The Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape LettersThe Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Publisher: HarperCollins
Number of pages: 176
My copy: ebook, bought from Amazon Kindle Store

The story takes the form of a series of letters from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, a junior “tempter” named Wormwood, so as to advise him on methods of securing the damnation of a British man, known only as “the Patient”.

Screwtape holds an administrative post in the bureaucracy (“Lowerarchy”) of Hell, and acts as a mentor to Wormwood, the inexperienced tempter. In the body of the thirty-one letters which make up the book, Screwtape gives Wormwood detailed advice on various methods of undermining faith and promoting sin in the Patient, interspersed with observations on human nature and Christian doctrine. Wormwood and Screwtape live in a peculiarly morally reversed world, where individual benefit and greed are seen as the greatest good, and neither demon is capable of comprehending or acknowledging true human virtue when he sees it.

* * *

Ah Screwtape. I’ve heard so much about this book but I never got to buy it because the print copy was just too expensive for something so thin. I remember splurging on the ebook instead a couple of months ago, but true to form, it took me a while to read this. I know a Lewis book is never easy reading. What better time to read this one than during the Lenten season, right?

The Screwtape Letters is an epistolary novella that contains the letters of a demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood with detailed advice on how to lead his assignment, a man only named as “the patient” to sin and eventual eternal damnation. In these letters, Screwtape tells Wormwood of particular human weaknesses and how they can exploit it, of religious weaknesses and how to make it their patient’s downfall, of how they’re just not in it for general mischief but snatching human souls from their Enemy.

I was discussing this book with a friend a few days before I finished reading it, and he told me that while he liked the book, he didn’t have the heart to review it because it struck too many familiar chords. I could say the same for me, too. The Screwtape Letters is almost humorous in some ways, especially whenever Screwtape would scold Wormwood for messing up, but it’s more chilling in more ways than it is humorous. Screwtape outlined ways on how Wormwood could lead his patient to eternal damnation, and the ways he listed were a little too familiar that it borders on being uncomfortable. I admit that it really made me think of the times when I fell for the same things — the feeling of “owning” my time that I get mad at any interruption, or worrying too much about tomorrow instead of focusing on today, self-righteous thinking. This book poked a little too much at the parts of my heart that I try to not look at, and helped me see myself for all the ugliness with all the sin that I’ve fallen into. I remember cringing as I highlighted the parts of the book that struck me the most, like these:

It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds; in reality our best work is done by keeping things out. (p. 16)

There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them. (p. 25)

It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. (p. 60)

Now you will notice that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him…They anger him because he regards his time as his and feels that it is being stolen. (p. 112)

It’s not that this book is not without hope — in fact, it ends quite hopefully. But seeing it in the eyes of the “protagonists” it doesn’t feel like it. This book is not really for fast reading — each letter is meant to be read slowly and reflected on, maybe even discussed with other people of faith. Like other Lewis books, I think The Screwtape Letters is one for re-reading, because I’m sure different passages would hit people depending on what is the state of their life when they read this.

Of course, this is still considered as fiction, but like all other Lewis books I’ve read, it’s one that made me think. I can’t help but remember Ephesians 6:12 as I read this book: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.The Screwtape Letters is a book that definitely needs to be read more than once.

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
Required Reading – April

Other reviews:
Goodreads reviews
Brothers Judd
Jonathan Enns

Required Reading: April

Wow, look at where March went. My favorite month always ends too soon.

However, that means it’s time for another Required Reading post. :) Once again, here are the rules (one day I will make a separate page for this):

  • The books should be read within the specified month
  • These books should be in my TBR and not yet to be acquired
  • These books cannot be used for any other reading challenges I am participating in.

But first, how did I do for March?

Despite my busy-ness for March (you would not believe how much we raaaaageeeed! at work the past month), I was able to do a bit better for this mini-challenge. I think I was more than determined to get through all the books? That, and I find that I had a lot of waiting time during the past month, especially when you had to sit for six hours straight in the salon chair for a hair rebond treatment). Here are the books I finished and reviewed:

  • The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea M. Campbell – such a fun read. :) I love Damien.
  • Storm Front by Jim Butcher – another book with such a fun hero voice. Finished this one real quick while waiting for my hair to dry before my birthday party. :D
  • Being Jamie Baker by Kelly Oram – not exactly what I expected, but still enjoyable.

