What's it about?
Screwtape is a demon helping his nephew, freshly-graduated Wormwood, tempt his first patient. The two exchange letters (although we only know the content of Screwtape's letters) and those letters tell us the story of the ups-and-downs those red guys downstairs face when trying to drag us down there with them so they can devour our souls.
What'd I experience?
I had no idea what a “screwtape” was, let alone a “screwtape letter,” so I decided that a little pre-show research was in order. Wikipedia, reliable as ever, revealed to me that the play was based on a novel by C.S. Lewis. I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to be familiar with the book or not - is it a classic or more of a hidden gem in the world of literature? Wikipedia describes it as a “Christian apologetic novel.” It was written as a method of defending Christianity from nonbelievers. Ok.
I think being raised in the Western hemisphere has caused me to doubt the validity of my own religion because the Western world is dominated by Abrahamic religions. Because of this doubt, I identify as Hindu and agnostic. I can relate to what Lewis was trying to achieve, as I also face ridicule of my religion. In explaining the fact that one of my deities is, in fact, a cow, and that cows are sacred in my religion, someone had responded, “Okay, but do you realize how ridiculous that sounds?” I don’t know, probably just as ridiculous as a guy walking on water.
Granted, many aspects of religions do sound odd, impossible even, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to belittle an entire group of people. I’m not apt to disregard the existence of Heaven and Hell, or the story of Jesus walking on water. I think if I was raised in a community where everyone practiced my religion, or if my family frequented the temple, I’d be more likely to accept my religion as a singular truth and be incredulously offended by negative comments in relation to my faith.
Maybe I’d try to prove that the stories of my religion are true too.
I felt compelled to read the book so I wouldn’t be completely lost during the play, so I found a (probably illegal) online version. But reading a novel on a computer just didn’t feel right, so I gave up halfway. I still managed to read a good amount, but I had no idea how they were able to turn this into a play when the entire book is a series of letters from Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood. What would Screwtape look like? Would we even see him?
The play starts with Screwtape giving an address to his fellow demons, complaining about the quality of their recent meal. Apparently the quality of sinners’ souls has been lacking for quite some time. This opening scene wasn’t taken from the novel, but it gave enough background on the nature of these characters so that someone who hadn’t read the book could easily follow along.
In one of his letters, Screwtape talked about how God made people to reflect His image, but Screwtape looked pretty human himself - which was a little odd to me considering that his sidekick Toadpipe was covered in scales and had a green and red face. I couldn’t tell if Toadpipe was something along the lines of an assistant to Screwtape, taking down his letters, or if he/it was more like a pet, scurrying around on all fours. Screwtape might have looked more human-like because he was familiar with the human condition. He seemed to understand how we think and how we feel, while Toadpipe was much much more concerned with devouring our tormented souls (which was made very clear through bloodthirsty expressions while playing with various knives).
Screwtape is advising his nephew Wormwood, a demon who just graduated the tempters college, on how to damn his first “patient.” When reading, I couldn’t really interpret the tone of Screwtape. It might have been because I approached it thinking, “Okay, old book, old language, probably not the most exciting thing in the world.” Seeing Screwtape dictate his letters brought the words to life, and I didn’t realize how undone Screwtape was becoming as the letters progressed until I saw the play. I couldn't give Screwtape a voice or a personality on my own for some reason, but after hearing the words, I realize that he's sarcastic and yea, he probably would have a British accent if he were real. British accents tend to sound more threatening (I feel like a lot of villains are portrayed with them) and even I'd be more likely to want to damn you to Hell if I were yelling at you with a British accent.
I’m going to ruin the end of the play for you, but I don’t feel too bad about it because it’s based on a book and Wikipedia plot summaries are at everyone’s disposal. Wormwood doesn’t end up damning the patient. I don’t really understand where he went wrong, but I don’t really know what he did right either. For me, the idea of saints and sinners is irrelevant. Everyone is capable of doing bad and good, and we all have our own perspective on what should be considered sinful. Screwtape advised Wormwood to get the patient involved with a woman to make him forget about his duties to the Enemy and bring him closer to “our Father’s house.”
Everything they tried to do was to block the patient off from prayer and believing in the existence of God. They wanted him to be arrogant, too arrogant to believe in what he didn’t see.
He didn’t really cause anyone pain. Sure, he was annoyed with his mother at times, and thought a bit too highly of himself, but would that have been enough to damn him? I can’t really tell if the message there is “you can do these things but still be saved,” or if it’s a warning against thinking like the patient so that we don’t become tempted by our own Wormwoods.
The story is religiously driven, but for those who aren’t religious or are atheist, it could be simplified to the theme of good versus evil that’s told in folklore across various cultures. I don’t believe in many of the things mentioned in the play, but I was able to relate regardless. There may always be an evil force trying to drag you down, but I think it’s up to you to decide if it’s a demon or you getting in the way of yourself. And overcoming that could be something you’d have to do for yourself, but some people turn to their faith to give them the strength they need to pull themselves out of that rut. Neither way of thinking is wrong, in my opinion.