Screwtape has learned from Wormwood that the patient is in love. Moreover, he is in “the worst kind of love” possible. Wormwood has clearly failed to tempt the patient in the manner Screwtape explained. Screwtape then takes this opportunity to tell Wormwood that Wormwood’s attempts to tell the “Secret Police” about Screwtape’s theories of love haven’t been successful. In retaliation, Screwtape says he will be telling the authorities about Wormwood’s incompetence in tempting the patient. He even sends Wormwood a booklet about the punishments meted out to “incompetent tempters.”
We gather that Wormwood has tried and failed to rat Screwtape out to the authorities of Hell, apparently a “secret police.” (It’s worth noting that there’s a villainous secret police in The Chronicles of Narnia, too, as well as in most dictatorial governments.) Lewis builds the suspense by raising the stakes of Wormwood’s temptation—it’s clear that Wormwood must lead the patient into damnation or else risk punishment himself.
Screwtape describes the woman with whom the patient has fallen in love. She is Christian, “simpering” in her sincerity, and virginal. She is so virtuous that she makes Screwtape “vomit.”
This section is funny partly because it’s possible to identify with it—we all know people who are “too” nice. Nevertheless, Lewis wants us to sympathize with the patient and respect his newfound lover.
Based on his description of the patient’s love interest, Screwtape criticizes God for being “a hedonist at heart.” Although God appears to surround himself with crosses and other symbols of suffering, he is essentially a lover of pleasure for its own sake. It is for this reason that God allows humans to do so many happy things without punishment: sleep, eating, drinking, having sex, playing, working, etc. Essentially, Screwtape concludes, God is a bourgeois bore.
This may be the most counterintuitive twist in a book full of them. Though Christianity has a lasting reputation for being severe, ascetic, controlling, and generally repressive to human happiness, Lewis maintains (through Screwtape’s voice) that Christianity is essentially a religion of happiness and pleasure. The Church should respect the virtue of pleasure for its own sake.
Screwtape knows from Wormwood’s letters that the patient has met his lover’s entire family, and visited their house many times. The house is a “wretched” place, full of love and affection. While describing the house, Screwtape is reminded of a description of Heaven he once heard: nothing but “music and silence.” Music and silence, he goes on, are a devil’s least favorite things. Indeed, devils have tried very hard to eradicate silence from the Earth, and make music as noisy and un-melodic as possible.
It’s often said that it’s impossible to convey the power of music in a rational way. (Elvis Costello once said that “talking about music is like dancing about architecture.”) In this sense, music is like love—it’s impossible to explain it to the devils, and it will always be outside their understanding. The comparison of music and love adds an important addendum to Lewis’s theory of Christianity as a rational religion: while Christianity can be “demonstrated” through reasoning and thought, there are certain tenets of the religion, such as the acceptance of love as a desirable state, that can’t be rationalized—you simply have to believe them.
In brackets, C.S. Lewis notes that the message breaks off for a moment, and then resumes in “a different hand.”
We’re reminded that the novel we’re reading has been “discovered,“ supposedly, by Lewis himself.
The letter resumes. Screwtape apologizes for his anger—because he is so furious, he has accidentally transformed into a centipede. As a result, he is dictating the remainder of his letter to his secretary. Screwtape notes that humans are under the mistaken belief that devils have been punished for their revolt against God by being transformed into ugly creatures. In fact, he explains, devils simply take on the form that corresponds to their emotions. It is this magical ability to transform—a manifestation of the “Life Force”—that Satan would worship, assuming that he could worship anything other than himself. This letter is signed, “Toadpipe, for his abysmal sublimity under secretary Screwtape.”
Throughout this chapter, Screwtape has been getting more and more furious—thinking about the patient’s lover irritates him immensely. By portraying the true nature of this fury, Lewis shows that evil and sin are, in an important sense, self-generated. Thus, Screwtape makes himself ugly and monstrous because he acts ugly and sinful. This is important because it shows that God isn’t directly responsible for sin—the sinner is.