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The Screwtape Letters

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The Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape Letters
First edition dust wrapper
Author C. S. Lewis
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Epistolary novel, Christian apologetics, satire
Publisher Geoffrey Bles
Publication date
1961 (first omnibus)
Media type Print (hardcover & paperback)
Pages 160 pp (first)[1]
157 pp (first omnibus)
Followed by Screwtape Proposes a Toast

The Screwtape Letters is a Christian apologetic novel written by C. S. Lewis. It is written in a satirical, epistolary style and has been classified as a work of both fiction in technicality and non-fiction in essence. First published in February 1942,[1] the story takes the form of a series of letters from a senior Demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter. The uncle's mentorship pertains to the nephew's responsibility for securing the damnation of a British man known only as "the Patient".


In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis provides a series of lessons in the importance of taking a deliberate role in Christian faith, by portraying a typical human life, with all its temptations and failings, seen from devils' viewpoints. Here, Screwtape holds an administrative post in the bureaucracy ("Lowerarchy") of Hell, and acts as a mentor to Wormwood, the inexperienced (and incompetent) tempter. In the thirty-one letters which comprise the book, Screwtape gives Wormwood detailed advice on various methods of undermining faith and promoting sin in the Patient, interspersed with observations on human nature and Christian doctrine. In Screwtape's advice, individual benefit and greed are seen as the greatest good, and neither demon is capable of comprehending God's love for man or acknowledging human virtue.

Versions of the letters were originally published weekly in the Anglican periodical The Guardian between May and November 1941,[2][3] and the standard edition contains an introduction explaining how the author chose to write his story.

Lewis wrote the sequel Screwtape Proposes a Toast in 1959, a critique of certain trends in public education (state schooling). An omnibus edition with a new preface by Lewis was published by Bles in 1961 and MacMillan in 1962.

The Screwtape Letters is one of Lewis' most popular works, although he claimed that it was "not fun" to write, and "resolved never to write another 'Letter'."[4]

Both The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast have been released on both audio cassette and CD, with narrations by John Cleese, Joss Ackland and Ralph Cosham.

Plot overview

The Screwtape Letters comprises thirty-one letters written by a senior demon named Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood (named after a star in Revelation), a younger and less experienced demon, charged with guiding a man (called "the patient") toward "Our Father Below" (Devil / Satan) from "the Enemy" (God).

After the second letter, the Patient converts to Christianity, and Wormwood is chastised for allowing this. A striking contrast is formed between Wormwood and Screwtape during the rest of the book, wherein Wormwood is depicted through Screwtape's letters as anxious to tempt his patient into extravagantly wicked and deplorable sins, and often reckless, while Screwtape takes a more subtle stance, as in Letter XII wherein he remarks: "...the safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts".

In Letter VIII, Screwtape explains to his protégé the different purposes that God and the devils have for the human race: "We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons". With this end in mind, Screwtape urges Wormwood in Letter VI to promote passivity and irresponsibility in the Patient: "(God) wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them".

With his own views on theology, Lewis herein describes sex, love, pride, gluttony, and war. Lewis, an Oxford and Cambridge scholar himself, suggests in his work that even intellectuals are not impervious to the influence of such demons, especially during placated acceptance of the "Historical Point of View" (Letter XXVII).

In Letter XXII, after several attempts to find a licentious woman for the Patient, and after Screwtape's receiving a painful punishment for having divulged to Wormwood God's genuine love for humanity, Screwtape notes that the Patient has fallen in love with a Christian girl. Toward the end of this letter, Screwtape becomes a large centipede, mimicking a similar transformation in Book X of Paradise Lost, wherein the demons are changed into snakes. Late in the correspondence, it is revealed that the young man is placed in harm's way by his military duties. While Wormwood is delighted at this, Screwtape admonishes Wormwood to keep the Patient safe, in hope that they can compromise his faith over a long lifetime.

In the last letter, the Patient has been killed during an air raid (World War II having broken out between the fourth and fifth letters), and has gone to Heaven, and that Wormwood is to suffer the consumption of his spiritual essence by the other demons, especially by Screwtape himself. Screwtape responds to Wormwood's final letter that he may expect as little assistance as Screwtape would expect from Wormwood were their situations reversed ("My love for you and your love for me are as alike as two peas...The only difference is that I am the stronger."), mimicking the situation where Wormwood himself informed on his uncle to the Infernal Police for Infernal Heresy (making a religiously positive remark that would offend Satan).

Screwtape Proposes a Toast

The short sequel essay Screwtape Proposes a Toast, first published in 1959, is an addendum to The Screwtape Letters; the two works are often published together as one book. It takes the form of an after-dinner speech given by Screwtape at the Tempters' Training College for young demons. It first appeared as an article in the Saturday Evening Post.

Screwtape Proposes a Toast is Lewis's criticism of levelling and featherbedding trends in public education; more specifically, as he reveals in the foreword to the American edition, public education in America (though in the text, it is English education that is held up as the purportedly awful example).

