The Screwtape Lettersshould not work as literature—the whole thing looks bad on paper, which is rather a high hurdle for a book to overcome. The epistolary form already had been exhausted by the time C. S. Lewis turned his learned hand to it, the last vitality having been drained out of it a half-century earlier by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As for Screwtape himself, he’s the sort of character that Oscar Wilde would have abandoned as too broad and too obvious, and even Wilde by the end of his uneven career had wearied of creating such witty cynics as the titular demon. As drama, the work has very little to offer: Screwtape reads and writes letters from and to his nephew Wormwood, an inexperienced demon just out of the tempters’ academy and set to his first task: corrupting the soul of a young Englishman. Screwtape offers advice and criticism; nobody...


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