[The Screwtape Letters written by C. S. Lewis present the tale of a demon-tutor (named Screwtape) who serves Satan. Screwtape’s task is to instruct his student Wormwood in the ways of evil. See previous post for background material explaining the letter reproduced below, one of seven in a series of posts that follow.]
I admit I had my doubts about you following your bungling performance on that long-ago assignment. The ways in which you completely mishandled that patient forced me to entertain scant optimism that you’d be of any further use to our Cause. Apart from your personal contribution to what I expected to be a singularly tasteless main dish for those of us who have proven our mettle in numerous battles with the Enemy, I could see little use for you and your myriad excuses!
Given your dismal efforts, the stew-pot is where you rightly belonged. My colleagues and I even prepared for your Devouring, but something made me change my mind. Don’t think of it as a merciful gesture — it was anything but that. My investment in your training convinced me you should have a second chance to make bad, really Bad, else all my labor would be for naught — a reality that was abhorrent and unacceptable to me.
Hence my suggestion that you be reassigned to another part of the cosmos where your unprofessional reputation might not so easily precede you. That infernal region of barbarians who populate the so-called Bible Belt (where do they get these obnoxious terms?) seemed the appropriate do-or-be-consumed challenge. If you could not deliver at least some souls to Our Father Below from this mile-wide, inch-deep Christian wasteland, you would give me no choice but to relinquish your destiny to pottage.
And you, Nephew — thanks in large part to my stroke of genius — have delivered your own redemption! (Dare I use that ignominious word?) Your superior performance amongst these backward bipeds confirms how grossly I may have underestimated your ability to adapt and modify the techniques for sowing perfidy and vice you learned under my tutelage. In fact, to demonstrate that you’ve regained my good will, I vow to never again mention the matter of your past humiliation.
I’m almost giddy when I remember the unbridled success with which you delivered your first human on that other continent into Our Father’s domain. It may have been the luck of the draw that he was your assignment, but your performance all along the way was nearly flawless. I won’t belabor the point by replaying the details of his life and your able assistance at each turn. But I must remark at your skill for seizing the upper hand when he agonized over joining the military. “It’s the patriotic thing to do,” you told him. “Those camel jockeys are begging for a fight.” So he joined, becoming an excellent marksman but (more importantly for our Cause) a disillusioned soldier. At that point, you had him in the palm of your hand, Nephew.
To me, it’s of minor consequence how many men he dispatched on the battlefield. It can’t compare to his crowning achievement (and yours) borne within a nondescript yellow truck. Such pain and grief! So many of the little vermin wiped from the earthen slate and captured into our World! With one impeccable stroke, your man freed a horde of our toilers for new assignments, earning you significant additional points, I might add. And so many of the Enemy’s hapless followers brought to the brink of despair and beyond. Knowing my own enjoyment of that moment, I can only imagine how delicious it was for you.
Still, you didn’t rest on your prickly laurels, and I credit you for remembering my warning about the Law of Undulation. Having done this marvelously wicked thing, your patient might have been easily lost to you. The peaks of unrestrained passion and power are all too often followed by the valleys of regret and remorse. And that despicable road to repentance (ah! it pains me to write the word) is within shouting distance once the pangs of conscience have set in.
So you, Nephew, hung in there, reminding your man of his own considerable grievance against the state. The Enemy’s faithful opposed you day and night, pleading, begging with your patient to seek forgiveness and to make some sort of tangible atonement for his actions. “Just tell us why you did it,” those worthless humans implored. “Say you’re sorry and we’ll forgive you.”
With demonic brilliance, you assisted your charge in withstanding their attacks. And I must say, you certainly deserved the premier place of dishonor at that banquet. While we gorged ourselves on what remained of your patient’s soul, the humans who had watched his final breath were pondering over his final words, anguishing at your man’s contempt. He had no need for their pity and he demonstrated it, choosing as his last words that exquisite manifesto Invictus. (It’s worth noting that Henley was an early patient of Dr. Slubgob. Perhaps you can now understand why Slubgob was quickly promoted to assume responsibility at the Training College.) If there is a better description of the unconquerable soul, I don’t know where you’d find it. “My head is bloody, but unbowed … I am the master of my fate … the captain of my soul.” Henley’s words are hideously beautiful, don’t you agree?
Nephew, you have outdone yourself. I’ve advised your immediate superior to release you temporarily from active duty. You’ve earned some unsupervised D&M (disaster and mayhem, in case you’ve forgotten Our Father’s dynamic reward system), and I’m confident you won’t disappoint us. Your next patient assignment will follow soon.