Anyone with a bit of knowledge of English literature who picks up The Screwtape Letters knows that beneath the letters there is a wealth C.S. Lewis’ own reading. There are always echoes of the canon of literature in Lewis’ work, but I think that Screwtape is particularly rich in background because of the nature of the letters–pretentious epistolary floggings by a faux academic demon with cruel intellectual interest in those “hairless bipeds” he despises so. Besides the numerous biblical references–the letters are as laced with Bible passages as Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor”–there are also constant references to Milton, More, Goethe, Shakespeare, Shaw and Byron. The letters are a rich collection of cultural critiques supported by the great writers and critics of the generations–“old books” as Screwtape himself calls them.
There is not yet a hyperlink-capable digital critical edition of The Screwtape Letters (that I know of), but I have found something close. Arend Smilde of Lewisiana, a Dutch & English blog, has gathered together as many Quotations and Allusions in the Letters as he could find. It is a great resource for digging into some of the background ideas behind Screwtape’s demonic epistles–particularly if you are as ill-read as I am..
I was thrilled to find that when I click on the main page, there is also a treasure trove of studies on Lewis’ books, like notes Miracles or Perelandra, and a surprising collection of perspectives on Lewis by popular authors and public figures. Among these are George Orwell’s review of That Hideous Strength and Ayn Rand’s truly humorous critical notes on “The Abolition of Man.”
This blog is about as unattractive as you can find, and completely helpful. It’s a great find.