Dorothy Sayers’ Sluckdrib Letter: The First Screwtape Copycat

In preparing for a paper on teaching The Screwtape Letters for the C.S. Lewis and the Inklings Colloquium at Taylor University this Spring, I thought I had discovered the first Screwtapian letter written by someone other than C.S. Lewis. A Dr. Frederic Lyman Wells of Harvard’s Department of Hygiene wrote a series of Screwtape-styled letters in 1948 for his Presidential address to the American Psychopathological Association. I was sure this was the first copycat, but I was wrong.

Lewis’ first Screwtape Letter was published in the Anglican periodical, The Guardian, on May 2, 1941, and was followed in print on February 9, 1942. Struck by the book, mystery author Dorothy L. Sayers began a conversation through letters with Lewis. A year later, this famous creator of the Lord Whimsey sleuth stories sent Lewis an advanced copy of her book, The Man Born to Be King, accompanied by a Screwtape-styled letter where Sluckdrib is the newly assigned demon, Screwtape the mentor, and Sayers herself the patient. In literary self-deprecation, Sluckdrib’s assessment of Sayers is a kind of epistolary confession:

The effect of writing these plays upon the character of my patient is wholly satisfactory. I have already had the honor to report intellectual and spiritual pride, vainglory, self-opinionated dogmatism, irreverence, blasphemous frivolity, frequentation of the company of theatricals, captiousness, impatience with correction, polemical fury, shortness of temper, neglect of domestic affairs, lack of charity, egotism, nostalgia for secular occupations, and a growing tendency to consider the Bible as Literature.[1]

Lewis evidently delighted in the letter, suggesting that “the Sluckdrib letter is obviously intended for human consumption,” commenting on its artfulness, and closing with a hope that their own epistolary conversation will last indefinitely.[2]

Sometimes it’s fun to be wrong. This letter, which I found in a book I bought almost accidentally just last week, is clever and brilliantly written–a real treasure.

Notes:

[1] Barbara Reynolds, “C.S. Lewis and Dorothy L. Sayers,” in C.S. Lewis Remebered, ed. Harry Lee Poe & Rebecca Whitten Poe (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 199. The letter in its entirety, dated March 22, 1943, is found in Barbara Reynolds, ed. The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: From Novelist to Playwright (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), though Walter Hooper has the original letter dated May 13, 1943, just four days before Lewis’ return letter, Hooper, Letters 2, 573.

[2] Walter Hooper, C.S. Lewis Letters 2, 573.

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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13 Responses to Dorothy Sayers’ Sluckdrib Letter: The First Screwtape Copycat

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