Screwtape Letters, by Richard Platt
C.S. Lewis Society of California Bay Area Book Club, September 23 and 27
Notes prepared by Robert E. Brylawski
Introduction to the main characters, Slashreap and Scardigger, younger brother and cousin
respectively to Screwtape and Wormwood, assigned to the American Sector.
Review of the Seven Demonic Virtues, 4 earthly, 3 spiritual—parody on the 4 cardinal virtues
and the 3 theological virtues (outlined in Mere Christianity).
Introduction to the client: female postgraduate in English department of a prestigious university
(hotbed of arrogance, spiritual erosion, social vanity). Critique of current trends, including
infection by scientific methodology of 19th Century German Universities, focus on literary
criticism yielding jargon instead of disciplined study of the historical corpus, rise of
Deconstructionism and focus on response
Prosperity is more favorable to the devils’ work versus being meek and poor. The Devil offers
“Nothing”. Danger of contrition. Case study of Itchgrit’s client (the industrialist and his little
son) to remind need for vigilance.
Discussion of “First Principles” involving the role of pain and suffering in the human’s world,
the world as dress rehearsal, the real show is on the other side—a truth to be hidden from clients.
Economy and intentionality of Adversary’s world, in which He submitted to death by torture.
Introduction of the client’s aunt, a Lewis reader (living her whole life with good literature) and
wise, old servant of the Adversary. She puncture’s the client’s vanity and pride by her honest
critique of the client’s dissertation.
Encounter with the gardener, opening the client’s receptivity to the world’s beauty that she had
been overlooking for too long.
First Principles 2.0: deflect clients from Adversary’s direction of pushing. Adversary’s world is
uncomfortable, distract clients with lure of happiness turned inward, encouraged by charlatans to
misdirect away from gratitude, genuine prayer and into increasing despair. Speculation on
Adversary’s ideal world, Chesterton’s remark about Adversary’s instructions being found
difficult and not tried. Humans don’t see the whole picture as lit by the Light of Grace and
What do you think of the author’s portrayal of contemporary female sexuality? What role (if
any) does vanity, provocation, competitiveness for scarce resources, “sexual equality” and
imitation of male promiscuity play in motivate current female sexual behavior? Is atheism today
really “provocative” or is sloth and socialization/indoctrination more common as motivators
towards atheism? How successful have been the devil’s efforts to “eliminate the concept of
sexual union as sacramental and holy, and with it the destruction of fertile, monogamous, and
mutually beneficial marriages”?
Technology as two-edged sword. The technological imperative versus moral judgment. Malign
influences of television.
The University: corruption from locus of Fellowship to a hotbed of competition and jealousies,
growing out of the long-inculcated desire for approval and approbation and perpetual grading
rooted on the desire for recognition which is the antithesis of God’s purposes: “Perfect service to
Him creates, ultimately, a mindset which is indifferent to recognition. The central point is not
who has done Good Work, but that Good Work has been done”. The destructive potential of
“peer review” turning into mutual back scratching, with success based more on perception than
on reality. Apotheosis of “original” work—versus work as adding to a corpus of historical effort
(c.f. Hippocrates “Life is short but the Art is long”). Allusion to ownership (c.f. The Great
Political correctness as distortion of reality: characterized by “not calling anything by its rightful
name” and muzzling “dissenting voices of those who will not be deceived”. Manipulation of
virtues such as empathy, gratitude to evoke guilt and thereby gain power (example of “cripples”).
Imposed characterization of homosexuality as “Valid Alternative Lifestyle” and the corruptions
in relationships that results, turning tolerance into a demand first for acceptance and then for
approval—and finally creating a new “unconditional truth”. Political correctness creates division
in the church, elevates Spiritual Pride and subverts prayer and forgiveness (receiving and
accepting). Last paragraph is excellent coda: “Political correctness gives us the
advantage…reducing the issues of spiritual life and death to semantics, etymology, and
The Aunt, alas! Client moves in with aunt to assist her and thus subject to her influence. Creation
and sub-creation—ordering one’s thoughts accordingly; gratitude for what has been given by the
Creator, growing intimacy with God and purifying through the process of sub-creation.
Now the client is in a Bible Study group (a consequence of Scardagger’s disdain for religious
believers as silly and ignorant). The Pharasee, the enthusiast, the irritable old bachelor—how true
are these portrayals? Slashreap’s explanation of the Gospel message and rejection of it as
foolishness (c.f. I Cor 1:18+).
Visit to the art museum: client’s laughing at preposterousness of examples of modern “art”. The
triumph of the Subjective over the Objective. Disabling of art’s function to elevate and uplift the
human soul by the Big Lie. Intimidation of “clear-sighted humans” who acquire taste and judge
by objective standards.
Tripped up by a squirrel: the client meets the scientist when both took their eyes off themselves,
mediated by observing nature, and start to see each other as they really are, having evaded the
The client and scientist take a stroll down Addison’s Walk, leading to Slashreap’s agonized
retelling of the conversion of C.S. Lewis. The moral: “never allow your client even a moment of
innocuous merriment,” employ distraction from the now lest the human learns the revolting habit
of seeing beauty in the Commonplace and the Everyday, which draws them to see the Creator
through seeing Creation.
Slashreap evades Scardagger’s curveball (so to speak)—reminder of the climate of Hellish
society. Panegyric to competition: its diabolical economy, focus on scarcity, turning away from
“liberal education” to pursuit of profit as highest good (How true is this dichotomy?), diversion
from the Eternal by the worldly.
