Summary (from the publisher): Fifty years after his death, C. S. Lewis continues to inspire and fascinate millions. His legacy remains varied and vast. He was a towering intellectual figure, a popular fiction author who inspired a global movie franchise around the world of Narnia, and an atheist-turned-Christian thinker.
In C.S. Lewis—A Life, Alister McGrath, prolific author and respected professor at King’s College of London, paints a definitive portrait of the life of C. S. Lewis. After thoroughly examining recently published Lewis correspondence, Alister challenges some of the previously held beliefs about the exact timing of Lewis’s shift from atheism to theism and then to Christianity. He paints a portrait of an eccentric thinker who became an inspiring, though reluctant, prophet for our times.
I had never read a biography of C.S. Lewis before, so I have no choice but to approach McGrath’s book as a standalone work. In this regard, I was completely satisfied with the breadth and scope of the information, as well as with the documentary evidence cited.
McGrath tells the story of Lewis’ life chronologically, beginnning with his childhood in Ireland (thankfully, he didn’t feel the need to start with Lewis’ parents’ or grandparents’ lives, as so many biographers do with their subjects) and progressing through Lewis’ schooldays in England, university days at Oxford, wartime experience, and post-war lecturing/writing. All parts were clearly distinguishable from each other, and when woven together, yielded a cohesive tapestry of Lewis’ life.
What I especially enjoyed about this book was how McGrath provided some analysis of each of Lweis’ major writings. When available, McGrath revealed what Lewis himself had to say about a particular work; failing that, McGrath provides the reader with some critical responses from Lewis’ day. This analysis was short enough to make the biography as a whole manageable, yet detailed enough to allow me to read Lewis with some new insight.
Another thing I appreciated here was the way the author didn’t lionize Lewis. Yes, the biography was mostly positive in tone, but McGrath took Lewis to task when warranted.
In thinking back over what I read, I wish that McGrath had delved a bit more into Lewis’ relationship with Mrs. Moore. Not from any desire for salacious gossip, but rather because there seemed some legitimate lines of questioning that McGrath didn’t follow up with. For example, I read in the C.S. Lewis Wikipedia entry (not a great source, I know) that the bedroom layout at the Kilns (the house Lewis shared with Moore and his brother) was such that a friend of Lewis’ at the time thought that the relationship was almost certainly sexual in nature. McGrath hinted as much, but didn’t really explore the issue.
Nor did I quite understand the significance of McGrath’s claim that Lewis’ conversion to Christianity actually happened a year or so later than everyone (including Lewis himself) claimed. Sure, McGrath makes a good case and was sharp to have spotted the inconsistencies in Lewis’ correspondence and actions, but so what? What difference does Lewis’ conversion date make in the grand scheme of things? Is this something that needed to be treated as a major discovery? Perhaps my unfamiliarity with Lewis scholarship in general is obscuring the importance of this tidbit.
On the whole, I found C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alistair McGrath to be a highly engrossing and engaging read. The author was able to paint a full picture of Lewis’ life without getting bogged down in minutiae or overstaying his welcome. I came away from my time with the book knowing a heck of a lot more about Lewis than when I started, which is, after all, the point of reading a biography. I give this one 4 stars out of 5.