The Screwtape Letters’ “soft, gentle path to Hell”

I saw an adaption of The Screwtape Letters at the Westside Theater the other night, in one of last performances before it hit the road (check out the site to see if its coming near you). The Screwtape Letters is a satirical novel by C. S. Lewis first published in February 1942 and the play, set in a stylish office in hell, follows the clever scheming of Satan’s chief psychiatrist, Screwtape, as he hungrily entices a human ‘patient’ toward damnation (human souls being hell’s primary source of food). Evil, the banality of evil, and specifically the insidious ways it works into individual’s lives is told here through a demon’s point of view. It is damn funny, because psychologically is is dead on and startlingly true even today, even from a non-Christian perspective.

As I learned in discussion after the performance, Lewis wrote this story about a senior demon, Screwtape, teaching his nephew, a junior tempter named Wormwood, how to secure the damnation of a British man after hearing a translation of one of Hitler’s speeches on the BBC radio. Hitler’s silver tongue, as he exhorted the English to believe that he only wanted to work together to lead a great cultural world upheaval, struck him as being the purest evil. 

Lewis dedicated the work to his friend and fellow Inkling J.R.R. Tolkien, who had warned that delving too deeply into the craft of evil would have consequences. Lewis later wrote:

about_chair“Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment . . . though it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The work 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.”

However the play is much more lively and interesting than that, and I imagine a much better theatrical experience that reading the meditative letters might give one to expect.

2 thoughts on “The Screwtape Letters’ “soft, gentle path to Hell”

  1. I read this book a few years ago. It was dead on from a Christian perspective. I have a great love for Lewis and his works. In fact, my wouldn’t even have been born if not for his space trilogy. Great blog.

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