Friday, July 15, 2011

Retro Friday Review: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie of Angieville and "focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc."

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Publisher: various (HarperCollins for this particular iteration)
Publication date: 1942
ISBN: 9780060652890
Source: Library (for book group)

The Screwtape Letters: With Screwtape Proposes a Toast

In a series of letters from Screwtape, a devil of some status, to his nephew Wormwood, a underdevil, we learn about the machinations of tempters.  Screwtape offers practical as well as philosophical advice to his nephew on how best to tempt the male human he has been put in charge of. 

Things I Liked:
I love the sly and yet meaningful things that Screwtape says.  We read this for our book club and everyone enjoyed the humorous aspect of reversing the view we normally have about Heaven and Hell.  What I found most impressive about this, though, was how subtly it portrays the temptations we fall into.  It rang true that many of us who consider ourselves Christian are more susceptible to small and unobtrusive sins.  I found myself realizing (again) how many of these things I fall prey to and how they lead me towards doing wrong or just not doing right.  An interesting look at Christianity and living a good life from the perspective of one who wants to prevent that.  Some favorites:

Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman.  The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour.  It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learn Greek.  It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together.  In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspirations to laborious doing.  p 7
At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and whatever their bodies do affects their souls.  It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.  p 16
Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to this fact?  All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility.  Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, 'By jove!  I'm being humble', and almost immediately pride - pride at his own humility - will appear.  p 69
A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others.  As a result, a woman who is quite far gone in the enemy's service will make a nuisance of herself on a larger scale than any man except those whom Our Father has dominated completely; and conversely, a man will live long in the Enemy's camp before he undertakes as much spontaneous work to please others as a quite ordinary woman may do every day.  Thus while the woman things of doing good offices and the man of respecting other people's rights, each sex, without any obvious unreason, can and does regard the other as radically selfish.  p 142
The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather.  You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere.  The routine of adversity, the gradual decay od youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it - all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.  p 155
Things I Didn't Like:
There were a few members of the club who felt like they didn't want to continue reading because it made them feel guilty.  It can, like many religious books, make us painfully aware of our shortcomings, though I think it does better than many in not sounding as preachy or as depressing.  Also, Lewis is a lot more philosophical and abstract than I can understand.  Sometimes, he would talk about things and I would become very lost in my understanding.  Still, when he would return to something I understood, I always learned something about myself or others.  

Probably anything nonfiction by C.S. Lewis

s-factor: none

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: none

Overall rating: ****

What's your favorite Lewis book?

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