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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars

on 20 November 2017
I liked it, but found myself rushing through to get to the next letter or to find the point. Screwtape is quite the rambler! Extremely well written by C S Lewis
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I have read this book a few times over the years and every time I re-read it I find it more humorous. This kindle edition has the letters and then as a bonus the later piece by CS Lewis, Screwtape Proposes A Toast.

An epistolary novel you don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy this, which I think has caused some misunderstanding and led to people not reading this in the past. What we have are a series of letters from Screwtape, a demon, to his demonic nephew Wormwood, who is tasked with bringing an average Englishman into the Satanic fold.

Why this works so well is that it is deeply funny and quite cynical. Although we don’t see letters from Wormwood we can guess that his ideas are along the lines of outright and extravagant sinning, whereas Screwtape proposes something a lot subtler. Thus, whilst for instance Wormwood is gloating over the Second World War Screwtape is rightfully worried, as if for instance someone dies in the fighting before being fully brought over to his side, then they have lost a person, and have lost that soul.

We thus end up with religious thought here and demons trying to work out not only the behaviour of God, but of humanity, making for some very good insights into the way we behave and what we think.

Screwtape Proposes A Toast is the demon giving a speech, and this looks at changes in educational procedure and other items that were relevant at the time and that Lewis wanted to address. In all then we have here a very thoughtful as well as a funny book, that should give anyone reading it pause for thought. Whatever religious persuasion you are, or an atheist this still makes for a wonderful read, and shows the author on top form.
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on 26 September 2017
I just had to own a hardback copy, having treasured the two paperbacks for at least four decades, until they were too well read and loved; and thus, even with care, now a little creased and worn with use and time. Entropy strikes again.. Now I feel less worried about rereading this masterpiece.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 September 2015
I love The Chronicles of Narnia. Seriously, in any form I’ve encountered them, I’ve fallen under the spell of them. But I’ve never moved on to any of C. S. Lewis’s other books until this month, when I listened to The Screwtape Letters. Naturally, I’d heard about this book for years, and I can certainly see why people talk about it so much.

The premise of the book is unique. It’s a series of letters from Screwtape, a senior devil, to his nephew Wormwood, who is on his first assignment as a tempter. We don’t get many details on the man Wormwood is trying to lead astray (he is always called the Patient), but as we go through the roughly 30 letters, a story begins to unfold. The Patient is a new Christian, and it is Wormwood’s job to keep that conversion from sticking. Screwtape offers advice on just about anything from his home life to his new love and even the growing European war. As he does so, we get insight into how even good things can be easily twisted for evil and how the enemy thinks.

Or maybe not. The thing to remember while reading the book is that this is all one man’s conjecture on how things are in the spiritual realm. As I was listening, I kept having to remind myself that this is not necessarily the way things are. Having said that, what is here is actually quite logical and makes a lot of sense with what I’ve seen in my own life. There is much to think about and chew on, and the book is well worth reading for that reason alone. Just keep in mind that it is fiction as you think about it.

What I think struck me the most is how easily good things can be twisted around to make them sinful. That is hit upon several times over the course of the book, and I could certainly see the point Lewis was making. For example, pride can easily crop up in a group that is right on an issue. It’s not anything I didn’t already know before, but seeing it laid out from the other side made hit me in a different way.

The book was originally published in 1941, meaning that World War II plays a huge part in the events unfolding. That may date a few of the references, but none of the real issues brought up are at all dated.

In fact, as Screwtape was expounding on the way the demons are trying to influence the population at large, I recognized much in our world today. The book may be almost 75 years old, but the vision that Lewis had of our culture and how it would unfold in the future is downright scary at times. The book concludes with “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” a speech Lewis wrote in the early 60’s reviving the Screwtape character. Again, his observations are spot on even all these years later.

Which is why I feel I am sorry to have to point out a theological flaw to the book. It is obvious as you read that Screwtape thinks a person can lose their salvation. That’s dangerous theology, and not the way I read the Bible. I certainly think that Christians can still be lead into sin, however, but the idea that the demons can claim a Christian’s soul goes against what I think the Bible teaches.

The audio version I listened to was from Blackstone Audio and narrated by Ralph Cosham. He did a great job keeping my interest, which considering the lack of dialogue and other normal fiction trappings was quite a feat. In a lot of ways, this is non-fiction disguised as fiction, and the mix is just right to keep it interesting and make you think.

So be sure to read The Screwtape Letters with discernment, but by all means read it and think about what is presented in this short novel. There is a reason that it has been read and talked about for all these years.
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on 17 November 2014
'The Screwtape Letters' by C.S Lewis

David Foster Wallace, a very fashionable US author who had stories printed in The New Yorker, Playboy and The Paris Review put 'The Screwtape Letters' number one on his list of top ten books.

I didn't know that when I read Screwtape. I got to Screwtape as the result of it being read out, edited, as a book of the week on BBC Radio Four. It was funny.

