Summary: Letter 19

Screwtape worries that Wormwood will report him to Hell’s authorities Of course the Enemy doesn’t really love humans, Screwtape . Love is a contradiction. He only says he loves them. Our Father, he writes, broke ties with the Enemy over he Enemy said it was a matter of disinterested love,

caused Our Father to remove himself from Heaven.

s for the question of whether it is good for human beings to be in love, says Screwtape, it is beside the point. Let the humans worry about whether being in love is good or bad. If the Patient is delicate, Wormwood should make him mistake his avoiding sex for purity. If he is emotional and gullible, Wormwood should make him think love is irresistible and good in itself. With Wormwood’s help, this attitude may lead to prolonged, tragic adulteries that end in murder and suicide.

Summary: Letter 20

The Patient has discovered that lust is temporary. This makes it much harder, writes Screwtape, for Wormwood to tempt the Patient with sex. The next step is to use the Patient’s lust to make a “desirable” marriage. Powerful devils, deep in the “lowerarchy,” help by giving every age a desirable type. This prevents people from making compatible marriages because they pursue only the superficial characteristics they have been taught are desirable. Now that it is the “age of Jazz,” they have taught men to like women who look like boys. This kind of beauty is very temporary, which exaggerates women’s horror of growing old. At the same time, Hell is working to make nudity more acceptable and depictions of it more artificially enhanced. Every man, counsels Screwtape, has two types, one he desires for wholesome marriage, and one he desires only for sordid affairs. Wormwood should try to involve the Patient with the latter.

Summary: Letter 21

A period of sexual temptation, writes Screwtape, is an opportunity to make the Patient irritable. Wormwood should give the Patient the idea that his time is his own. That way, the Patient will be upset whenever something unforeseen affects his plans. If the Enemy were to appear in front of the Patient directly and ask for his time, the Patient would never refuse. But the Patient doesn’t realize this is what is happening every day. Wormwood should encourage the Patient to have a sense of ownership regarding all things, not just time. People resist chastity, for example, because they believe they own their bodies. Hell makes people feel they own things by filling them with pride, but also via confusion. There is a big difference between “my boots” and “my God,” but people can be taught to have the same attitude regarding both. The joke, says Screwtape, is that humans can’t really claim anything is theirs. They will find out soon enough to whom their bodies, their souls, and their time really belong.


With the nineteenth letter, the subplot between Screwtape and Wormwood begins to escalate. Screwtape’s letters so far have been cordial and, though often critical of Wormwood’s temptation strategies, affectionate. Now the reader is allowed to see just how artificial this exchange has been. Screwtape and Wormwood, as devils, are malicious at the core. They might betray each other at any time. Screwtape’s friendly forms of address only mask his inner hatred, not just for Wormwood, but for all things. In this, Screwtape imitates Satan. Satan, who Screwtape calls here “Our Father,” has created his own version of the Christian narrative of “the Fall.” In the traditional narrative Satan and the other devils began as angels who were cast out of Heaven and condemned to eternal suffering in Hell for believing themselves superior to God. In Satan’s version, God was deceitful, keeping the true selfish reason for his so-called unconditional love a secret. In Hell, everything is reversed. Up is down, and God, rather than Satan, is the deceiver.

Screwtape continues to explore lust and to advise Wormwood how it can be used to lead the Patient into Hell. There are many subtly different human attitudes toward sex, and each, aside from heterosexual sex within the bounds of marriage, can be used to corrupt the Patient. Outside the context of marriage, it hardly matters whether the Patient believes himself in love. In fact, the Patient’s ideas about love might lead him to commit very serious sins. Marriage, however, is not necessarily a way for the Patient to escape sin. In fact, if the Patient makes a marriage desirable for Hellhe might allow lust to cloud his reason and be tricked into committing other kinds of sins. Meanwhile, The Screwtape Letters continue to offer challenges to modern fashions. Human fashions are not the result of changes in human taste over time, writes Screwtape. They are part of Hell’s plan to trap people in dissatisfying marriages. They are Hell’s method of tricking people into chasing the mere image of pleasure instead of the true pleasure that can be found only in God.

Lewis uses the twenty-first letter to explore questions of ownership and property. A sense of ownership, Lewis argues through Screwtape, is one of the main things that leads people into sin. It is difficult for a man to covet his neighbor’s property if he doesn’t believe that either he or his neighbor really owns anything. What men think of as their possessions (including even their bodies and clothes), Screwtape tells Wormwood, are really only things on loan to them from God. Humans are only able to think of things as their property because they have a flawed sense of perspective. They treat un-ownable things, like time and God, as if they were commodities to be bought and sold. Human beings are capable of believing in property mostly by ignoring the fact of their own death. This, according to Screwtape, is exactly what Hell wants from them. When people live their mortal lives as if they were immortal, they are much more likely to commit the sins that will lead them into eternal damnation.