The Lost Screwtape Letter

My Dearest Wormwood:

I received your last inquiry concerning your charge’s television and movie habits. I am glad that you again trust me to advise you, and this is a prime example of a topic that needs an older tempter’s wisdom and knowledge of political diplomacy. In the few millennia since television and movies became really popular—which is about 50 years earth time—there was a continual debate among our military strategists, scientists, and educators concerning this topic. This resulted in so many of our top leaders being eaten by their opponents that a decree was made that all opinions and practices must submit to the most up-to-date publication of the Media Research Council. You will, for example, notice that I am writing this letter myself instead of dictating it as I normally do. This is largely due to my concern for you . . . and only slightly due to the fact that my assistant was just eaten. However, he has nobody to blame except himself: he disagreed with current policy in this area. I tell you this to impress upon you the seriousness of knowing the current position of all areas of tempter practice and public policy; there is no time to sleep or take rest on this job! Therefore, I will tell you what has been decided so that you can proceed accordingly. Yet, you need never fear sharing with me any of your failures or indiscretions, for I will always take personal interest in your fate. That previous letter in which I, only in jest, threatened to eat you was all in good humor, and was certainly not meant to cause you to stop trusting me with your life. I assure you that my attitude towards you has never changed.

The media per-se has always been a tricky subject because the way it affects humans is largely dependent upon their predisposition. As you know, some of their more religious people see our hand in many of the movies and television shows of their day while others see a glimpse of our eternal enemy in the same things; where some see an attraction to the occult, others see a veritable myth—a dangerous thing indeed. Thankfully, we have invaded their educational and religious systems enough to use this difference of perspective as a point of division, but it still causes us significant trouble. We have to be extremely careful that the things we use to tempt their souls do not offer them a glimpse of eternity unless it is an eternity devoid of any requirement for change. Our enemy is sly when it comes to this, and we often find a long-trusted work turned into something else when he invades the imagination.

That is why we are constantly working to invent new vehicles of entertainment that so flood the human imagination that they prevent it from growing at all. We are making headway. Of course, I am not speaking about all productions when I say there is danger because, as you know, there are some that are so filled with darkness, noise, or lusts that they serve no other purpose except to successfully enslave men and women. Some of these are obvious, even to those who are in bondage to them, but a few are still safely concealed. It is important that we keep these latter ones looking as innocent as possible—for “the sake of entertainment” as they say—so that the truth is not published. This is where your job is easiest. You might think, as many foolish tempters do, that you should always tempt your charge towards the sexual, violent, or graphic pleasures; however, this is not true. The person addicted this way is aware of darkness, so it does not take much light to make it apparent; remember Augustine!

Yes, we certainly want to make their culture more accepting of that type of imagery, but they must also be desensitized to it at the same time. The trick is to do it slow enough that the majority does not realize where they are going until they are already there; then, they will have only condescension towards those who describe their decline. As the saying goes, we want to heat the water slow enough that the frog does not escape. It is the “mild and harmless” that can be most effective for us. We want movies and shows that are so spectacular to their senses that they never notice that they are hollow and void of any real meaning. We have even had success with some of the enemy’s followers, making them think that quality and quantity is the same as purpose and provision; by doing that, we have gotten their eyes off the real goal. However, there are still many of them who care about “what is really being said,” so we can’t afford to stop for even a minute. We have worked hard to get several acceptable people in higher positions, so things have been going well; however, it is always a risky business: true quality always brings the risk of connecting with something real. This is why we work so hard to make the newest generation oblivious to the best things of the previous generations. As long as they look down on “that old thing,” they will never see the good that was there. We want them to be so focused on the details that they miss the message; it is a great thing when one small fault in the plot caused the entire movie to be discounted. Still, don’t forget that the critic who can be our staunchest ally can also be our biggest risk.

Now, you asked in your email about some of the specific movies and television shows that your charge enjoys, such as the movies about wizards, the series about magical beings, and those two cartoons. This is a prime example of some of the success we have had with their religiosity. The movies you mentioned have divided many of the enemy’s followers, and this happened without either side really looking at what is taking place. Those who like the movies are mostly unaware of the desire that is sparked in unsuspecting hearts, where we succeed in convincing them that the desire they feel is for the occult; we are able to desensitize them to many of the images so that they will not notice when they are used dangerously in other ways. On the other side, those who hate the movies are so concerned about the imagery used that they miss the truly mythological themes: orphan, loss, adoption, acceptance, friendship, honor, and magic; they become out of touch with the language of the people around them that they are intent on reaching. Make sure you play upon this division. Since your person likes the movies, make him comfortable with all the symbols and images so that he will not even think about them when he meets people who take them literally. At the same time, try to get him to look down on people who notice anything negative. Make him “take it personally” so that it becomes an emotional issue. Hopefully, the tempters of those who don’t like the movies will make them feel the same about him because he doesn’t see those things that are “obvious.”

Concerning the television shows you mentioned, we have had some success, but it has been mixed. The first series you mentioned has helped us immensely, and many have been convinced that good is evil and evil is good; we confused them into consciously thinking that symbols have no power while subconsciously believing that all symbols have power. We have finally created the materialist magician. However, the other series—which many of our eaten leaders expected to be groundbreaking—did nothing more than implant fond memories of childhood stories; it did us more harm than good. Thus, you have to look at the real message in the show and the result it has on your charge. The only absolute I can tell you concerns the two cartoons you mentioned. They are absolute genius, and I never miss any opportunity to watch them. They look totally innocent to almost everybody, but we have yet to hear of even a single instance where the enemy has successfully used them against us. Our public relations department was very careful in preparing for their release, and the timing was critical. Of course, the main root of our success was marketing to an audience that would never take notice of the real message, and those who would possibly recognize the danger never watch them; thus, if your human is showing even the slightest sign of “discernment,” then you should instantly cause him to lose interest in them before he recognizes how they affect him; we don’t want another Luther!

Now, just as I have described to you those movies and shows that can be either helpful or harmful, and just as there are those that almost entirely work for our advantage, there are also some that you want to keep your charge away from at all cost. These are shows that have such a strong message about the enemy’s ways—even when they don’t mention religion or faith—that they almost always awaken the imagination to real or eternal ideas. Sometimes, we have only discovered this ex post facto, and that is not a pleasant experience. You will, I am sure, remember that primary movie released in color; well, nobody expected it to awaken such awareness in the souls of humanity as it has done. I could have told them of the danger, but I was only a junior tempter at the time, so nobody asked me. The tempter in charge of the producer of that movie has suffered for several millennia since its release: he is eaten almost to the point of being devoured but then is allowed to recover enough to be eaten again; it is an ongoing torment that requires special care, and several supervisors are assigned to make sure the process continues without mishap. Presently, only twelve tempters are undergoing that punishment because it requires so much of our resources to put any kind of control upon hunger; however, there is talk of devising a new way to proceed, and that would provide greater opportunities.

Dearest Wormwood, I look forward to any further correspondence from you. Please be sure to keep me in the loop with all that is happening so that I may continue to advise you. It is purely for your benefit that I offer my services as someone you may share your faults with in complete confidence. How else will you learn, and who else will care for you the way I do? I have developed an interest in your career, and I hope you will come to trust me as much as I hope you will. I look forward to our being closer in the future.


Your uncle, Screwtape

*This work is styled after–and in honor of–the work of C. S. Lewis.