The Cold War opposition between the West and the Communist World is explicitly discussed as a backdrop to the educational issues. Screwtape and other demons are portrayed as consciously using the subversion of education and intellectual thought in the West to bring about its overthrow by the communist enemy from without and within. In this sense Screwtape Proposes a Toast is more strongly political than The Screwtape Letters where no strong stand is made on political issues of the day, i.e., World War II.

Comic book adaptation

Marvel Comics and religious book publisher Thomas Nelson produced a comic book adaptation of The Screwtape Letters in 1994.[5]

Film adaptation

The Screwtape Letters is a planned film based on the novel. 20th Century Fox bought the film rights to the book in the 1950s. Fox partnered with Walden Media to make this film just as they were doing with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Walden originally intended to release the film in 2008,[6] however the current release date was set for 2012. Ralph Winter, the producer, credited the success of the Chronicles of Narnia film series for the greenlighting of The Screwtape Letters.[7] The Screwtape Letters is to be a live-action film.[8] Because the novel is a series of letters with limited action, critics have questioned how a film adaptation is possible.[9]

Stage adaptation

The stage play Dear Wormwood (later renamed Screwtape), written by James Forsyth, was published in 1961. The setting is changed to wartime London, where we actually see Wormwood going about the business of tempting his "patient" (in the play, given the name "Michael Green"). The ending is changed as well, with Wormwood trying to repent and beg for forgiveness, when it appears that his mission has failed.

Philadelphia playwright and actor Anthony Lawton's original adaptation of The Screwtape Letters has been staged several times since 2000 by Lantern Theater Company, most recently in May/June 2014. In Lawton's adaptation, each of Screwtape's letters is punctuated by varied dances including tap, latin ballroom, jazz, martial arts, and rock – and whips and fire-eating. Screwtape performs these dances with his secretary, Toadpipe.

The Fellowship for the Performing Arts obtained from the Lewis estate the rights to adapt The Screwtape Letters for the stage. The initial production opened off-off-Broadway at Theatre 315 in New York City in January 2006. The initial three-week run was extended to eleven and finally closed because the theater was contractually obligated to another production.[10] It was co-written by Max McLean (who also starred) and Jeffrey Fiske (who also directed). A second, expanded production opened off Broadway at the Theatre at St. Clements on 18 October 2007, originally scheduled to run through 6 January 2008. The production re-opened at the Mercury Theater in Chicago in September 2008, and continued on a national tour including San Francisco, Phoenix, Louisville, Chattanooga, Fort Lauderdale, Houston and Austin, through January 2010 as well as playing at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. for ten weeks.[11] The Screwtape Letters played for 309 performances at New York City’s Westside Theatre in 2010. The 2011 tour visited performing arts venues in cities throughout the United States including Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Boston. The 2012-2013 tour began in Los Angeles in January 2012, with return engagements in San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago and Atlanta as well as stops in several other cities. The Screwtape Letters has been described as "Humorous and lively...the Devil has rarely been given his due more perceptively!" by The New York Times, "A profound experience" by Christianity Today and "Wickedly witty...One hell of good show!" by The Wall Street Journal.[11]

The Barley Sheaf Players of Lionville, Pennsylvania performed James Forsyth's play Screwtape in September 2010. It was directed by Scott Ryan and the play ran the last 3 weekends in September.[12] The Production was reviewed by Paul Recupero for Stage Magazine.[13]

Audio drama

Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, a project of Focus on the Family, was granted the rights to dramatize "The Screwtape Letters" as a feature length audio drama. Production began in 2008 and the product was released in the fall of 2009.[14] Andy Serkis, known for playing Gollum in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, provides the voice for Screwtape, with Bertie Carvel as Wormwood, Philip Bird as The Patient (identified in this production as "John Hamilton"), Laura Michael Kelly as The Girl (identified in this production as "Dorothy"), Roger Hammond as Toadpipe, Christina Greatrex as Slumtrimpet, Janet Henfrey as Glubose, Philip Sherlock as the Messenger, Susie Brann as the Presenter and Geoffrey Palmer as C.S. Lewis. There is a 7-and-a-half minute video preview of the Radio Theatre production with interviews and making-of footage.[15] This production was a 2010 Audie Award finalist.

Literary sequels

Though C. S. Lewis had resolved not to write another letter, and only revisited the character of Screwtape once in "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," the format, referred to by Lewis himself as a kind of "demonic ventriloquism," has inspired other authors to prepare sequels, or similar works, such as:

