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.
(The entire section is 581 words.)