Straightaway when I read the first page I got a laugh from something not on the radio.

If I explain the book's logistics: Screwtape - a senior devil, is advising his nephew, Wormwood, an apprentice demon - on how to convert a human - to 'Our Father Below'. Screwtape tells Wormwood he should not suppose mere argument will work. *Uncle Screwtape* informs Wormwood of the target's feeble (what you could call post-modern) mind-set:

'He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily 'true' or 'false', but as 'academic' or 'practical' 'outworn' or 'contemporary', 'conventional' or 'ruthless'. Jargon, not argument is your best ally in keeping him away from *charity*.

If that paragraph amuses you - and if you have read middle-brow arts criticism, I hope you at least recognise what it says, I advise you to make the small investment required, and read this book.

Because along with such sharp viewing of things modern, this book has shown me, better than any other thing I have encountered - how my own mind works. It has shown me to me, warts and all - my pendulum nature, my evasiveness. My self-examination - and to what silly extremes that can go.

But - I am aware - there is a hurdle that will prejudice many from this book. The book was written as a Christian document.

To an open mind (whatever that means), for instance, an agnostic like myself, that is okay. I admit spiritual thought, I shrug my shoulders at atheists, term-lovers, who will talk about other dimensions but dismiss the spiritual because it is old and mentions the 'G' word.

__Do three things to enjoy this book__
If the important, but tired, corporations of religion have put you off reading anything of a religious frame, there are three things you should do when reading this book.

One - substitute the word *Charity* whenever reference is made to 'Him' or, 'The Enemy' or the Church or Christianity.

Two - and I don't believe Mr Lewis would like this at all - I feel I have a Slubgob or Triptweeze (see book) on my shoulder making me write this: think of the book as a Pixar type thing. This should not be hard. The book is very entertaining. Uncle Screwtape is an articulate learned character. His wonderfully dry patronising of feeble humans and things modern, is funny.

Three - accept Chapter Two as hard (er) work. There is a narrative being established. The human target is a convert to Christianity. Screwtape talks about the vacillation in this faith. The reader can draw lessons regarding relationships with their own enthusiasms.

Another thought - you could think of Screwtape and Wormwood, as being the negativity, bad thoughts, that we all suffer, that we let in, so easily.

__The Contents __
Screwtape, the uncle is a senior devil. Wormwood is an apprentice *working* on a human. We read Screwtape's letters, his advice on what Wormwood should make the human think, in order to get him to 'Our Father Below'. Screwtape references Wormwood's letters. It is worth noting here the book was written in 1940 (Plus ca change)

'You say you are delirious with joy because the European humans have started another of their wars ... I must warn you not to hope too much from a war. Of course a war is entertaining ...

Via Wormwood's letters we follow Wormwood's patient as he makes new friends. They bring a different point-of-view to the patient. Screwtape is pleased. They are rich, smart, superficially intellectual - brightly sceptical about everything.

Screwtape tells Wormwood to encourage the relationship. He tells Wormwood that eventually the patient may realise his new friends are not so good for him but Screwtape gives Wormwood a tactic

'You can persuade him ...to continue the new acquaintance on the ground he is, in some unspecified way, doing these people 'good' by seeing them ...'
The relationship continues but Screwtape is not so pleased to hear that the new friends are great laughers.

'I divide the causes of human laughter into Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy'.

Screwtape doesn't trust Joy. During Joy humans do things Screwtape doesn't understand. He fears loss of control. Screwtape complains to Wormwood

'The facility with which the smallest witticisms produce laughter (at a time of Joy) show the witticism cannot be the real cause of the laughter ... (and) Fun is closely related to Joy - a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct'

Screwtape only really trusts Flippancy

'Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No-one
actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies
that they have already found a ridiculous side to it ... It is a thousand miles away from joy: it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it'.

__ Fear Avarice Lust __
What I particularly enjoyed was the book's willingness to take on very basic things. We are told by twenty-first philosophers, as much as we are told by Zen masters, that the finite moment contains the infinite, we should live in the moment. But how should we do this?

Screwtape tells Wormwood living in the present is also what The Enemy wants. Screwtape warns Wormwood not to let the Target dwell on a particular method to achieve a mental in the present. Contrarily, Screwtape tells Wormwood they should try to make their patient live in the future.

'Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the future inflames hope and fear ... nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust and ambition look ahead'.

__ Humility and Pride and Self-Awareness ___
Screwtape becomes upset when the patient stops making large claims about himself.

Screwtape is concerned their target has discarded his conceits regarding the future and has only hope for the daily and hourly necessary strength to meet the day's rigours. Screwtape is concerned the patient has become humble.

'Have you drawn his attention to the fact? Almost certainly pride at his own humility will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud at his attempt - and so on through as many stages as you please. But don't try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion in which case he will merely laugh at his circular thought and go to bed'.

