While Lewis himself did not consider this book to be his <i>magus opus</i> to me it is one of those works that sets the writer aside to achieve the title of a literary genius. I am not going to say that this book breaks new grounds, or does things that no other piece of literature as done, but Lewis does it in a way that sets him apart from many of his peers (considering that one of his peers was [author:Tolkien], the man who effectively created the modern fantasy genre). The Screwtape Letters chronicles the story of a young Christian and his struggles, but it is told in a very ingenious way, that is by a series of letters from an older demon, Screwtape, to a younger demon, Wormwood.
As a Christian book I found it to be incredibly encouraging because, like the biblical book of Job, what Lewis is attempting to do is to peel away the curtain that divides the spiritual work from the physical world to help us see what is going on behind the scenes. Basically the job of these demons is to make sure that people do not die Christians, because if they die Christians, then they have failed in their task in luring them to the gates of hell. What Lewis also tries to do in this book is to attempt to show us how subtle and devious demons can be in distracting us from the message of the gospel.
Now, the first warning that Lewis gives us in the introduction is that there are two games that Satan tries to play: the first is by pretending that he does not exist (which is the way that he lures atheists into his fold) and secondly by pretending that he is everywhere (the trick that he uses to make Christians less effective in their work to make the world in which we live a better place). That said, we must remember that this is a work of fiction and that we should not feel too disheartened in believing that there is a demon assigned to us to make our life as difficult as possible (and I will say more on this later).
There are quite a number of interesting things that Lewis explores in this book, and he does so in a very ingenious fashion, that is by having the issue discussed by demons. There has been a fallacy going around that demons do not care about non-Christians because as far as they are concerned they are already in their grasp. However, as Screwtape points out, this is not necessarily the case because non-Christians have a really annoying habit of becoming Christians. As such, their task with non-Christians is to not only convince them that God (and themselves) do not exist, but to regularly distract them with 'normal life' so that the last thing that they think of is the extraordinary spiritual world. You see the ordinary is a great asset that can be used to distract people because by being immersed in the ordinary they do not think that there can be anything beyond it, and thus the idea of an omniscient God who intervenes in our universe, to them, is preposterous.
There is another interesting thing that was touched upon, and that is the idea of silence. There is a saying that we have all heard, and that is 'silence is golden'. Lewis suggests that silence is a method for which to put aside the ordinary world so that we can focus more on God because, well, noise can be distracting. I can attest to that myself because I become really annoyed with people talking on the train when I am trying to read, namely because all of the noise around me distracts me from the book that I am reading. However I also find that noise can be comforting because, to me, noise represents the interaction of humans in everyday life. Listening to the rumble of people going on around me can actually provide me some comfort as well because it is reminiscent of relationships and God is a god of relationships.
The Screwtape Letters was written in the backdrop of World War II (it was published in 1942, at the height of the hostilities) and as such there is a lot to be said of hating your enemies. One of the things that is explored is the idea of loving your enemy and by focusing this love on a distant enemy (the Germans)i we can forget to actually show love to those around us. It is a form of hypocrisy in which we show love to those that everybody hates, but are irritated, annoyed, and respond violently, to the little quirks and annoyances of those with whom we interact on a daily basis. Then there is the idea of hating somebody for the crime that they have committed against another, so that while the hatred is not personal we can justify it by saying that because they have injured another we can freely hate this enemy.
C.S. Lewis was not a theologian, he was a philosopher, so there are a number of things in this book that I do not consider to be theologically sound. The reason I say this is because it seems to reflect the social conditions of England at the time. The one thing that rubbed me the wrong way was his discussion on cowardice. The reason that I raised this is because of the idea of pacifism. This was something that was relevant in World War I because there were a group that believed that the war was wrong and did not want to have anything to do with it, and by being a pacifist they were accused of being cowards. I actually believe that the opposite is true because by wanting war when everybody else wants war, especially when the reason for going to war is wrong, is in itself cowardice, however by standing up and saying 'this is wrong and I will have no part in it' and doing so even though you may go to gaol, is a sign of strength.
The other thing that I picked up was the idea that the demons have a free reign against us, whether we be Christians or not, and that is also as far from the truth as you can get. We are told in the New Testament that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bare. We are also shown in the book of Job that Satan is actually restrained by God as to what he is allowed to inflict Job. While it may be disheartening to think that there has been a demon assigned to us to do his best to drag us away from the hope we have in Jesus Christ, the truth is that there is only so much that this demon can do, and this demon does not have the power to go beyond that point.