The Screwtape Letters

by: C.S. Lewis

Letters 10-12

Summary: Letter 10

Screwtape is glad to hear that the Patient has made new friends, a couple that is superficially intelligent, fashionably communist, and skeptical of everything in the world. Wormwood should make the Patient his new friends in order to please them. People become what they pretend to be. The Patient may not realize for a long time that his new friendship is a worldly temptation, but he will realize eventually. If the Patient is a fool, Wormwood can see to it that he only recognizes his friends’ failings when he is not with them. Wormwood should try to divide the Patient in half, make him feel superior to other churchgoers because he has such worldly friends and superior to his friends because they can’t understand his spiritual life. This will make the Patient vain and self-satisfied. In the meantime, he should be sure the Patient spends more than he can afford and neglects his work and mother.

Summary: Letter 11

The Patient’s new friends have introduced him to their whole set. Screwtape thinks it is a good sign, warns the Patient’s laughter might be dangerous. Laughter has four causes: Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy. The cause of laughter when humans experience Joy, says Screwtape, is unknown, but Joy doesn’t win souls to Hell. Fun, which arises from the “play instinct” is like Joy. It’s not very useful, but it distracts people from doing other things the Enemy has in mind for them. Jokes are much more promising as a way to win souls. Humans, especially the British, writes Screwtape, can excuse any vice by making a joke of it. Cowardice is acceptable so long as one brags about it in a comical manner. Flippancy, however, is the best of all. Flippant people don’t actually laugh, they just assume everything is laughable. They take nothing seriously, not even virtue. This isolates them from the Enemy, and, contrary to what they believe, it does not make them more intelligent.

Summary: Letter 12

Screwtape praises Wormwood for making good progress Wormwood must make sure the Patient doesn’t realize that he has begun to move away from the Enemy. Screwtape is almost glad that the Patient still goes to church. This way, the Patient will think he is a Christian even if he doesn’t act like one. Wormwood should keep the Patient from recognizing his vague feeling that he “hasn’t been doing very well lately” as sin. He should make the Patient feel bad, but only vaguely. This will make him reluctant to think of the Enemy and prevent him from repenting or changing his ways. Soon the Patient will want to be distracted from prayer because praying, by making him conscious of his guilt, will make him feel bad. Then, as time goes on, the Patient will allow himself to be distracted by anything or nothing. For Wormwood’s purposes, . will spend his time neither having fun nor living rightly.


events of the Patient’s life are painted with a very broad brush. The reader learns the Patient has made friends, but not how he made them, that the Patient’s friends are worldly and skeptical people, but not what made them that way, that the Patient has a job, but not what his job is. Screwtape considers these details irrelevant to the Patient’s temptation. Screwtape, feigning ignorance about the Patient, often even offers advice about several different character types. He gives Wormwood a range of possible actions depending on what kind of man he thinks the Patient is. The reader is encouraged, then, to think of as “the Patient,” rather than to think of the Patient as a distinct and specific character. The figures in the Patient’s life become examples of broader life categories. His new friends, for example, represent the idea of shallow friendship, rather than specific characters the reader might like or dislike based on their concrete attributes.

World War II encouraged individuals to evaluate their conduct through the lens of crisis. Was it appropriate, for example, given the mass-scale destruction and loss of life unfolding throughout Europe, for people to have fun and laugh? Screwtape’s warning is that there are many forms of laughter , like the laughter caused by joy when old friends see each other after a long time separated, are purely good and therefore of no use in leading humans to Hell. aughter, like sex, can be pursued as an end in itself. People can be tricked into chasing its diminishing pleasures instead of growing closer to God.

The twelfth letter is the only one in which Screwtape praises Wormwood for his work on the Patient. Usually, Screwtape criticizes Wormwood, for having a poor temptation strategy in general, and for being too excited about World War II in particular. Wormwood’s excitement about the war, Screwtape says, distracts him from using it as a means to win the Patient’s soul. For the moment, however, things seem to be looking good for Hell. The Patient has come under the bad influence of skeptical friends. He is beginning to become a hypocrite. Because people are reluctant to acknowledge their own hypocrisy, it alienates them from themselves. That’s why hypocrisy is, according to Screwtape, Hell’s greatest weapons. Wormwood’s objective is two-fold. First, he should tempt the Patient away from God and into eternal damnation, and, second, he should make the Patient lead a miserable and meaningless life without ever really understanding the cause of his unhappiness.