These creatures are always accusing one another of wanting "to eat the cake and have it"; but thanks to our labours they are more often in the predicament of paying for the cake and not eating it.
A Epistolary Novel by C. S. Lewis in which a more experienced devil named Screwtape writes a series of letters to a younger devil named Wormwood on how to successfully tempt a man, referred to only as "The Patient." Intending the book as a fairly humorous work, Lewis's goals included both reflections on the nature of evil and an effort to create a different portrayal of the Devil than the sort normally seen in pop culture. Screwtape has practically No Sense of Humor himself, and comes across as a sort of cranky cosmic killjoy. At one point, this devil even goes so far as to complain that the music in Heaven is getting on his nerves — even though he can't hear it, the very thought that they're making music at all hours bothers him (he'd prefer some nice ugly noise instead). Heaven is a nonstop hootenanny "where all that is not silence is music". Screwy's not the sort of devil who would be very much fun at a party, which is pretty much the point of the book.In the introduction, Professor Lewis comments that while looking through the modern world to find an appropriate symbol of evil, he felt that Hell should have a bureaucracy, one combining the worst elements of a police state and a crooked, greedy, money-hemorrhaging business, to make it better resemble some of the most damaging institutions of his time. Screwtape is a member of Hell's vast middle management, at one time listing a long, pretentious title at the end of one of his letters.C.S. Lewis also wrote a sequel short story, "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" (which is included in many reprints of The Screwtape Letters), presented as a post-banquet speech Screwtape offers to a graduating class of the Tempter's College.
This book provides examples of:
Adaptation Distillation: The stage adaptation by Max Mclean, understandably, had to leave out the part where Screwtape accidentally transforms himself into a large centipede, and his secretary Toadpipe is forced to finish the letter. On the other hand...
And I Must Scream: In "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," we learn that evil religious zealots are punished by being made into blended wine — those who hated each other the most make the best vintages when combined.
Anti-Advice: On a meta level. The reader is expected to read Screwtape's advice and recognise when their own inner devil is following it.
Affably Evil: Averted. Significant in that most authors would have gone this route, but Lewis is careful to make sure that Screwtape just seems like a pill.
Ascended Extra: Wormwood in the Focus On The Family radio adaptation. Because he interacts with his uncle in person rather than by letters, we actually hear his side of the conversation (because of this, the adaptation was originally just called Screwtape).
Bad Boss: Screwtape. Tends to act as unforgiving as Hell (literally) when Wormwood makes mistakes.
Bad is Good and Good is Bad: The whole premise of devils looking at God the way humans would view Satan, as well as the use of words like Lowerarchy.
On the other hand, devils find that persons without much moral fiber, while easier to drag to Hell, make tasteless and disappointing meals. Potential saints make the best sinners, but (as Screwtape complains), virtues like courage and patience aren't naturally on Hell's side and must be perverted before they can be useful.
Being Evil Sucks: Good demonic style means luring a soul into corruption without actually giving anything in return. None of the demons seem particularly happy either. Screwtape in particular seems to be a completely miserable old grump who's totally commited to his crappy job.
Boring but Practical: In "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," Screwtape comments that while tempting souls away with the belief that life is just fine without God may not produce the kinds of tasty cuisine he used to get with truly evil people, but nobody has to worry about starving.
Presumably, bureaucracy itself is a hellish parody of freely-given love, respect, and obedience in Heaven.
The Chessmaster: Screwtape is a very good one, but there's even more talented Chessmasters in the lower levels of Hell (including the Man himself). And quite a few Chessmasters on the other side, too, so that Earth is pretty much one big Gambit Pileup.
Comically Missing the Point: Screwtape commits any number of examples, most notably with love, which he seems to think is defined as "one person's good being another person's good", and which he is convinced (though he contradicts himself on the matter) does not really exist and instead is only a cover beings have for selfish motives. At one point he alludes to the other side admitting that if the demons ever came to understand what love is then the war would be over and the demons would re-enter heaven, and says that this confirms that God's throne rests upon the secret.
