The Screwtape Letters

by: C.S. Lewis

Letters 7-9

Summary: Letter 7

Screwtape reminds Wormwood that the present policy of Hell’s High Command is for devils to keep themselves concealed and invisible. This, he says, was not always the case, but it helps to make humans skeptics. One day, Screwtape hopes, people will worship the “forces” of science without believing in invisible “spirits.” The modern image of devils as comical figures, Screwtape writes, will keep the Patient skeptical and, ultimately, help Wormwood corrupt him. Next, Screwtape considers whether to make the Patient a patriot or a pacifist. Except extreme devotion to God, he writes, all extremes are good for their cause. Because the Patient is afraid of the war, Screwtape recommends Wormwood try to make him a pacifist. The Patient may feel himself a coward, and, hopefully, become a hypocrite. But, if Wormwood decides to push patriotism, the objective is the sameto make the Patient think his cause is religious. As long as pamphlets and earthly causes mean more to the Patient than prayers and true charity, .

Summary: Letter 8

The devil Training College has gone to pieces, Screwtape laughs, since director Slubgob was put in charge. Wormwood, he writes, is a fool. He has forgotten that human beings are part animal, part spirit. Unlike spirits, they exist in time. This means humans change and are inconstant. Their lives go through good periods (peaks) and bad ones (troughs). Wormwood’s patient is in a trough at the moment, but, Screwtape warns, the uses troughs even more than peaks to win souls. He emphasizes that the Enemy has given humans free will so that they can be united him but still distinct. This, Wormwood explains, is why the Enemy doesn’t make himself more obvious to humans. It is the Enemy’s plan that humans can deny Him if they choose. Trough periods, then, make humans stand on their own two legs and take responsibility for their lives. They become more distinct and assertive and, therefore, better subjects for the Enemy.

Summary: Letter 9

In this letter, Screwtape advises Wormwood how he can take advantage of troughs in the Patient’s life. Troughs are great moments for sensual temptation, especially sexual ones. During a trough, the Patient is unlikely to fall in love. His physical experience won’t result in real pleasure. He will develop addictions, ever-increasing cravings for ever-diminishing pleasures. An even better way to exploit troughs is to keep the Patient from recognizing his trough is temporary. He should think it will last forever. The method depends on the kind of person the Patient is. If he is depressive, Wormwood should convince him to seek isolation, try to get out of his trough by an act of will. If the Patient is prone to wishful thinking, Wormwood should convince him his trough isn’t so bad, the last peak wasn’t so good. Weren’t the religious sentiments that made him feel so good excessive? Once the Patient is convinced his trough is permanent, he can be persuaded that his positive, “religious phase” was, indeed, just a phase.

Analysis

Screwtape will often describe the present policy of Hell’s executives, of devils “far down” in what he sometimes calls “the lowerarchy.” In Hell, the joke goes, it is better to be low than high. But, true to the word of his first letter, Screwtape uses lots of different, sometimes inconsistent, jargon. Devils low in the lowerarchy, for example, are still High Command. For Screwtape and Wormwood, Satan is “Our Father,” where Christians might think of “Our Father” as God. Screwtape explains as simple points of Hell’s policy. This is a trick designed to confuse men and lead them into heresy—beliefs inconsistent with Church teachings. Screwtape’s explanations also account for why there are so many ancient stories or reports of devils in old stories. Invisibility is only a temporary strategy. In ages past, Hell’s policy was different. The Screwtape Letters argues alienates modern man from himself and, consequently, from God. These corporate structures, Lewis implies, are Hellish constructs.

Lewis sprinkles The Screwtape Letters with entertaining devil-names like Slubgog and Slumtrimpet. These names reinforce what Screwtape considers the useful modern tendency to think of devils as comical figures, but the devils to which these names are attributed play only very minor roles in the unfolding narrative. With his “peaks” and “troughs,” Screwtape continues to assign jargon to common tendencies in human lives. And, just as positive courses of human action are described as inconvenient habits that Hell must break, core facets of Christian beliefs, such as free will and divine love, are presented as contradictions, inconsistencies, and lies.

Through Screwtape, Lewis urges the reader to reconsider the difficult periods in life, to see these difficulties as an opportunity to become closer to God. When Screwtape tells Wormwood to keep the Patient from realizing that his “trough” is temporary, Lewis reminds the reader: your present difficulties are temporary. When Screwtape tells Wormwood that the Patient will be vulnerable to attacks on his chastity, Lewis advises the reader not to try to fill the dark periods in life with transitory and, ultimately, unsatisfying pleasures. In the world of The Screwtape Letters, there is objective truth. Here, sex, except in highly specific circumstances, is always sin. Screwtape’s advice, likewise, is always directed toward a male, heterosexual reader. These limited ways of acceptably expressing gender and sexuality are, some might argue, part and parcel established Christian teachings. But, as the preface reminds the reader, Screwtape’s view is biased. The sexism in Screwtape’s advice, along with his general tendency to fall into binary arguments, need not be seen as essential tenants of Christian teaching. They be taken, instead, as side effects of Screwtape’s eternal damnationas dispositions the reader is meant to question.