  • Screwtape Writes Again by Walter Martin (1975)
  • The Screwtape Email by Arthur H. Williams Jr. (ISBN 978-1412000673, 2006)
  • The Wormwood Letters by Bryan Miles (ISBN 978-0595283927, 2003), in which Wormwood, who has somehow survived, now finds himself in a new era writing to his own nephew, Soulsniper
  • The Wormwood File: E-mail From Hell by Jim Forest (ISBN 978-1570755545, 2004), another Wormwood series of instructions
  • As One Devil to Another: A Fiendish Correspondence in the Tradition of C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters by Richard Platt (ISBN 978-1414371665, 2012)
  • The Michael Letters: Heaven's answer to Screwtape by Jim Peschke (ISBN 978-1453660270, 2010), in which the Archangel Michael provides advice to Jacob, a guardian angel
  • Lord Foulgrin's Letters by Randy Alcorn (ISBN 978-1576738610, 2001)
  • The Devil's Inbox by Barbara Laymon (ISBN 978-0806649450, 2004)
  • The Snakebite Letters: Devilishly Devious Secrets for Subverting Society as Taught in Tempter's Training School by Peter Kreeft (ISBN 978-0898707212, 1998)

Cultural references

U.S. President Ronald Reagan quoted The Screwtape Letters in his famous 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals.[16]

The album Peril and the Patient by Called To Arms is a concept album based entirely on The Screwtape Letters. [17][18]

David Foster Wallace praised the book in interviews and listed it first on his list of top ten favorite books.[19]

In 1995, the music video "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" by U2, an animated Bono is seen walking down the street holding the book The Screwtape Letters. While on stage during the Zoo TV Tour Bono would dress as Mr. MacPhisto, his alter ego. Bono would wear a gold suit and devil horns and usually make prank calls to politicians.

The lyrics for the song "Oubliette (Disappear)" from the album The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi by The Receiving End of Sirens were inspired by a passage from The Screwtape Letters.[20]

In 2010, the Marine Corps Gazette began publishing a series of articles entitled "The Attritionist Letters" styled in the manner of The Screwtape Letters. In the letters, General Screwtape chastises Captain Wormwood for his inexperience and naivete while denouncing the concepts of maneuver warfare in favor of attrition warfare.[21]

In the Sunday comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin's teacher Miss Wormwood, who repeatedly fails to teach Calvin the value of education and attentiveness, is named after Screwtape's protégé.[22]

In an October 2013 interview in New York magazine, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, professed his admiration for the book. Scalia remarked, "The Screwtape Letters is a great book. It really is, just as a study of human nature." The book was discussed in the highly publicized interview during Scalia's discourse regarding the nature of his Catholic faith.[23]


  1. ^ The Screwtape Letters title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
    • ISFDB shows unillustrated covers, and credits no cover artists, for both first editions published by Geoffrey Bles, the Letters (1942) and the omnibus with "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" and a new preface by Lewis (1961).


  1. ^ Lancelyn Green, Roger & Hooper, Walter (2002). C. S. Lewis: a biography. London: HarperCollins ISBN 0-00-628164-8; p. 237.
  2. ^ Lancelyn Green and Hooper, C.S.Lewis: A Biography, p.236
  3. ^ Griffin, William (2005). C.S.Lewis: The Authentic Voice, p. 188. Lion Hudson, Oxford. ISBN 0-7459-5208-9
  4. ^ Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters. New York: HarperCollins, 2001, p. 184.
  5. ^ Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters. The Christian classic series. New York: Marvel Comics, 1994. ISBN 978-0-8407-6261-0
  6. ^ Nicole Laporte (2007-01-31). Screwtape' attaches Walden"'".  
  7. ^ "Update on The Screwtape Letters Movie From Producer Ralph Winter". The Stone Table. 2007-02-17. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  8. ^ "‘Screwtape Letters’ to be released on film".  
  9. ^ "Another CS Lewis Film In The Works".  
  10. ^ "The Screwtape Letters"About the NYC Production of C.S. Lewis' . Retrieved 2007-10-06. 
  11. ^ a b "About The Screwtape Letters", ScrewtapeOnStage. Retrieved on 27 January 2012.
  12. ^ "Screwtape"Barley Sheaf Players
  13. ^ Recupero, Paul. "Turn of the SCREWTAPE", Stage Magazine Review, September 10, 2010.
  14. ^ "Radio Theatre". Radio Theatre. 2013-03-23. Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  15. ^ Video preview of audiotape
  16. ^ "Remarks at the Annual Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida". The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library. March 8, 1983. Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Called to Arms is Rad | News". Indie Vision Music. 2010-05-21. Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  18. ^ "Called To Arms - Profile". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  19. ^ "David Foster Wallace: R.I.P. | blogs". 2008-09-16. Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  20. ^ "Disappear (Oubliette) Lyric Meaning - The Receiving End Of Sirens Meanings". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  21. ^ "The Attritionist Letters (Archives) | Marine Corps Gazette". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  22. ^ Watterson, Bill (1995). The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book. 4900 Main Street, Kansas City, Missouri 64112: Andrews and McMeel. p. 25.  
  23. ^ "In Conversation: Antonin Scalia - The New York Magazine". The New York Magazine. Retrieved 2013-10-06. 

External links

  • websiteFocus on the Family's "The Screwtape Letters
  • The ScrewtapeCommentary on
  • The Screwtape LettersQuotations and Allusions in
  • Screwtape On Stage
  • Free Screwtape Letters Study Guide (From a Christian Perspective)
  • Screwtape Proposes a Toast. Canadian public domain edition (PDF)
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