The Screwtape Letters Study Guide

The Screwtape Letters By C. S. Lewis

The Screwtape Letters are comprised of thirty-one letters written by Screwtape, a senior demon in the "Lowerarchy" of Hell, to his nephew Wormwood, a young demon. Screwtape uses the letters to convey his advice on how best to turn Wormwood's 'Patient' (an ordinary man living in war-time England) away from The Enemy (God) and toward Our Father Below (Satan). He signs each letter "Your affectionate uncle."

When the patient converts to Christianity after the first letters are exchanged, Wormwood is severely rebuked and threatened with "the usual penalties" at the House of Correction for Incompetent Tempters. Screwtape, in striking contrast to Wormwood's constant desire to tempt his Patient into excessively wicked acts and truly depraved sins, displays a surety that "the safest path to Hell is the gradual one". He consistently advises Wormwood to befuddle and confuse the Patient into committing acts of minor evil and blasphemy rather than tempting him into evil with a capital E.

In the last letter, it comes out that the Patient has gone to Heaven: he was killed during an air raid (World War II having broken out between the fourth and fifth letters.) Wormwood is to be punished for his failure in true Hellish fashion: he is to be awarded the fate that his Patient would have suffered had he succeeded. Though his nephew's final correspondence is quite desperate, Screwtape shows the depths of his demonic side as he assures Wormwood he will be treated exactly as Screwtape would have been treated if their places were reversed. As Wormwood faces the consumption of his spiritual essence by the other demons, Screwtape signs his final letter "From your increasingly ravenously affectionate uncle" - a dead giveaway that Screwtape, in true demon fashion, has been excited about the destruction of his nephew (and probably leading him to failure) all along.

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