My Screwtape Letter

My Dear Wormwood,
Since you are still on your 20-year probation, you cannot possibly expect to join me when I perform “The Top Ten Ways To Tempt” on the David Letterman show. Your inept bumbling cost us dearly. We do admire your request for a second chance, however. And since Slimeball had no more success than you did, we are willing to honor your request.

You had your patient at a fork in the road 19 years ago when her son died. Even with that ideal opportunity to nurture guilt and bitterness…well, we know how terribly that turned out! Dare I say that fewer events give us more ammunition than the death of a child. Your hands-off approach was dreadfully ill-timed. You could have given her more time to thrash through medical reference books to determine how she may have caused the fatal heart defect by being negligent during pregnancy. You could have made her doctors seem cold and unaffected as they reassured her that she should feel no guilt. Clearly, you should have been more creative as the Enemy fed her propaganda about mercy and healing not always occurring in the physical world. Without question, you missed our best opportunity!

So much for strolling down memory lane… much has happened over the last two decades since your banishment to the Sudan. We trust that you have learned much by observing our fighters for truth as they seek to purify the populace. Your previous patient now seems nearly a lost cause for you, and the big picture looks grim, indeed. However, just as we witnessed at Experiment House, elephants are eaten one bite at a time. Possibly, the chinks in her armor may bear more fruit than we had dared hope. During my long-term reconnaissance, I have made some observations that may be useful to you as you revisit her world.

First, I regret to concede that your patient’s heart seems to be off-limits. Her pathetic perception of being in awe and in love with the Enemy deployed the Special Ops Division of warriors into service. You are no match for Michael’s troops, no matter how well-intended you may be. So we must infiltrate by playing with her head. Her three horsemen of stress are fear, control and hypersensitivity.

Even though she has surrendered her will to the Enemy theoretically, on a daily basis, she is reluctant to hand over worries. Make the most of this, Wormwood, because she does not realize how this reflects a lack of trust in her Superior. Her history of fierce independence makes her want to control her circumstances. Consequently, when control is not possible, she worries. Keep her away from that blasted book that reminds her of the Enemy’s care for every hair on her head, and all that rubbish. Keep her irritated when her husband is blunt with her. Keep her oblivious to all the considerate gestures he makes. The sand in her shoes is very powerful.

Her Achilles’ heel is the well-being of her children. Place doubt in her mind that the Enemy has the best plan for her daughter’s marriage, health and career. Have her micro-manage her son’s college and career plans. Raise her anxiety in the bleachers when her quarterback is tackled or her basketball forward comes down from an aggressive rebound. Let it appear hypocritical that she teaches her children to trust in the Enemy’s plan but has trouble acting on this trust on a daily basis.

Your best weapon will be her hypersensitivity. She misguidedly sees sensitivity as a gift that helps her relate to others. The glass is more than half-full here, Wormwood. Her hypersensitivity makes her a people pleaser. Because she is easily wounded, her friends and family are reluctant to constructively criticize her. Keep her relationships shallow, so that nobody feels comfortable calling her on her faults. If she begins to question her own stubbornness, remind her that she is too busy to be patient or humble. When she is wronged, remind her of her rights and how even the Enemy experienced righteous anger.

You have your work cut out for you Wormwood, but even we believe that hope springs eternal. The consequences of a second strike sound delicious to me, so either way, I am…

Your affectionate uncle,


P.S. Send her a case of Lay’s potato chips.

Sharon Bernthal, Assistant Professor of English at Delta College, teaches “Literary Festival 224: The Life and Works of C. S. Lewis.” Her literature students advertised and judged a community-wide writing contest and partnered with local business sponsors. “Inspired by Prince Caspian” results were published in the September 2008 edition of TriCity Magazine. Her Michigan license plate “NARNIAC” invites others to open the wardrobe door with her.


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