The Screwtape Letters

by: C.S. Lewis

Wormwood

Wormwood is a recent graduate of the devil’s training college and the Patient is the first human he has been assigned to tempt into Hell. Screwtape claims that devils are eternal beings, but, at the same time, Wormwood seems to be a younger, less-experienced devil. This contradiction is never resolved. Screwtape usually signs himself as Wormwood’s “uncle,” but this human term of relation may only be an analogy for his and Wormwood’s own Hellish interrelation. Wormwood, according to Screwtape, is incompetent, but the reader only encounters Wormwood’s ideas secondhand, within Screwtape’s letters. Wormwood is excitable, and becomes easily distracted by the blood and gore of World War II. Screwtape’s help, Wormwood is a backstabber. He reports Screwtape to Hell’s authorities because of some of the things Screwtape writes. When Wormwood fails to win the Patient’s soul, he grovels and begs for mercy. It remains a question, however, whether Wormwood is truly incompetent, or whether devils simply have limited power over human lives. In the end, does it make much difference to Screwtape whether he eats Wormwood the Patient? In this light, it may be better to think of Wormwood as Screwtape’s dupe, rather than the recipient of real or valuable advice.