The Comically Serious: Many of the most amusing passages stem from the fact that Screwtape has absolutely no sense of humor. He's particularly enraged that the Patient's girlfriend is the kind of person who would find him funny.
Earth leans toward this too thanks to the work of the demons, especially since the Earthly setting is England during World War II.
Creator Backlash: A relatively mild example. Lewis said in the foreword of later editions that while Screwtape was one of the easiest things he ever wrote, it was also the least enjoyable. As he put it, it caused a kind of moral cramp, forcing himself into a demonic mindset. He also resented it for not being something he felt he wasn't skilled enough to write - Screwtape's advice balanced by angelic advice from Heaven. For these reasons, he never wrote a sequel, though he did write a toast (a scathing criticism of the American educational system at the time and its resulting Tall Poppy Syndrome) in Screwtape's voice.
Deal with the Devil: Defied. The Low Command have actually put a stop to Faustian bargains, as the whole thing was starting to undermine their atheism campaign. The devils appear to make similar sorts of bargains with each other, however.
Devil but No God: Meta version — C. S. Lewis admitted that there should have been a counterpart volume with the Patient's guardian angel receiving counter-advice from an archangel, but he didn't think he was talented enough to write it nor his audiences capable enough of believing it.
Mere advice would be no good; every sentence would have to smell of Heaven. And nowadays even if you could write prose like Traherne's, you wouldn't be allowed to... At bottom, every ideal of style dictates not only how we may say things, but what sort of things we may say.
The letters do often make mention of "The enemy" and Screwtape even gives pointers to Wormwood on how to undermine them.
Earn Your Happy Ending: The "Patient" takes every temptation Screwtape and Wormwood throw at him, almost turns away from the good side, but makes his way back only to be killed in a bomb blast and wind up in Heaven after all. Due to the Perspective Flip, this is seen as a bad thing.
Enemy Civil War: Devils are too evil to really be on friendly terms with each other.
Epistolary Novel: The book is a series of letters from Screwtape to his nephew and protégé Wormwood.
Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Hell actually has a division of their research department trying to do this. They haven't made any progress in millennia.
The Enemy has apparently made it clear to them that if the populace of Hell could begin to understand the concept of "love", then the war against Heaven would be ended. Screwtape misinterprets this as the key to outmanoeuvring The Enemy — and thus retaking Heaven by force.
Evil Feels Good: Inverted. It appears that the deeper one goes into sin, the less fun it becomes.
Evil Is One Big Happy Family: Averted. Hell runs on fear and hatred, after all. Screwtape's last letter is full of Evil Gloating about how he and Wormwood truly loved each other — the way a hungry man loves a meal.
Evil Is Petty: Screwtape's preferred method of damning souls is to encourage consistent patterns of petty vice rather than great sins that are easily repented. It doesn't make for exceptionally fine meals, but it leads to a steady flow of souls Hellward.
Evil Plan: Screwtape tries to teach Wormwood how to pull this off, but Wormwood is something of a slow learner.
Evil Tastes Good: Every devil appears to be something of a gourmet when it comes to eating the souls of humans and their fellow devils; the eviler souls taste better than a mediocre sinner.
Follow the Leader: Several Christian writers have copied Lewis's conceit of an Epistolary Novel by The Devil to deliver their own Author Tracts, with examples including Screwtape Writes Again by Walter Martin, To My Dear Slimeball by Rich Miller, and Lord Foulgrin's Letters and its sequel The Ishbane Conspiracy by Randy Alcorn. Let's just say that none of them has come anywhere close to the success of the original.
God: The narrator, of course, thinks God is the Big Bad and calls him The Enemy.
He also throws out the possibility that God may not even love us, and has other, probably less holy reasons why He created us in the first place. Of course, Screwtape's problem is that he's a devil — he can only understand things that are done for less-holy reasons. Sheer altruism like The Enemy's is not only absurd but impossible, as far as he can tell — God must have some ultimately selfish reason for creating human beings.
