Friday, July 12, 2013

Screwtape Letters by C.S Lewis

3 out of 5 stars

C.S Lewis's Screwtape Letters is a series of responses written by Screwtape (a demon who seems to work in an office in hell) to Wormwood (a demon field agent out to corrupt the souls of the innocent). That alone was what intrigued me. Not only have I not heard a concept like that before, but using the mundane vehicle of an office letter seemed almost ingenious. It left out the dramatics that we usually find in stories about demons and instead told a more subdued tale. The demons truly did feel that they were right. The “Enemy” of the book was God and the angels who were tried to save souls and take them to heaven. Although, now that I think about it, the book seemed to go more with the concept of man is inherently good and is only corrupted due to a demons interference. The interference of angels was either severely downplayed, or they simply did not interfere. That being said, there was so much in this story, in the characterizations, in the concept, that could have been played with further. The lines between heaven and hell could have been blurred and the opportunity to show how morality is a big mass of blurry gray matter could have been highlighted beautifully with this story. Instead, I found Screwtape Letters to be very black and white.

Hell is waiting in line at the DMV
Sin is called into question in this novel easily. The demons of course are trying to encourage certain sins in order to corrupt the human soul. In this war between heaven and hell, the battle comes off as more of an office tiff while the humans are tossed back and forth between good and bad like some sort of tennis ball.  There doesn't really seem to be an in between area or an area where both the demons and angels are right at the same time. It is one way or the other which unfortunately, made the novel very bland. It is in my opinion, that there could have been a lot more to this book. And while I am very pleased that the letters didn't come off as preachy like I was afraid they would, the doctrine being taught here seems to be a very strict and rigid version of Christianity that leaves little to no room for any of the nuances or contradictions in the religion itself. I was very pleased to see the demon calling out the double standards that do exist, and honestly, that was my favorite part, but there was not enough of that.

Furthermore, it is not a book that can stand the test of time. It was well shaped to what Christianity meant during the time of publication, but in a world where the doctrine itself is starting to take new shape, and Christianity is acknowledging these moral gray area's in life, it does not hold up.

Now this is not to say that the book didn't do exactly what it was set out to do. Lewis was a known Christian author, writing in a time where religion was beginning to die and church attendance was declining. He lived on the precipice of change and challenge and I think that he wrote this book in response to that. So, the black and white nature and the demons immorality coming off as “sin” and the human triumphing over this corruption, was all very well tailored to this agenda. I'm not saying there was anything wrong with that and maybe if I was someone that was more of a theology person as opposed to a story oriented reader, I would have enjoyed this more. However, I found the words to be bland, the sentence structure to be a bit disjointed, and the sarcastic moments that were truly the gem of the story, to get lost in the rest of the droning monologues that were taking place. I wanted to see Lewis stretch his storytelling capabilities. I wanted him to make me understand why this demon thought the way he did. I didn't want the explanation of this is what “Our Father” wants and therefore we will follow through. I wanted more depth and shape out of these characters. There were moments that I felt Lewis almost went there, too. In one memorable letter, Screwtape discusses the emotion of love and calls into question whether or not God can love. His written conclusion comes off as panicked and portrays someone who is questioning his very beliefs system. In the letter following this one, we find Screwtape has been punished for his thoughts on the matter, hinting at the fact that this demon might have been an independent thinker going through a very typical human moment, where his faith was challenged. I wanted more of those moments. Diving into that kind of psyche would have packed a much more powerful punch and, at least for me, spoke more about morality than what was written. But, again, those moments that I saw Lewis start to play with were few and far between and they were over much to quickly.

Simply put, this was just not the book for me. I couldn't help wanting a different novel than the one I was reading.  Plus, this portrayal of a demon may have ruined me forever.

Screwtape Letter's is an interesting read and if theology interests you, I would recommend it. But, if you are more of a story oriented person, I would give this one a pass. It was interesting to read Lewis write an epistolary novel, though, compared to Narnia.

If you want to see what else I've been reading, here is my June bookreads (I know, I finished this a bit late):

Anyone else read this book or heard anything about it? It wasn't known to me until quite recently but apparently it is a popular piece of literature that has been adapted into several plays and a radio drama.
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