Wednesday, August 6, 2008

As One Devil to Another: The Origins of Screwtape

Here's a brief excerpt from my forthcoming book, Inside The Screwtape Letters (Baker Books), which will probably be released next year as we await the release of The Screwtape Letters movie ...

Three words changed the face of creative Christian literature forever, leaving an indelible mark on everyone who has encountered them: "My dear Wormwood." With this greeting, C.S. Lewis masterfully began The Screwtape Letters, a classic book that in many ways defied traditional approaches to Christian writing, offering profound insights into human nature through a diabolical correspondence. Each of the thirty-one letters features the advice of a senior devil, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood, a "junior" tempter seeking to capture the soul of a young man. Though obviously fictional in its setting, The Screwtape Letters nevertheless contain realistic insights, albeit from an inverted or reversed perspective.

The first edition of The Screwtape Letters, published in the United Kingdom in 1942, featured a plain cover, particularly by today's standards. The title appeared at the top, followed by the author's name, noting Lewis's professional title: "Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford." Beneath this information appeared a simple rectangular box, the contents of which read,
A new book by the author of "THE PROBLEM OF PAIN" one of the most widely read and discussed books of recent years.

But before Screwtape became a book, Lewis obviously conceived the idea, then later sold the series to a weekly Anglican newspaper called The Guardian. Fortunately, being an avid letter writer, Lewis recorded his initial ideas for what would become Screwtape in a letter to his older brother, Warren, dated 20 July 1940.

Lewis prefaces his description of his new idea by noting that he had missed church for some weeks due to illness. He then mentions, "Blanchette preached, not very profitably," referring to Reverend Arthur Blanchette (1909-86), curate of the church Lewis attended: Holy Trinity, Headington Quarry.

Lewis then explained that prior to the end of the service, "I was struck by an idea for a book wh. I think might be both useful and entertaining. It wd. 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 wd. be to give all the psychology of temptation from the other point of view."

This description clearly illustrates what would become The Screwtape Letters, noting key elements such as 1) the basic structure (letters), 2) characters (two devils), 3) the human "patient," 4) the psychological approach to temptation, and 5) the inverted perspective. In the letter Lewis goes on to describe how his idea might be implemented after "undermining ... faith in prayer" then warning the young devil to avoid the use of argumentation—both approaches later realized in the published Screwtape letters (Letters I, IV, and XXVII).

Copyright © 2008 by Robert Velarde. All rights reserved.


Karla said...

There is going to be a Screwtape Letter's movie!? Is this a low budget thing or a big budget thing?

Robert Velarde said...

Yes, a Screwtape motion picture was announced early last year. Walden Media is working with Ralph Winter Productions on the film. The script is still in development. It would be a big budget film, as Walden also worked closely on the Narnia movies. Last I heard they were thinking of setting it in a modern office building.

Karla said...

Awesome, I just read your post about it too. I look forward to seeing it when it hits the big screen. I hope they do it well.