Good Angel, Bad Angel: A very in-depth example, as Lewis gives us a view about what actually motivates the little devil to whisper suggestions in The Patient's ear. Subverted as well, as the standard cartoony image of devils (with pronged tails and cloven hooves, etc.) is explicitly Jossed by Screwtape; he calls it one way devils keep humans from thinking of them as dangerous.
Good Feels Good: One of Screwtape's complaint is that Earthly pleasures come from the Enemy, and they have to be twisted before they are of any use to Hell.
Holier Than Thou: Described by Screwtape as "the strongest and most beautiful of the vices".
Horny Devils: Inverted. Screwtape describes sexual temptation as a subject "of considerable tedium" and wastes no paper discussing it, as both he and Wormwood already know all there is to know about the methods in question.
I'm a Humanitarian: Damned souls and failed Tempters are devoured by the devils. It's strongly implied that Screwtape eats Wormwood at the end, as punishment for his failure.
Insane Troll Logic: Screwtape and the rest of the devils run on this. Screwtape reasons that, since there's no such thing as selfless love, when God claims to love people unselfishly, He must really be getting something from them, although nobody's ever been able to figure out what.
Screwtape also discusses Insane Troll Logic as a good method of tempting people, or rather of keeping undesirable ideas out of their heads. After all, it's the devils' job to fuddle them, not to teach them how to think. Get them too used to reasoning, and what happens if they come across a reasonable argument for God?
In With the In Crowd: Wormwood gets the patient caught in this for a while, but botches it and the trope plays out fully, complete with An Aesop.
Involuntary Shapeshifting: As described in that page's quote, at one point Screwtape gets so emotionally up that he accidentally transforms into a centipede.
Knight in Sour Armor: Screwtape warns Wormwood of the dangers of this type of person. "Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
This is also a reference to Jesus' words and actions on the cross.
Large Ham: Screwtape, as awesomely voiced by Andy Serkis in the Focus on the Family radio adaptation.
Also John Cleese's audiobook portrayal.
Laughably Evil: Screwtape. Sort of. It's funny just what a grump he is. One of his complaints about the Patient's new love is that she's "the sort who would find ME funny!"
He also discusses how making the devil Laughably Evil actually helps the demons' cause; at one point Screwtape advises Wormwood to direct the client to the stereotypical 20th-century devil image with the red tights, pointy tail, and pitchfork, so that he can't possibly take the idea of devils and Hell seriously.
Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Screwtape Proposes a Toast is a harsh criticism of the American educational system's Tall Poppy Syndrome at the time of writing - except in the narrative Screwtape says it's the British educational system. Lewis admits in the introduction that he did this because he didn't think Americans would take kindly to a Brit criticizing their schools.
Loose Lips: Eventually, Screwtape is punished by his superiors for trying to help Wormwood by telling him a secret that they did not want getting out: that God has genuine love for humanity. Unfortunately, despite the painful punshment, it fails to work. After weeks of trying to help Wormwold find a licentious woman for the Patient, the Patient instead finds true love with a Christian woman, resulting in Screwtape flying into rage and accidentally turning himself into a giant centipede.
Magnificent Bastard: Invoked. Screwtape is actually disappointed that Hell cannot produce virtues; because some virtues are required to be really evil.
Miles Gloriosus: Averted. Even Screwtape has a low opinion of the uses of this particular vice.
At one time or another we have been able to turn every other sin into a source of pride for humans. We have never yet found a way to make them proud of cowardice.
invokedMoral Event Horizon: Subverted; Screwtape often argues that the task of making the patient an unrepentant sinner is usually best accomplished without any kind of spectacularly evil act on the patient's part. Spectacular evils tend to bring repentance or at least an awareness of consequences. What one wants is a gradual accumulation of sins as tiny as snowflakes, slowly accumulating, until their total weight is immovable.
Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Demonic names include Screwtape, Wormwood, Scabtree, Triptweeze, Toadpipe, and Slubgob. Most of them follow the pattern two unpleasant nouns (or other single sounds) pushed together.
Lewis lampshades this in the introduction, saying he designed the names specifically to sound horrible.
And of course there's the other unpleasant compound whose second syllable is tape: "red tape." Considering Screwtape's position in the Lowerarchy, this was probably an intentional joke on Lewis's part. He even says in the introduction that red tape and tapeworm probably subconsciously influenced the choice of name.
Wormwood, specifically, comes from the Bible, and is the name of an extremely bitter herb. In Revelation, Wormwood is a star that falls to Earth and poisons one third of the Earth's waters.
No Name Given: Several human characters—most notably The Patient—are referred to by titles, rather than by their names.
Which implies that devils don't bother seeing humanity as individuals and instead see them as what they are (as opposed to who).
Nostalgia Filter: One of the devils' tools in deceiving humans. Screwtape uses the Patient's mother as an example. She's always complaining about how, "Good help is so hard to find these days," when what she's really lamenting for is the time in her youth when she was less critical.
Our Better is Different: All demons strive for lower social position, in hopes of ingratiating themselves with their Father Below.
The most obvious pun in the book is hierarchy/Lowerarchy, but there's a more complex bit of wordplay in the sequel essay, Screwtape Proposes A Toast: "Your Imminence, Your Disgraces, My Thorns, shadies and gentledevils..."
Our Demons are Different: The whole book is a deliberate attempt to create a new set of symbolism for demons. We don't actually know what they look like, though it's implied they can take any shape they want, anyway. The emphasis is more on their organization. This is even lampshaded once when Screwtape encourages Wormwood to make the Patient think of the stereotypical red devil with horns and a tail to keep the Patient from taking him seriously.
It's also implied they must take different forms from time to time, and that emotion instigates the process, resulting in a Crowning Moment of Funny when Screwtape has to dictate the end of one letter, his anger having transformed him into a giant centipede.
There's another way to read that transformation. Note how Screwtape, after admitting he has been transformed, says God (ie The Enemy) is most certainly NOT responsible for doing this to him - this could be a Suspiciously Specific Denial.
Pride: One of the vices to which Wormwood is advised to tempt the Patient. Screwtape's strategy is devious: Wormwood can simply draw the Patient's attention to his recent spiritual improvement, making him proud of his own humility. And should the Patient realize this mistake, Wormwood can make him proud of catching himself before it was too late, and so on and so on — but not too long, lest the Patient simply laugh the whole thing off as absurd.
Rage Against the Heavens: At one point, the Patient falls in love with a devout Christian. Screwtape moves from tearing Wormwood a new 'un to outright ranting and raving about the unfairness of Heaven's advantages over Hell — all earthly pleasures are The Enemy's inventions (because He's a vulgar hedonist at heart, according to Screwtape) and have to be perverted in order for them to be useful to the devils. He gets so upset, in fact, that he accidentally turns himself into an enormous centipede.
Satan: Called "Our Father Below" by his overlings.
Science Is Bad: A pointed subversion in the first letter. Humans are best kept away from science entirely, especially the natural sciences, because those instill wonder and perspective. The best sort of human never goes beyond the immediate sense experience. Reason as a whole is an awful way of causing humans to sin, because rational arguments are open to rational counterarguments. Insane Troll Logic works much better.
Secret Police: At one point, Wormwood attempts to get back at Screwtape for perpetually berating him, by trying to convince Hell's Secret Police to investigate Screwtape for heresy. It doesn't work: Screwtape manages to cover his tracks by insisting that he didn't mean it when he said the Enemy actually loves human beings.
Screwtape warns Wormwood that further insubordination will not be tolerated by sending him one of the secret police's exquisitely illustrated pamphlets on their House of Correction for Incompetent Tempters. (Of course, at the end of the book it's implied that Wormwood has failed so utterly as to merit immediate execution and cannibalisation.)
