem of Pain".
Although the book has long proven to be one of his most popular, Lewis did not like the actual writing process. He found it quite easy to get into a "devilish" point of view, but did not think it good for his character to write for extended periods of time in this type of work. He also felt the work was out of balance - there should be a companion piece, a book of angelic wisdom. However, such a book's prose should have the very air of heaven itself, and Lewis felt quite unequaled to write such a text.
After writing the letters Lewis published them in a now defunct periodical called "The Guardian", an Church of England publication. Although he did not want to harm any publication that issued his work, Lewis was found fond of telling the story that he was directly responsible for losing "The Guardian" at least one reader, due to the "diabolical device advice" present in the letters. For whatever readership these letters lost "The Guardian" were more than made up, as these letters brought in many new readers to the periodical.
The manuscript of "The Screwtape Letters" actually survives, which is unusual for several Lewis books, due to his habit of destroying them after publication as he had no place to store them. After completing the letters, he sent them to Sister Penelope as he was afraid they could be destroyed in a bombing raid by Germany before the book publication appeared, and he felt it may be difficult to reassemble the text from the various issues of "The Guardian".
The first two letters especially are very relevant to today's society. Lewis brings out the fact that, indeed, devils cannot produce any type of virtues, and vices are only perversions of what God has ordained as good. The only thing demons can do is take the pleasure that God has created and encourage us to use it the wrong way. In letter two, he speaks of the mental habits of thinking people are better than what they really are. One thing that especially rings true is that it is very easy for new-born Christians to think that those around them, who they know and that these people's lives are not in proper order, for, after all, they are human beings, cannot be the Christian Church because of little things.
In the subsequent letters Lewis deals with a wide variety of practical, everyday matters. Letter Four deals with prayer (far more concisely and succinctly than Lewis' own "Letters to Malcolm") and has more truth about that subject than many full length books. Letter deight deals with free will. Letter Twelve shows us Lewis's thoughts on pleasure, and how one of Satan's chief tactics is to set up false pleasures and false good activities. Time is so valuable, and Lewis demonstrates that so often when people arrive in hell they find that they have neither spent their time worthilily nor did they do what they truly enjoyed doing. Letter Fourteen distinguishes true humility and false humility, and how false humility becomes a very mockery of what it claims to be. False humiility leads to pride, and gives one a falsely low view of both yourself and God's other creations. Also, denying your identity in God is not true humility - we were made wonderfully.
There are several letters on vice, including those small ones that may not seem like vice at all. Lewis writes about love, marriage, and lust as well. Letter sixteen [deals] demonstrate the vigilance God must develop within you regarding preachers - so often people wander from church to church, looking either for watered down faith or controversy. One must seek the heart of God - not "party churches" that seem more about pomp and circumstances than about getting to the heart of the Father.
There are ways to mythologize the church into this grand and wonderful place that leaves out all the real elements in life and what it means to be a Christian. Letter twenty nine tells us how cowardice will never be approved of, and if you make a human a coward there is the very real danger that his other faults will be evident when he goes on a real soul searching on why he ran.
Lewis's wit is rampant throughout the book, and especially with Screwtape's treatment of Wormwood. They both wish to consume one another, and when Wormwood begs for mercy it is considered heresy because that is not how demons behave.
After completing the work, Lewis took too regular confessions with a priest, as he felt that the habit allowed him to better understand his own temptations and how to work through them and defeat them. Just like Lewis, reading this book will sharpen your senses of right and wrong from a Biblical perspective, and give you new understanding for your Christian walk.
Strangely enough there is both a stage production and a possible movie in the works. I have not seen the stage production, but as the book is primarily concerned with spiritual matters written in a largely non-fictional manner, I found it hard to understand how they could make an actual movie out of this book. While there is a definie narrative, "The Screwtape Letters" is much more about understanding the Enemy and is more akin to his apologetic works than his novels.
The idea of devils writing letters to one another would prove to be an influential device in Christian publications, as various other writers have also played with the concept. I have even written such a letter years ago for a class assignment
This is an essential text for both C. S. Lewis fans and Christians in general.
(These reviews covered all seven books of "The Chronicles of Narnia", the three novels of "The Space Trilogy", "The Abolition of Man", "The Four Loves", "A Preface to Paradise Lost", a revised version of my 2000 review of "Till We Have Faces", "Surprised By Joy", and "The Screwtape Letters".)