I still didn’t get to finish all four books for March, but I’m halfway through the last book (A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly) now and that’s so much better than how I did last February. :)

I think my problem with the books I pick for this challenge is I always pick books in print. I can usually juggle reading two books at a time if one of them is an ebook. However, 3 out of 4 books I chose are in print, and I find it hard to read two print books at the same time. That, and March had two releases I was really excited about, books that made me drop everything else I was reading just so I can read them. But still, it’s a pretty good month, IMHO.

Now for my Required Reading for April!

Required Reading: AprilThe month of April usually means two things for me: the start of summer and Holy Week. Last year’s Holy Week barely touched April, but this year, Holy Week is right smack in the middle of the month. I usually go offline during that week and pick a slightly difficult book to read because not being online means I have more time to tackle a hard-to-read book.

I would pick summery books this month, but Holy Week has more bearing for me than that, so this month’s Required Reading theme is all about faith.

This is a pretty varied selection of books. Ted Dekker is usually a pretty fast (although far from light) read. I was browsing through The Screwtape Letters and it’s a short book, but knowing Lewis, it’s not going to be an easy read, either. Losing Faith is YA Contemporary, which should be a welcome break, and I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while now. The hardest, I think, would be Mother Teresa’s book. It’s my first non-fiction for a while, and I have a feeling I will cry with this book. I think I’ll reserve this one for Holy Week, when I’m offline.

I’m actually quite excited to tackle these books. :) I’m sure it won’t be easy, but if there was anything I learned about my faith in the past years, I know it’s been anything but. :)

What about you? Any specific books you’ve lined up for this month?

Till We Have Faces

Till We Have Faces by C.S. LewisTill We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Number of pages: 324
My copy: paperback, borrowed from RE

In this timeless tale of two mortal princesses- one beautiful and one unattractive- C.S. Lewis reworks the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche into an enduring piece of contemporary fiction. This is the story of Orual, Psyche’s embittered and ugly older sister, who posessively and harmfully loves Psyche. Much to Orual’s frustration, Psyche is loved by Cupid, the god of love himself, setting the troubled Orual on a path of moral development.

Set against the backdrop of Glome, a barbaric, pre-Christian world, the struggles between sacred and profane love are illuminated as Orual learns that we cannot understand the intent of the gods “till we have faces” and sincerity in our souls and selves.

* * *

One of my favorite (and probably the most popular) Bible verses other than John 3:16 and the multitude of verses that I’ve highlighted in my Bible is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. I’m pretty sure you’ve read these verses at one point in your life, too:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

These verses reminds me of those days in my Catholic community, as well as days of reading and re-reading Nicholas Sparks’ A Walk to Remember and crying as Landon read these passages to Jamie. I’ve heard them said so many times during wedding videos that my brother makes, and quoted so many times in blogs and posts about love. These verses have the power to make me feel all tingly and good inside as well as convict me of the times when I’m not as loving as I should be.

I remember during one of my heads in my Catholic community tell us that these verses on love sets the standard on what love really and truly is, and if I can replace “love” with my name, that means I am somehow living this. I’ve never really tried that because halfway through, I’d feel guilty because I know I’m not what love is. I’m not always patient, I’m not always kind. I am proud, I envy, I boast, I am self-seeking, I am easily angered, I keep records of wrong. As much as I’d like to believe that I can be what these verses say, I am only human and I fail way too many times.

It took me a while to write a review for C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces because I wasn’t sure what to write about it. I had to mull it over for two weeks until I remember what Paul said to the Corinthians and realized that this is what the novel is all about. Till We Have Faces is told by Princess Orual of Glome, the unattractive daughter of a tyrannical king, who loved her half-sister Psyche so much that she couldn’t see past her love that she thought was the only thing right. It was a bad time in Glome when Orual was at her highest, loving and caring for Psyche not just as a sister but as a mother that they never had. Orual’s world is shattered when the priests of the goddess Ungit tells their father that they need to offer Psyche as a sacrifice to the fearsome ShadowBrute to appease the goddess. Orual thought it would be the end of Psyche, but to her surprise, she finds that a god has fallen in love with Psyche and made her his wife. As Orual wrestles with the turn of events, her heart and the gods themselves, she finds that there was more to love that she needed to learn and unlearn for her to truly understand what love really is.

