by Devin Brown - “My dear Wormwood,” begins one of C. S. Lewis’s most unusual and most successful works: The Screwtape Letters. On May 2, 1941, British readers opened The Guardian, a weekly Anglican religious newspaper, to find the first in a series of thirty-one strange letters that would arrive in weekly installments, claiming to have been written by a senior devil named Screwtape to his nephew, a novice tempter named Wormwood.
When the entire collection was published in Britain in 1942 and in the states a year later, The Screwtape Letters became, as Alan Jacobs notes, Lewis’s “first truly popular book.” It would propel Lewis to international fame and eventually put him on the September 8, 1947 cover of Time magazine, where Lewis was pictured with a little devil on one shoulder and an angel’s wing over the other.
The origins for the series of devilish epistles can be found in a letter which Lewis wrote to his brother Warnie dated July 20, 1940. In it Lewis writes:
I have been to Church for the first time for many weeks owing to the illness…. Before the service was over—one could wish these things came more seasonably—I was stuck by an idea for a book which I think might be both useful and entertaining. It would 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 would be to give all the psychology of temptation from the other point of view.