CS Lewis Biography: Book Review
So Alistair Mcgrath has written a biography of CS Lewis: the “Eccentric Genius” and “Reluctant Prophet”, who wrote lots of excellent, and readable books in the mid 20th Century. I enjoyed the Narnia books as a kid, and have read a few of his other books since (dad’s got quite a few of them).
But pretty much all I knew of Lewis was that he was a Christian who wrote books, was an Oxfordian academic, and was mates with Tolkien (of LOTR fame). I highly recommend Mcgrath’s biography as an introduction to the man behind the magical myths of the Chronicles of Narnia!
I actually had the priviledge of hearing Mcgrath as a guest lecturer at my uni several years ago, where he gently and convincingly debunked his then colleague Dawkin’s pop Antitheism. Mcgrath is now at some London uni but continues to write good stuff (I’ve read one or two of his other books).
I was guessing Lewis was going to be an average bloke with a vivid imagination. Turns out he was a genuinely eccentric man, and often in morally dubious circumstances. After an idyllic childhood in Northern Ireland, his dad sent him off to English boarding schools after his mother’s death, and he hated it. Mcgrath, himself an Irishman exiled in England stresses that although Lewis is accused by some of “sacrificing his Irishness on the altar of an English education”, Lewis Jr. never chose that path, and almost always holidayed back over the Irish Sea.
As it turned out, Lewis was a very bright boy who got into Oxford just as World War 1 was breaking out. It wasn’t the best of timing and he soon got shipped out to the trenches of Northern France. Surprisingly, especially for the day in which he lived, Lewis had become an atheist by this point, embittered by his mother’s death, his (perceived) abandonment by his father to the hell of English boarding schools, and now the horrors of war, where he himself was injured and his best friend was killed. His friend’s mum had become a surrogate mother, but also, unhelpfully, his lover in a clandestine relationship that would have scandalised the morally straight laced England of the time.
Seeking to hide this relationship from his father further soured that relationship, and in his autobiography he states the fact that they were never properly reconciled as one of his deepest regrets in his life, that he dishonoured his father in such a deceitful, cruel way.
But in his misery, Lewis, now an Oxford academic, as he spoke to theistic colleagues like Tolkien and spent time in the misty green Mountains of Mourne in his homeland, Lewis was unexpectedly “Surprised by Joy”. He realised that his bitter, miserable atheism was eating at him and his relationships like a cancer, and so became “the most reluctant convert” to Jesus Christ in his estimation. I really related to that: although I was an 8 year old kid when I became a Christian, I was surprised by how simple it is to be reconciled to God- no divine voice out of the clouds or angelic choirs in my hearing, just tears of relief and joy that my sins were dealt with.
Of course Lewis’ life circumstances didn’t change overnight but to cut a long story short he basically became the voice of moral backbone and fortitude for an embattled Britain in WW2 in some BBC radio lectures that became his classic Mere Christianity. Then of course there are the wonderful Narnia books that point to the God of Wonders beyond our Galaxy.
Lewis’ partner died and he eventually married an eccentric American (appropriately named Joy!). And he leaves a legacy of books which are all worth reading- start in Narnia if you haven’t already!