This is unlike any other C.S. Lewis novel I’ve read, but I’m no authority since I haven’t really read them all. I probably wouldn’t have heard of this book if it weren’t for my friend RE, and I wouldn’t know that this is known to be C.S. Lewis’ best work. Till We Have Faces is rough, almost brutal, but there is a beauty in the story that satiated my need for very good fantasy. It’s deep, but not so much that you wouldn’t understand the story or the writing as you read it. It almost didn’t feel like it was a Lewis novel, with all the gods and goddesses and pagan practices in it. But Till We Have Faces creeps up on you slowly, taking over your mind as you try and mull over the ideas and thoughts it presented. Well, that’s what it did to me, anyway. It was hard to review the book because I didn’t know how to approach it. I wasn’t sure which character I related to, and I didn’t know how to discuss the story without giving away or missing the important points. I enjoyed reading it, but I think this is the type of book that needs re-reading every now and then to fully understand it all.

I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy it — I did, very much. It’s just…deep. And like I said, its depth forced me to think and to see how similar I am to Orual. I wonder what Orual would have thought of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians about love. I wonder if I would act the same way as she did when she found out about Psyche being a wife of a god that I cannot comprehend, of how the person I loved the most longed for something else and how my love cannot satisfy her. I wonder if the love I give is as possessive as Orual’s, and if this would eventually cause the death of the people and the relationships around me. I wonder if I will ever be able to know and see love as Psyche did, and if my name would ever be worthy enough to replace that word in Paul’s epistle.

I think that’s the real strength of C.S. Lewis’ works: not only do they entertain, but they make the readers really think. Till We Have Faces is a beautiful novel, definitely one that needs to be present in a reader’s collection and revisited every now and then. I’m buying my own copy after Lent for sure.

I end this review with the last line of the book — not a spoiler, don’t worry, but definitely one of the best last lines I’ve ever read:

I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?

Rating:

Other reviews:
Awake in the Pages of an Endless Library
Claw of the Conciliator

Into the Wardrobe – a C.S. Lewis Site

Required Reading: February

Sometime around January, I was thinking of what books I would have lined up for February seeing that it was Valentine’s month and it’s sort of the right month to pick up romance novels and such. How cliche of me to do that, but I liked having themed reads. I like reading certain books at a certain time of the year because the month’s celebrations call for it. I think that makes it more fun (albeit masochistic, especially in February, if you know my stories :P).

Anyway, as I was choosing books from my Mt. TBR, I wondered if I could do a theme for every month. Which led to me thinking that maybe I can have kind of direction for the books I read in this year, instead of just choosing randomly. I would be able to conquer my TBR a bit for the entire year but without the big pressure of reading them all, you know?

So I came up with my own, sort of TBR challenge for 2011, where:

  • I would pick 4 books from my TBR pile that I should read within the month that sort of fits one kind of theme.
  • These books should not be included in other 2011 challenges.

This doesn’t mean that I would only read the books I listed within the month. These are just the books that I should read within the month, but I can read other books, too, in the pace that I want to. Call it required reading, I guess.

WAIT. Okay that’s the name of this “challenge”. Required Reading. :D

I have constructed a list in my planner which is still subject to change. I will share them every start of the month, of course, but for now, my February line up!

Thanks, we heart it!Well it’s obvious the theme is love. Like I said, it may be a bit masochistic for me because of the current state of my love life (or lack thereof — but I will not post that here. If you want more of that, it will be posted in the personal blog :P)…but hey, everyone loves a good love story, right? With all it’s red and pink magic. :)

So from my TBR, here are my February Required Reading!

  • Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly
  • Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  • Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
  • Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

There’s a book on summer love, a dystopian novel about love being a disease, a novel about a wedding, and finally a retelling of a Roman myth with the god of love. I even feel like throwing in a few more romance novels in the mix here. Let it be a month full of books on love, yes? :)

The Chronicles of Narnia # 5: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia # 5
Publisher: Scholastic
Number of pages: 320
My copy: paperback, bought from Scholastic Book Fair

The Dawn Treader is the first ship Narnia has seen in centuries. King Caspian has built it for his first voyage to find the seven lords, good men whom his evil uncle Miraz banished when he usurped the throne. The journey takes Edmund, Lucy, their cousin Eustace, and Caspian to the Eastern Islands, beyond the Silver Sea, toward Aslan’s country at the End of the World.

* * *

There are a lot of firsts in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the 5th book in the chronology of The Chronicles of Narnia (hm sounds redundant) and the 3rd book I have read in the series. This is the first time Peter and Susan are not a part of the story, the first time Caspian and his crew have set out to sea to look for the seven lords that his uncle Miraz sent away when he stole the throne,  the first time they ventured out to the far east and the first time we meet the bully Eustace Scrubb. Finally, this is also the first time I read a Narnia book without watching the movie first. I had planned to watch the movie version of this last year but I didn’t catch it in time before the cinemas were filled with our local film festival, and then the movie never came back. Nevertheless, I figured it’s time to read a Narnia book first before I go see the movie and see what difference it would make this time around.

I mentioned in a comment in a previous review that I feel like I appreciate The Chronicles of Narnia more now that I’m reading them as an adult compared to reading them as a child. I think if I read these books as a child, I would probably have skimmed some parts that I couldn’t understand. Now that I am reading them as an adult (or a young adult, if you may), I guess I understand the books better because I have better comprehension, and I have more experiences that could connect to the spiritual themes of the books.

This observation still rang true as I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. If I were younger, I would have disliked Eustace so much more but at my age, I just felt kind of sorry for him because he didn’t know the magic of Narnia until he really got to experience it himself. As always, I liked how many times Aslan showed up (which felt more than the times he did in Prince Caspian), and for this book Lewis showed the Aslan who always takes care of his people. Not that he doesn’t show that in the previous books, but here we see Aslan save them in different instances.

I also really liked what Aslan told Edmund and Lucy in the end. Slight spoiler warning starts here. To know him by his other name in their world reminds me of how one grows spiritually. I got most of my spiritual nourishment from my Catholic community, but at some point, I felt the need to leave because I needed to know God in the world outside of it. It was easy to believe if you’re always immersed in that world, but I believe it takes a lot of maturity to believe in the midst of the humdrum of life, and I think that’s what Aslan wanted Lucy and Edmund to learn. End spoiler warning.

However, I think that compared to the first two books I’ve read in this series, I would have enjoyed The Voyage of the Dawn Treader more if I read it as a kid. It’s not one continuous story. There is a goal, yes, but the book is written in chunks — one adventure after the next, all leading to their final goal in the end, but not necessarily required to get to that goal. This is the type of book that I can put down after reading one adventure and go back to it without feeling too lost upon resuming. A friend and hardcore Lewis fan told me that this seemed to be the book were Lewis had most fun with Narnia, almost like he wrote it in parts just to explain the unexplored regions in the Eastern Islands, and then decided to put it all in one book since all of they were all in the Dawn Treader. I guess it’s just the writer in me that wishes for this book to have a more structured plot. I liked the explorations and little adventures in the book, but I think this one didn’t really have a real climax. Case in point: I found myself a scratching my head a bit at the part of the Dragon Island and then wishing that part happened somewhere in the end, to build things up a bit.

But that’s just me. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is just a bit more exciting than Prince Caspian, but not really as magical or charming as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Nevertheless, it is still an enjoyable book, and a good installment to The Chronicles of Narnia. Up next, The Silver Chair! :)

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
3 of 20 in TwentyEleven Challenge (Show it Who is Boss!)

Cover: Goodreads
Blurb: Back of book

Other reviews:
Bookie Woogie

Reviews of Other Narnia Books:
#2: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
#4: Prince Caspian