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12 Things You Might Not Know About The Screwtape Letters

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C.S. Lewis’s most popular non-Narnia novel is a delicious, perceptive treatise on the weaknesses of human nature. Here are 12 little-known facts about The Screwtape Letters, its development, and its enduring impact.    

1. It Took Lewis A Little Over Six Months to Write All 31 Letters.

In July 1940, Lewis came up with the idea of a senior demon named Screwtape mailing trade secrets and frank pointers to his greenhorn nephew, Wormwood, who has been charged with corrupting a human soul. Inspired, the author worked at breakneck speed, frequently knocking out an entire letter in one sit-down session.

2. Originally, These Dispatches Ran as a Serial.

Having already submitted material to a now-defunct Anglican gazette called The Guardian, Lewis was in good standing with its editor, who released the first “Screwtape Letter” on May 2, 1941. Every week, another hellish correspondence would appear, until the last one hit the stands on November 28. Readers devoured them en masse, and before long, publisher Geoffrey Bles converted Lewis’ series into a book

3. The Newspaper Proceeds Helped a Charitable Cause.  

The Guardian offered Lewis two pounds per letter. Refusing payment, he insisted that a fund dedicated to the widows of Church of England clergymen receive this money instead.

4. One of the Human Characters Was Probably Based on a Woman Lewis Lived With.  

Lewis wasn’t the sort who would go back on a promise made to a fallen friend. In WWI, he and a comrade named Paddy Moore agreed that if either man should perish, the other would take care of his surviving parent (both had already lost one—Lewis’s mother succumbed to cancer in 1908). Paddy ultimately died on the French front, leaving Janie King Moore behind. After the war, Lewis moved in with and tended to her.    

The overbearing Mrs. Moore could be a very difficult person. Lewis’ older brother, Warren, was disgusted by her manipulative, “insincere” personality. “She … interfered constantly with his work,” Warren recalled, “and imposed upon him a heavy burden of minor domestic tasks.” In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis’ fiction clearly borrowed from his reality. Wormwood’s mortal “client” has an exacting mother who’s described as “a positive terror to hostesses and servants.” Almost every C.S. Lewis biographer under the sun believes that she was also, in fact, a caricature of Mrs. Moore. 

5. Some Readers Didn’t Understand That the Letters Were Satirical.  

During their run in The Guardian, one angry clergyman canceled his subscription. Evidently, this fellow mistook Screwtape for an actual (and terrible) theologian doling out sincere spiritual tips. The outraged church official wrote the editor to complain that “much of the advice given in these letters … [seems] not only erroneous but positively diabolical.”

6. The Author Didn’t Enjoy Writing Them.

“Of all my books,” Lewis admitted in a 1963 interview, “there was only one I did not take pleasure in writing.” He found The Screwtape Letters “dry and gritty going. At the time, I was thinking of objections to the Christian life and decided to put them in the form ‘That’s what the devil would say.’ But making goods ‘bad’ and bads ‘good’ gets to be fatiguing.” 

7. Their Success Prompted Lewis to Hire His Brother as an Aide.  

Screwtape’s newspaper premiere triggered a typhoon of fan mail. Since Lewis couldn’t keep pace with it all, the novelist asked Warren if he’d consider becoming his paid personal assistant. This turned out to be an excellent job for Warren, whose responses to these admirers were so clever and so well-composed that they could easily pass for his sibling’s handiwork. 

8. The Book Version Is Dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien, Who Didn’t Appreciate the Gesture.

Published in 1942, it turned into a runaway bestseller destined for eight reprints before the year’s end. Crack open any copy today, and you’ll find “To J.R.R. Tolkien” inside. But truth be told, Lewis’ longtime friend found the story disturbing. Plus, Tolkien knew just how little his colleague personally thought of it. It should come as no surprise, then, that he was less than thrilled with this particular shout-out.

9. Lewis Considered Writing a Companion Novel from An Angel’s Perspective.

At first, the concept of some new messages detailing “archangelical advice to the patient’s guardian angel” delighted Lewis. But his standards were too high and that project never took off. “Mere advice would be no good,” Lewis lamented, “every sentence would have to smell of Heaven.”

10. A Brief Sequel Appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. 

Lewis never penned another devilish letter, but when asked to do so by the Post, he did churn out a speech on behalf of his most sinister creation. In 1959's “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” the demon gives a mealtime speech at the Tempter's Training College for Young Devils somewhere in Hell. Topics addressed include democracy, education, and—of course—religion. 

11. Multiple Authors Have Written Unofficial Follow-Ups.

A certain fiend opines on everything from gossip to pornography in Screwtape Writes Again (1975) by Martin Walter. Then there’s The Screwtape Email (2006): a self-explanatory postscript courtesy of Arthur H. Williams Jr. But perhaps the best-regarded of all is The Snakebite Letters: Devilishly Devious Secrets for Subverting Society as Taught in Tempter’s Training School  (1998) by Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft. “I’m sure Lewis wanted such ‘plagiarisms,’” proclaims Kreeft’s introduction. “The Screwtape Letters invented a new genre, a new species; all I’m doing is breeding another specimen.” 

12. Calvin and Hobbes Included a Recurring Player Named After Screwtape’s Nephew.

Bill Watterson has acknowledged that Miss Wormwood (Calvin’s long-suffering teacher) was named for the naïve tempter, “as a few readers have guessed.” Lewis himself probably borrowed the moniker from a Biblical star mentioned in Revelations 8:11.

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Build Your Own Harry Potter Characters With LEGO's New BrickHeadz Set

Harry Potter is looking pretty square these days. In a testament to the enduring appeal of the boy—and the franchise—who lived, LEGO has launched a line of Harry Potter BrickHeadz.

The gang’s all here in this latest collection, which was recently revealed during the toymaker’s Fall 2018 preview in New York City. Other highlights of that show included LEGO renderings of characters from Star Wars, Incredibles 2, and several Disney films, according to Inside The Magic.

The Harry Potter BrickHeadz collection will be released in July and includes figurines of Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, and even Hedwig. Some will be sold individually, while others come as a set.

A Ron Weasley figurine
LEGO

A Hermione figurine
LEGO

A Dumbledore figurine
LEGO

Harry Potter fans can also look forward to a four-story, 878-piece LEGO model of the Hogwarts Great Hall, which will be available for purchase August 1. Sets depicting the Whomping Willow, Hogwarts Express, and a quidditch match will hit shelves that same day.

[h/t Inside The Magic]

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
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Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

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