Have you ever imagined devils as monsters who gobble down souls roasted in a furnace and who find that hard-to-get souls, like the souls of saints, for example, are the best delicacies? And what would you say about a College of Tempters? It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? But that’s not hard at all for the famous Christian apologist and author Clive Staples Lewis.
To recommend a book that is called Letter from a Senior to a Junior Devil might seem dubious or inappropriate, to say the least, especially to Christians. But C.S. Lewis’ book, which carries what sounds like a terrifying title, is neither a treatise on demonology, a blasphemy, nor is it a book intended to initiate the public in the dark secrets of the underworld.
What is it about then? It is no more and no less than a journey into the mysteries of the human soul and a dissection of the psychology of the aspiring or practitioner Christian. But also a humorous (good quality humor!) perspective on everyday Christian life, seen as a constant struggle in which the human soul is the big prize the Good and the Evil are fighting for.
C.S. Lewis, however, reverses the perspective by writing about the spiritual experiences and struggles of the Christian from the point of view of Screwtape, the old devil, whose letters (31 in total) are addressed to Wormwood, a junior devil and a novice in the art of temptation. In this upside-down outlook, Christ is the enemy, and His love is a trick game, and people are, mind my saying, some kind of poor little animals, only good at to be hunted by devils. From Screwtape’s perspective, the true values are exactly what Heaven regards as non-values.
C. S. Lewis resorts to the writing skills of Screwtape, the wicked advisor of the much too naive and inexperienced devil to depict the facets of the weakness of the human soul. He shows the reader the risks of pseudo-Christianity and the traps of self-deception, and describes God's patience and His love for the human being, which from the devil’s perspective are strange, unreasonable and hard to believe facts. This “devil's advocate” game is only yet another way by which Lewis sheds light on the eternal beauty of Christ and of His love for us all.
Reading the devilish epistles one after another, the reader's soul is penetrated down to its darkest corners, blinded and naked in front of an unmerciful mirror. This utterly disturbing introspection brings the reader to a point where he or she feels the urge to turn weapons against the real enemy.
Needless to say, Lewis’ short book is rich in subtleties and references to various authors (in fact, the book is dedicated to another great author and good friend of Lewis’, J.R.R. Tolkien) and to theological and literary works, as we would expect from a great writer such as Lewis.
In the book, Screwtape’s Letters are followed by a text written by Lewis a few years later, called Screwtape Proposes a Toast. Although much shorter, this second text is as witty as the first. Here we find Screwtape, the old devil, delivering the annual commencement speech for the Tempter's Training College for Young Devils.