The Screwtape Letters Additional Summary

C. S. Lewis


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Screwtape Letters made Lewis’s popular reputation. An epistolary novel from a senior tempter, Screwtape, the letters advise his junior colleague and nephew, Wormwood. The narrative traces Wormwood’s attempts to enslave the soul of a “patient,” a human on Earth, so that he may end in Hell at his death. Over the course of thirty-one letters, set in contemporary England during the Blitzkrieg, Screwtape reviews strategies based on exploitations of human nature.

Lewis’s purpose is frankly didactic, although his use of Screwtape as a narrator means that readers must often “invert” the truths he reveals. In the process, Lewis’s satire ranges over much of modern life, for Screwtape is ironically aware of human failings invisible to humans. Yet Screwtape himself is satirized, too; at moments he appears confused, contradicting himself, admitting truths about God that he later denies. Lewis succeeds in creating both a character and an atmosphere: Hell is the mind-set in which selfishness becomes self-absorption.

Early in the novel, the patient experiences a religious conversion, permitting Screwtape to discuss how the Christian life may itself be perverted. This development becomes the major interest of the work, for the church is the real enemy of the demoniac. As Screwtape provides advice, Lewis is able to portray the Christian faith in opposition to those facets of modern life that are diabolical.

Over the...

(The entire section is 581 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Holmer, Paul. C. S. Lewis: The Shape of His Faith and Thought. New York: Harper and Row, 1976. A lucid, succinct overview of Lewis’s theology.

Hooper, Walter, ed. C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996. Includes a chronological biography of Lewis, short biographies of his associates, definitions and place descriptions, a “Key Ideas” section, and critical analyses of the works.

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan, 1952. The author identifies the views common to Christians of all denominations. One of his best-known works.

Sims, John A. Missionaries to the Skeptics: Christian Apologists for the Twentieth Century—C. S. Lewis, Edward John Carnell, and Reinhold Niebuhr. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1995. Places the beliefs of three major Christian theologians within the context of their personal experiences. Bibliography and index.

Walker, Andrew, and James Patrick, eds. Rumours of Heaven: Essays in Celebration of C. S. Lewis. Guildford, Surrey, England: Eagle, 1998. Originally published as A Christian for All Christians: Essays in Honour of C. S. Lewis in 1990. Essays on subjects such as Lewis’s debt to historic Christianity, his attention to narrative, and his use of myth. Notes and selected bibliography.