C.S. Lewis was sitting in church during a particularly long sermon when he suddenly stumbled onto an idea. What if the devil revealed all of his malevolent strategies? What if parishioners were made aware of their faults not through their own eyes or scripture, but through the lens of the enemy? Lewis wrote to his brother Warren (“Warnie”) on July 20, 1940:
Before the service was over – one c[oul]d wished these thing came more seasonably – I was struck by an idea for a book wh[ich] I think might be both useful and entertaining. It w[oul]d be called As one Devil to Another and would consist of letters from an elderly retired devil to a young devil who has just started work on his first ‘patient’. The idea w[oul]d be to give all the psychology of temptation from the other point of view. e.g. ‘About undermining his faith in prayer, I don’t think you need have any difficulty with his intellect, provided you never say the wrong thing at the wrong moment. After all, the Enemy will either answer his prayers or not. If he does not, then that’s simply – it shows prayers are no good. If He does – I’ve always found that, oddly enough, this can be just as easily utilized. It needs only a word from you to make him believe that the very fact of feeling more patient after he’s prayed for patience will be taken as proof that prayer is a kind of self-hypnosis. Or if it is answered by some external event, then since that event will have causes which you can point to, he can be persuaded that it would have happened anyway. You see the idea? Prayer can always be discredited either because it works or it doesn’t’ (Collected Letters, Vol. 2, 426-427).
Starting in May of 1940, Lewis began publishing these satirical letters weekly in U.K. publication The Guardian. In 1942, the entire collection appeared as The Screwtape Letters in hardback edition. The following year, it was released in America to great acclaim. Indeed, the publication was so popular that it earned Lewis a cover story in Time Magazine (September 8, 1947). The Screwtape Letters introduced many Americans to this Oxford don who would go on to write a popular children’s series (The Chronicles of Narnia) that would make him a household name on both sides of the pond.
Cover courtesy of Time Magazine
The letters are an interesting mix of theology and psychology. Like other Lewis works, this epistolary book is richly layered with philosophical and practical perspectives. To help others dive deeper into a devil’s devious mind, scholar William O’Flaherty has assembled all things Screwtape in his new book C.S. Lewis Goes to Hell: A Companion and Study Guide to The Screwtape Letters (Winged Lion Press). Many may recognize O’Flaherty for his fine work at essentialcslewis.com and for his podcast: All About Jack. For the past five years, O’Flaherty has interviewed many scholars and fans about various aspects of Lewis’s life and writings. He is a worthy tour guide through all 31 letters and his book provides many opportunities for learning, reflection, and discussion.
Photo courtesy of Winged Lion Press
One of the many helpful aspects about this guide is the topical glossary that O’Flaherty has carefully indexed and organized on many topics covered in The Screwtape Letters and the follow-up work “Screwtape Proposes a Toast.” The glossary also draws reference to various letters which explore the topics discussed. Topics are alphabetized in an easy-to-use fashion. Parts Two and Three include a flexible study guide (for individual and group study) as well as an extended summary of key topics. These are nicely arranged by letter in chronological order so readers can follow along in their personal copies of Screwtape. O’Flaherty also includes a list of suggested answers for all questions in the study guide. For those who wish to establish a weekly approach, O’Flaherty generously provides a 13-week suggested reading guide in the introductory notes to help individuals (or groups) organize a successful study.
As a special treat, O’Flaherty has several appendices which highlight interesting and notable facts about The Screwtape Letters. Special additions include several small articles covering many aspects of Lewis and Screwtape, as well as additional investigations into the Devil’s “best tool” of keeping things out of the mind, letters detailing “God’s Love,” and even an original piece composed by O’Flaherty in the style of Screwtape!
This guide is helpful, accessible, and enlightening. I would recommend it for anyone who wishes to indulge a deeper understanding of The Screwtape Letters. For years to come, scholars and fans alike will return to O’Flaherty’s comprehensive study guide for instruction, for nourishment, and for pleasure.
To purchase, click C.S. Lewis Goes to Hell.