The first read of the year for me was technically a reread, but this was my first time reading the annotated edition of an old love, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. In another of his works, Lewis wrote, “The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers, ‘I’ve read it already’ to be a conclusive argument against reading a work. Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty, or thirty times during the course of their life.” Based on that, I still have a few more reads of this work in my future.
The Screwtape Letters was first published as a serial in a weekly magazine in 1941. Lewis imagined a series of letters from Screwtape, a senior demon, to his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood has been assigned his first human patient to secure, and his uncle gives him lessons about effective temptation and human nature. Lewis uses Screwtape’s perspective to share interesting insights about what really makes humans tick. Wit and satire make the letters enjoyable to read while presenting a serious analysis of our relationships to God, Satan, and each other.
Although references to “The War” clearly mean World War II, Lewis used no dated examples, and descriptions of “The War” could apply to any war. Wars and vices like envy, vanity, greed, and lust will always exist, so the situations the patient faces are much the same ones that humans face today. In this way, the letters can speak to people of all ages from all walks of life. The fact that the patient is never named lends to that feeling.
An annotated edition of The Screwtape Letters was released in 2013 on the 50th anniversary of Lewis’s death with annotations written by Paul McCusker, director of the Focus on the Family Radio Theater dramatization of The Screwtape Letters with Andy Serkis (Gollum in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy) as Screwtape. As far as I know, this is the only book by C.S. Lewis to have been released with annotations, and I hope it’s not the last. The notes do not attempt to interpret Lewis’s words or add commentary based on Lewis’s biography. These annotations are explanations of literary references and World War II English phrases and pointers to other writings by Lewis on selected topics.
Although I read a lot of ebooks, I would encourage anyone interested in this work to go with the hardcover edition. I’ve yet to see any annotated ebooks that work as well as a physical copy, and this particular hardcover is a beautiful addition to your bookshelf. Each page of the book has two columns of text, with the original text in black in a large font and the annotations in red. This layout is easy to read whether you’re a casual reader or someone who picked this up for a deeper study.
I appreciate Lewis’s insights into spiritual matters and the human heart, and every time I read anything by him, I walk away thinking that he talks about temptation in a way that resonates with me. He wrote of the deepest things from a Christian point of view and explained them in a way that works into my soul. During this reading of the book, I was reminded of several quotes that had been sitting in my brain without sources. I created a few small images to better commit them to my memory, and I thought I’d share one here that I’m currently using as the lock screen on my phone.