The Screwtape Letters Chapter 11: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In chapter eleven of 'The Screwtape Letters' by C.S. Lewis, Screwtape tells Wormwood about the different types of laughter among humans. Some causes of laughter will help their cause, while some benefit the Enemy.


In the eleventh chapter of C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, Uncle Screwtape teaches Wormwood about human laughter. Some types of laughter such as what arises from joy or fun are only useful to the Enemy, but there is hope for Wormwood if he can engage his patient appropriately in the laughter created by certain types of jokes or flippancy. Learn more along with Wormwood about how laughter is beneficial to either the Enemy or the Underworld.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Joy & Fun

Laughter that comes from joy, according to the Underworld, is the worst kind. Sometimes there are jokes involved,which can be a good thing, but the amount of laughter that is produced from the tiniest amount of humor leads Screwtape to believe that rather than laughing at the jokes themselves, this is some kind of indignity, like music, that comes from the Enemy and cannot be understood by the Underworld.

'Something like it is expressed in much of that detestable art which the humans call Music, and something like it occurs in Heaven - a meaningless acceleration in the rhythm of celestial experience, quite opaque to us,' writes Screwtape.

Fun creates the same type of useless laughter. Unless the playfulness that comes with it can be manipulated to distract the patient from the Enemy's work, it is useless.

Joke Proper

Unexpected incongruity, or jokes, have some degree of effectiveness depending on the patient. For most, inappropriate sexual humor has no real effect because the separation between actual sex and jokes about it are pretty clear.

'There are some to whom 'no passion is as serious as lust' and for whom an indecent story ceases to produce lasciviousness precisely in so far as it becomes funny: there are others in whom laughter and lust are excited at the same moment and by the same things,' explains Screwtape.

But there are some patients that use lewd jokes as an excuse to talk about sex. As long as the patient never learns the difference, Wormwood can make great use of this if his patient is the right type.

An even better use of jokes is when the patient uses humor as a means to excuse his typically socially unacceptable behavior. Some patients have figured out that they can get away with practically anything as long as it is treated like a joke.

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