The Wormwood File The Wormwood File
E-Mail From Hell

Jim Forest
ISBN 157075554X (9781570755545)
Orbis Books, 2004

Category: Fiction

If ever there was a worthy successor to C S Lewis' Screwtape Letters, this is it. Jim Forest presents us with a Wormwood who has progressed since his days under Screwtape's diabolical tutelage and is now doing his own mentoring of another junior devil, Greasebeek — by email.

Regrettably, Jim explains in his foreword, it's a one-sided correspondence. The IT consultant who hacked his way into Hell's archives - the source of this correspondence - experienced a system crash within minutes and was never able to hack his way back in again to download more than this single file of Wormwood's sent messages. Even so, Greasebeek's side of things is easy enough to imagine and The Wormwood File brings the Screwtape Letters bang up to date for the 21st Century, featuring schemings from a tempter who knows his way around today's world and understands exactly how to worm his way into the cracks in a man's mind.

And it is definitely the cracks in a man's mind rather than a woman's that are being pried open here — Greasebeek's "client" is a man climbing his career ladder when his wife becomes pregnant, then war breaks out. Greasebeek, with Wormwood's advice, sets out to take full advantage of the potential chaos these situations present — advice that's every bit as subtle and dangerous as any that Screwtape ever offered to Wormwood in his own younger days:

As always, pay careful attention to terminology. In the arguments that are about to take place, encourage your client to abstain from words like "unborn baby" or "unborn child" — far better refer to it as an "embryo" or "fetus." It's amazing how useful a Greek or Latin word can be in filling the human mind with fog while making the person pronouncing such words feel more intelligent. (p.29)

Despite — or perhaps even because of — the male perspective, I suspect that this book will prove just as valuable a read for a woman as for a man: it offers an insider view of the male psyche that none of us (I hope!) will feel comfortable with.

It's entertaining but it's also a damnably accurate depiction of the ways in which Satan chips away at the edges of our thought processes. It's good to be able to think like your enemy but there's always that danger of unwittingly beginning to embrace those thoughts as our own. As C S Lewis himself put it in the introduction to his own sequel, Screwtape Proposes a Toast,

...though it was easy to twist one's mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp... Every trace of beauty, freshness and geniality had to be excluded. It almost smothered me before I was done. It would have smothered my readers if I had prolonged it.

Be warned: Satan does not want you to read this book — and as you do, he will try to twist your mind: so read it with your eyes wide open and in an attitude of prayer.

Distributed in Europe and the UK by Alban Books

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Phil Groom, January 2005

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

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