Seven Deadly Sins: All of them are discussed at some point, but the concept itself is a bit subverted. Screwtape reminds Wormwood that petty sins are just as effective as deadly ones as long as they keep the Patient's attention off God and his spiritual condition. In fact, getting the Patient to commit a spectacular sin would be counterproductive, as that could make him more likely to say My God, What Have I Done? and repent.
Meanwhile, Bill Watterson explains that he named the teacher in Calvin and Hobbes Miss Wormwood as a shoutout to Lewis.
The Starscream: Not explicit, but it seems that junior tempters are expected to scheme against their elders and that a devil who succeeds in overthrowing his supervisor is showing exactly the kind of ambition that Hell rewards.
Take That: Surprisingly few for a story set in Hell, but there's one not so subtle example directed at Henry Ford. Although if you know much about Ford's personal life (he supported the Nazis' racial ideology, for one thing), it's hard not to agree with Lewis.
Thoreau's description of how he prays (silently, unbowed, with vague feelings as opposed to concrete requests to God) is declared to be "exactly the sort of prayer we want". So in other words, it's the wrong type.
In the play, Screwtape points out how famous people are a "good" influence, since they're always changing their minds... then tilts the book he's reading to reveal that it's a biography of Madonna. Cue "Material Girl" playing during the next set change.
"Screwtape Proposes a Toast" is about Tall Poppy Syndrome and how it helps the Lowerarchy, especially during education. In those days, education wasn't tiered into aptitude levels, forcing the smart kids to stay at the same level as everyone else.
Also in "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," Screwtape mentions a few exemplary sinners such as Casanova and Henry VIII whom the devils found especially tasty. Only one contemporary figure makes the list — naturally enough, it's Adolf Hitler.
Terms of Endangerment: In Screwtape's last few letters, as the Patient slips out of reach, the terms of affection become increasingly effusive. Culminates in this: "My dear, my very dear Wormwood; my poppet, my pigsnie..."
Too Funny to Be Evil: One trope that Screwtape advises deploys; Wormwood can get his patient to commit many sins without realizing it by passing them off as jokes.
To Serve Man: The main reason the devils take an interest in humanity.
Unit Confusion: Screwtape uses lightyears as a unit of time in Letter XXII— though maybe devils and angels reckon such things differently.
If read as taking place within the universe of the Space Trilogy, this is entirely possible.
Unreliable Narrator: Screwtape himself, as Lewis himself cautions in the preface ("Readers are advised to remember that the Devil is a liar...There is wishful thinking in Hell as well as on earth.") But what else would you expect from someone whose boss is the Father of Lies?
invokedValues Dissonance: Addressed and explained with the concept of "Vogues". According to Screwtape, people from differing time periods have had such different values due to the efforts of the demons in manipulating humans to sin. Specifically, the demons get humans to gravitate towards one type of sin in one era, then get the humans to become repulsed by that sin but edged towards a sin on roughly the opposite end of the spectrum in another era. The ideal is to have the society constantly swinging back and forth between dangerous extremes and avoiding a happy medium at all costs.
"The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid 'dens of iniquity' that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps...But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice."
Screwtape advises Wormwood on how to tempt the patient to the sin of gluttony. In a bit of an aversion, Screwtape says that not all gluttony is overeating; what counts is getting the person enslaved to their appetites (even if they only want toast and tea) in such a way that they don't care if they inconvenience others. Or just as good, they might become prideful over their refined tastes.
War Is Hell: Alluded to, but not played straight. Screwtape admits that war has many "useful" qualities, since the vices are easier to spread when people are frightened and desperate. But on the whole he feels that war is too dangerous a tool: it brings out charity, self-denial and courage in people who would never ordinarily have shown such virtues.
We Are Struggling Together: Screwtape gloats over how well they succeeded in causing this in the Church despite the fact that God commanded that every faction show Christian charity to the others.
You Have Failed Me: "Either bring back food, or be food yourself." Rather than a one-time happening, this is standard procedure in Hell. The very last chapter is one long declaration of this.