No such thing as Chance, in His Creation, “all is presented for a reason”. “Reviewing the
situation” (c.f. Fagan in Oliver)—progression of prior events, plus bachelor developing a
warming relationship with the aunt, a healthy man-women interaction for the client to witness.
The aunt diagnosed with cancer, giving the client the opportunity to see the face of genuine Faith
and the prospect of observing spiritual beauty emerging through the aunt’s travails.
Technology trends: the internet, the Virtual Community, Reality Television, cellular phone and
their usefulness to Hell.
Growing influence of the client on the Bible study group, the scientist has started coming with
his skeptical mind, signs that the warmth between the two may soon blossom into Love. The
scientist starts to recognize limits on empirical evidence and the ultimate futility of seeking for
mathematical certainty. Approaching decision for the scientist regarding a Leap of Faith—the
chasm behind as well as the one before, not to decide is to decide against.
Aunt’s advancing cancer defers the progress towards marriage between the client and the
scientist. Family history of the scientist, adversity of a disengaged father, mother’s love, embrace
of loyalty and straight talk, a strong foundation for successful marriage. Moral: “just as we can
bend pleasure to our purpose, so can He bend pain to His”. Postscript: the scientist has bought a
ring with the intention to propose marriage to the client.
Petitionary prayer in the face of pain, how the aunt’s advancing cancer will refine the faith of
her, the client, and the bachelor, temptation to focus on poor ol’ me and my loss rather than
God’s promises and provision.
Competition and back stabbing between tempters: the minx and the client go their separate ways.
Sexual revolution focus attention of the human form, turning a woman’s beauty into a spiritual
burden, overdependence on attracting male interest through their bodies, which later on as they
age can turn inwards into increasing anxiety, insecurity, resentment, and if unchecked—hatred.
Humor deflates puffed up pride.
Hellish perspective regarding love and its indecipherability, even as He says it is quite simple.
“Love one another” is not romantic love, not primarily a feeling, but a duty and a choice, to
apply the principle of self-love to each other’s good. Hell cannot comprehend “love” beyond
The aunt dies in faith, the heavenly flash and apprehension of the failed tempter. The bachelor’s
extreme grief takes the client’s mind off herself and helps the two bond over their shared
memories of the aunt. Grief as an agent to clarify the human mind, intensifying the reality of
Love and focusing their mind on death and the need to prepare for what is beyond. The fact that
“in grief, as in any other deeply felt emotion, they are profoundly awake and alive”. Slashreap
momentarily entertains the heresy that Love is not delusion but truth, but swiftly dismisses it (c.f.
King Agrippa “almost converted” in Acts 26:28).
The client reaches a crossroads, whether to accept the scientist’s marriage proposal, and whether
to accept a position at the university (which has long been her intent) or teaching literacy to
intellectually limited children. In this hour, she seeks counsel with the gardener, who turns out to
be a good listener and a fount of wisdom about marriage and her career choice (p. 166).
The client falls ill in new grief, and in bed she has a numinous encounter with her aunt and a link
to the land of music and silence (c.f. Screwtape’s paean to noise in The Screwtape Letters)
inhabited by the Adversary and his Servants, experience of awe. Her aunt speaks that all is well
and that she will be with the client always. Meanwhile, Scardagger experience fear and pain
from the brush with the divine presence. The client experiences real joy, probably for the first
time in her life, as her aunt bestowed on her a transformation of faith, the protection of divine
grace, and knowledge that He is there. Failure for Scardagger with the expectation that he will be
Scardagger so far has evaded Infernal Security. Slashreap exalts in the extraordinary honor by
His Infernal Majesty of being given “a once-in-a-millennium Special Emergency Mission, Top
Secret” commission that is puzzling to Slashreap but which the author telegraphs to the reader as
a mission to Narnia.2
What in French would be called a bouleversement: a letter from “Driptweak” to Scardagger
informs the reader that the commission was a forgery and a trap for Slashreap. Balancing the
criminality of Slashreap’s theft/forgery versus the diabolical cleverness, the Infernal Majesty
promotes Slashreap to a professorship (no escape from the university—is this an ironic
punishment?) accompanied with grave warnings and the leftover reject scraps of Scardagger
(shades of the “horse’s head in the bed” scene from The Godfather!).
Scardagger gives tribute to Screwtape, who remains unnamed. And by extension, this is the
author’s tribute to C.S. Lewis.
1 In retrospect, does Letter XXVI represent a final effort by God, reaching down even into Hell, to take Slashreap
past the suffocating barrier and encompass him for a moment within his protection to offer him his grace and
salvation? (c.f. The Harrowing of Hell). 2 How would you compare the diabolical character of Slashreap that we encounter in these letters with Lewis’
portrayal of Screwtape? Who is better able to explicate the Adversary’s position? Who provides more useful
guidance on how to combat the Adversary? Who shows more endurance or determination in the face of setbacks?
How reliable or accurate is Slashreap’s portrayal of Scardagger in his letters? If you were to assess Slashreap’s
mentoring of Scardagger, what grade would you give him? 3 Read over the excerpt from C. S. Lewis’s “Preface to the Screwtape Letters” that follows on the next page, paying
particular attention as to how Lewis symbolizes Hell (“something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices