By Hannah Vincent
Word Count: 730
Rating: PG for heavy subject matter included in “The Screwtape Letters”
Summary: An essay about C.S. Lewis’s classic “The Screwtape Letters”.
There is such a thing as evil. Unfortunately, too many times we want to ignore it or hope it is not a common occurrence. Despite the fact that there is more good than bad in the world, the evil is still there and doesn’t disappear simply because we wish it. One of the ways we may be enlightened as to how the agents of evil work can be found in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Within the pages of The Screwtape Letters, Lewis weaves the lies and manipulations of Screwtape (an experienced devil) into a hypnotizing and terrifying reality. He states in the preface, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors…” (3) Lewis’ book seeks to bring a balance into how society should view devils.
Despite the fact that Satan is not the main antagonist in this book, his agent, the devil Screwtape, shares the views of Satan with his nephew, a young devil named Wormwood. From the first moment we read Screwtape’s letters to his nephew, we see devils are subtle. They do not rely on large, flashy moments when humans can fall to temptations; rather, they prey upon the individual weaknesses and fleeting thoughts that pass through our minds. The devil’s main goal is to slowly wear down their assigned patient, wanting to stay as invisible as possible. If their patient attends church, they will play on the moments when their patient is distracted by a churchgoer’s clothing and plant the seeds of judgement. Lewis also reminds us of the fact that we each have buttons which can be easily pushed and cause tension; this opens the door to anger. Screwtape mentions, “When two humans have lived together for many years, it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other” (17). These small, fleeting moments are the moments when devils strike, pouncing on the almost imperceptible times of pride we would dismiss as mere lapses of goodness.
Lewis argues between the lines that we should never simply dismiss a moment of weakness. As humans, we are subject to frailty in our wills, but that should fuel us to combat it by striving for holiness. As Screwtape advises Wormwood, “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys” (39). It is within those times of frustration, anxiety, and pain that, when we choose life over death, the enemy loses his grip on us. Lewis understood the constant battle evil wages against humanity, and his desire was for us to acknowledge the fact and look it in the eye.
The quote from the Preface showcases one of the greatest hardships known to man, and that is how to recognize the inner workings of evil in our lives. While Lewis is not saying each of us has been assigned a devil by Satan, he is saying it is all too easy to completely ignore or obsess about evil. Satan and his minions work hard to blend into the background in order to achieve their victories. If only we understood what it meant to beat these devils at their own game! When we see the activity of devils in our lives and demand they leave us, their power fades. As Screwtape laments, “You have let a soul slip through your fingers. The howl of sharpened famine for that loss reechoes at this moment through all the levels of the Kingdom of Noise down to the very Throne itself” (146). Imagine if every person on Earth turned the tables on these creatures of darkness and sent them back to the depths of that Kingdom of Noise. There would not simply be a “howl of sharpened famine” but a cacophony of writhing shadows. Lewis begs us to not ignore the devil inside but to wield power over it and cast it back to where it belongs.