The Illustrated Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis (HarperOne) $29.99
Written 60-some years ago (1943) and dedicated to Lewis’ good friend J.R.R. Tolkien, (who first heard these read out loud) The Screwtape Letters (as most BookNotes readers will know) is a fictional set of diabolical letters from a demon, writing back to his elder devil, about his work with his charge. Of course they strategize how to keep this gentleman from faith, and then from being effective in discipleship. The book takes a bit to follow, at first, since “the enemy” is God and everything they recommend to each other is, naturally, the opposite of what true Christians would want. Screwtape’s vantage point as a highly place assistant to “Our Father Below” has entertained and enlightened readers (as it says on the back) for “it’s sly and ironic portrayal.” Sly and ironic? That’s putting it discreetly. This is one hell of a book. Thanks be to God, as it has brought great joy and insight and courage to many over the years; besides Narnia, and perhaps Mere Christianity, it is surely Lewis’ most beloved book. (Interestingly, Lewis said it brought him no joy to write and was understandably a spiritual drain to invent this imaginative world. Lewis said “it was all dust, grit, thirst and itch.”) I suspect that many modern Christians don’t pay adequate attention to the world of the demonic, and this really has proven to be helpful for anyone who want to grow in their faith.
A few years back, in honor of the 40th anniversary of this wise satire, an edition was commissioned which would have illustrations. Some have asked about these before, but a U.S. edition was never released. I’ve never seen these before, so it is exciting stuff. These are amazingly interesting, a little corny, not utterly gross, but yet a tad disturbing, in an understated British kind of manner. There is at least one drawing—by the world-famous cartoonist William Papas—for each letter, and often other illuminations or graphics (little drops of blood, for instance.) Text includes titles in red ink, again, making this a great edition to hold. Mr. Papas (who was a cartoonist for Punch and worked on an earlier edition of this book) has played it well, with enough gore to keep it interesting, but a bit of fiendish good humor, too. The edges of this new hardback are gold gilded and there is a ribbon marker making it a fully excellent gift. Anyone who loves Lewis will treasure this, and anyone who is unfamiliar with the story will be drawn in with the classy presentation. I wish I could find more artwork to show you, but it is pretty interesting.
C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters Radio Theatre (Tyndale) $39.99
Ahh, this is easy to explain. Focus on the Family has produced some very, very top-notch radio dramas, excellently produced, wonderfully scripted, highly regarded. Now, they’ve set their big budget audio efforts on Screwtape, and it is spectacular. This package includes not only 4 CDs but a bonus DVD (showing behind the scenes vignettes of the making of the radio show and including 10 original songs inspired by the book.) The whole thing is done in 5.1 surround sound mix–that may not mean much to some of you, but it is an indication that this is a high quality production.
Andy Serkis plays the role of Screwtape; Mr. Serkis, you may know, was Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies. Other world class actors are involved (such as Laura Michelle Kelley from Sweeney Todd.) Again, this isn’t a shoddy or silly production and it sounds great.
The packaging reads like this:
You hold in your hand an evocative series of recordings that chronicle the cunning advice of a world-wise senior demon to his novice nephew, Wormwood—who’s been tasked with securing the eternal damnation and everyday demise of his human “patient.” Guard them with your life!
This is not a precise reading of the book (and sadly, the only edition of that–expertly rendered by John Cleese–is out of print) although none of the 31 letters are missed. It is like listening in on a TV soundtrack, or an old fashioned radio drama. It’s great for car rides, I’d think. Here, the actors dramatize the readings, take some liberties, and do stuff that, I suppose I should note, might infuriate any Lewisy purists out there. Still, for most of us, this is a great, great contribution to the field, a wonderful re-telling of the Screwtape story, a respectful and pretty accurate and very lively drama that will bring great listening pleasure. I think it could be billed as a “dramatic twist on a diabolical comedy.” Ha
(By the way, I think the only commercially available audio books of Lewis that feature his actual voice is the CD version of The Four Loves. These were originally radio talks, so they’ve been able to remaster and maintain old Clives real voice. Pretty cool. We’ve got ’em!)
If you are giving the radio drama CDs as a gift, perhaps you’d want to add in the standard paperback edition. The Screwtape Letters (HarperOne; $13.99) have been re-issued with a textured paper stock cover, deckled edges, those french flaps that turn a paperback into a classier book. Each of their “Signature Classics” have been given these spiffy new covers, each with a handsome woodcut on the front. I have to admit that at first I wasn’t sure how they looked, but I’m quite charmed by them now. Other re-jacketed designs include Mere Christianity, A Grief Observed, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, The Abolition of Man, and Miracles. Nice. For what it is worth, we do have some of the old editions of Screwtape Letters, the one with the photo of a gargoyle, rather dark. Let us know if you’d prefer that cover.
Buy any one listed above get 10% off.
Buy any two listed above get 20% off.
Buy any three of the Screwtape editions reviewed—30% off.
P; $19.99.) You will be hearing more about that in the new year!