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Is Today International Screwtape Day?

May 2, 2013

The Screwtape LettersIf the month of February is a candidate for “International Screwtape Month,” then today is equally a nominee for “International Screwtape Day”! Why? Because Screwtape made his debut on this date–May 2nd–in 1941. He first appeared in a humble publication called The Guardian (that is no longer in existence).  Readers of that weekly periodical had no warning when he arrived, claiming to be Wormwood’s Uncle. Most were scratching their heads, not just wondering who the two main characters were, but also who the patient was. However, soon the discerning person began to understand the inverted world of Screwtape; the “Enemy” was God and what this senior demon favored was unfavorable for humans. It’s interesting to note what else was happening in Lewis’s life at this time. He was writing a very different (and straightforward) work that came out three months later on the radio. In August, 1941 he made his broadcasting premier on the BBC with material that would eventually be better known as content from Mere Christianity.  

Time CoverJust why did a relatively unknown Oxford Don eventually land on the cover of Time magazine in 1947 with a devil on his shoulder? Of course, it had to do with his success with The Screwtape Letters. But why was this book such a hit? First let’s consider what didn’t make it a success. When the book was reissued in 1961, this later edition included an extra essay from 1959 and a new preface (listed as a postscript in some later editions). In this updated volume Lewis joked that some people chose The Screwtape Letters because it was so short. Ironically, this was the case for me. I was only willing to read the book when it was recommended by a friend because it contained brief letters that could be read in less than five minute each!

However, even those only willing to read the book because it is a thin volume soon become fascinated by Screwtape and his twisted beliefs. That’s the real reason the book became a best seller. You laugh at the foolishness of the patient  in Lewis’s masterful satire only to ultimately ponder how much of what’s occurring actually applies to your life! As Terry Glaspey notes in The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis (also known as Not a Tame Lion):

Lewis reveals brilliant insights about prayer, humility, the meaning of pleasure, obedience, gluttony, greed, love, lust, marriage, and liberal theology.

Glaspey also points out that Lewis’s understanding of the nature of evil and the “psychological perceptions into belief and disbelief” are also reasons why the book became so popular. And, of course, it is an extremely funny book!

Lewis Picture (Green Book)As many writers about Lewis have noted, we learn from letters Lewis wrote to his brother Warnie in July 1940 about how the idea for Screwtape occurred. Lewis’s mind drifted during a church service, and he wondered about creating a series of letters from the opposing side that detailed what plans and ideas the enemy had of us. His working title (which is now a book by another author) was “As One Devil to Another.”

The Screwtape Letters was so well received when it was published as a book in early 1942 that it was reprinted eight times by the end of that year. This was even before it was published in the U.S. in February, 1943. There are far too many great ideas to share about The Screwtape Letters (even considering, again, how short the book is). In other blog posts I’ve shared some (listed below in related posts), but one in particular I will mention here is what Screwtape describes as the four causes of laughter. This material is found in the eleventh letter to Wormword. Here Lewis contrasts Joy, Fun, The Joke Proper and Flippancy. This material stands out to me as very profound and among the most insightful stuff Lewis has written.

Speaking of blogs, Brenton Dickieson has written on the topic of The Screwtape Letters online in his A Pilgrim in Narnia.  One entry to explore in particular is a piece about the various attempts to mimic Lewis’s great work.  Although he doesn’t discuss all of the following, these are the ones I own in my personal library:

So, do you think we should make this date International Screwtape Day? Even if you don’t, why not leave a comment about why you’ve enjoyed The Screwtape Letters?

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* Special thanks to Sorina Higgins and Dr. Crystal Hurd for reading an early draft of this and offering helpful suggestions and catching my errors!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 2, 2013 10:42 am

    Well done William. It’s time to update my blog–but it took months to write that first one!

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