Screwtape talks more about humility.

'You must conceal from the patient the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as
self-forgetfulness, but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, low) of his own character ... thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may in some cases be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed ... we have the chance of keeping their minds revolving on themselves'.

___'Know Thyself' said the ancient Greeks ___
'Be Yourself' you are implored by songs, well-wishers and the general culture. 'The Screwtape Letters' I believe, is a window to catch the ever-learning self.

Its writer C.S (Clive Staples) Lewis was awarded a medal for bravery in the first world war. He returned to studies after the war and became an Oxford academic who knew his intricate way around Sophistry and Rhetoric. He was a late convert to Christianity and you can bet he used every ounce, every twist, every nuance of the Sophistry and Rhetoric he knew, to challenge - in his own mind - his own conversion.

I believe Screwtape is a diary, of types. How Lewis found himself considering his mind as his belief fluctuated. How he worked it out - how he jousted pleasure, (try to make the target abandon what he really likes in favour of the 'best' people, the right food, the 'important' books) with the God he was tying his flag to.

Screwtape was popular from the beginning. Grudgingly he wrote a follow up. He said it was 'not fun' (Wikipedia) to write and that his Screwtape writing days were done.

__ Intellectual Fashion__
In the style of the paragraph I first quoted, where Screwtape advises Wormwood to concentrate on jargon not argument, 'The Screwtape Letters' would be dismissed - Xtian - no more.

Pity the loss to those who would be affected, interpret the comment as condemnation, and accept it.

Western culture has been around for a long time, an awful lot of its best thinkers, were religious believers. Just like the blues in music, they are often the source of ideas, that have been copied - but not bettered, just diluted and corrupted by insincere repetition.

David Foster Wallace, like other originals, did not achieve work with ideas he was happy with, by following the fashion mob. He looked for the source.
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on 17 August 2017
This is a wonderful christian classic by CS Lewis. I highly recommend it for anybody interested in uncovering the Devil's tricks in relation to you and me. Suck it and see! It exploded into the room during our discussion at the book club last month.
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on 6 April 2017
I have read this book before, many years ago and I wanted to renew my acquaintance with it. Thus I was very pleased to be able to order it at such a good price and I am currently enjoying its subtleties and the wisdom of C S Lewis throughout its pages.
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on 1 November 2007
CS Lewis, like the desert Fathers (portrayed by John Cassian in his Conferences and Institutes) has a keen insight into the psychological and spiritual forces operable in the human psyche. Listen to what Screwtape "writes" when advising his tempter nephew on how to deal with the newly converted christian:

"I have been writing on the assumption that the people in the next pew afford no rational grounds for disappointment. Of course, if they do - if the patient knows that the woman with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridge player or the man with the squeeky boots a miser and an extortioner - then your task is so much easier...At the present stage, you see, he has an idea of "Christians" in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely spiritual. His mind is full of togas and sandals and armour and bare legs and the mere fact that other people in church wear modern clothes is a real - though of course an unconscious - difficulty to him".

And further on:

"what he says, even on his knees about his own sinfulness is all parrott talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit balance in the Enemy's ledger by allowing himself to be so coverted, and thinks that he is allowing great humility and condescension in going to church with these "smug" commonplace neighbours at all".

And Lewis's observation of human relationships:

"When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expression of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particularl lift of his mother's eyebrow which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it".

And his analysis of the dangers of a comfortable middle age:

"If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger. Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is "finding his place in it", while really it is finding its place in him"

And listen to screwtapes "advice" on "reality" versus "subjectivity"

"The general rule which we have now pretty well established among them is that in all experiences which make them happier or better, only the physical facts are "real" while the spiritual elements are "subjective"... Thus in birth the blood and pain are "real", the rejoicing a mere subjective point of view; in death, the terror and ugliness reveal what death "really means"

CS Lewis is witty, intelligent and, above all, a master of the human condition. One wishes that such a prophetic man would again grace the shores of England, the dowry of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
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on 4 June 2004
No matter how many times I read this book I get a fresh insight into human spirituality. It's one of those slim little books that one can read in a flash, over and over. However, after the first reading I found that all subsequent readings had me dwelling over single paragraphs or even sentences, thinking of my own life as a "patient"! A must read for people of all creeds and none. A work of outstanding insight into the human spirit.
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on 23 May 2006
Definitely one of the best of C. S. Lewis books I've come across, and the man has written a fair number of good books I think.

What stands out about this book is how it approaches the Christian life, and human experience in general, from the devil's perspective. The book is really a series of letters between a senior devil and a junior devil which lends insight into how the devil deceives man. As a Christian, I found the book both a challenge to be watchful and alert and also a reassurance of the Lord's ultimate power over Satan.

The book is an entertaining read as well, humorous in many part. A piece of literary genius and a great Christian devotional book. Highly recommended!
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