Last April, HarperCollins and Beliefnet.com challenged readers to update C.S. Lewis's famous exchange between two devils, "The Screwtape Letters," with a Screwtape letter of their own. We received 250 essays from around the world, which were judged by four independent scholars and editors.
We are pleased to announce that the top prize has been awarded to Amy Schwartz of Washington, D.C. Schwartz is a journalist and a member of the Washington Post editorial board. "It may seem odd for an observant Jew to nourish a lifelong passion for the works of a Christian theologian," says Schwartz. "But I find much of Lewis's humane wisdom to be universal, and this is especially true of the psychological and spiritual insight that fills 'The Screwtape Letters'."
Schwartz will receive an all-expenses paid trip for two to London and Oxford. Her essay will be published in two anthologies, The Best Spiritual Writing 2002 and The Best Christian Writing 2002. Click here to see the ten runners-up.
By Amy Schwartz
My dear Scrapetooth,
You may wonder at receiving a communication from someone of my Abysmal Seniority. The truth is, I was on an errand in the Second Circle and happened to pass by the student notice boards, where the new patient assignments are posted.
Permit me to congratulate you on being assigned a television anchorman. I look forward to seeing what you do with him. The task is significant and complicated enough to have attracted considerable attention Below; you may consider it a chance to show your paces and impress prominent diabolical figures, among whom I number myself.
You may think I refer to the importance of tempting a subject who, if properly turned, can help mislead, confuse and ultimately recruit to our side the many millions of additional souls in his viewing audience. Not so!
Some of us already have begun to salivate. Do not disappoint us. Many interesting tactical choices lie before you--for instance, whether to let your man become progressively more entranced with the power and influence of his position, and more committed to enhancing that status at any cost, or whether instead to whip him with the sense that what he does is "only" journalism, a game of surfaces and hurried deadlines, and let him lose himself in reveries of someday doing something more "serious."
The first strategy will gradually render him unbearably arrogant and unreachable by normal scruples. The second will prevent genuine engagement with the task before him, with the attendant career stagnation, frustration, and hostility. Either dish can be satisfying; it is really a matter of personal taste.
Feel free to call upon me any time. We have not met much, but I am still a senior devil and as such command my small degree of influence Down Here.
Your affectionate third cousin twice removed,
My dear Scrapetooth,
You ask how I come by what you call my special knowledge of TV journalists, yours in particular. Dear boy, I hope I did not mislead. I have no direct knowledge of the creature who is under your supervision. I merely extended to him the observations I have made of the hapless members of his profession who have found their way here before him. (A habit you ought to practice, by the way. Relegation of the individual case to a general category based on under-informed assumption is an essential skill to master if you wish to descend the ladder of Nether Administration.)
You would be surprised how many devils while away their time between shifts decoding and imbibing these emissions, especially the all-news channels. They are not as satisfying to the appetite as the direct draughts of human fear, anguish and confusion that we enjoy in the course of our duties, but they serve well as a snack between meals and as a reminder of those ultimate pleasures. We are led to believe that television reception is even better in the Other Place but that its denizens do not share our interest in it.