My collection of books by and about J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis has been missing a good bio on Lewis. I have remedied that with expansive new Lewis study by Alister McGrath entitled C.S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet.
Released last year in time for the 50th anniversary of Lewis’ death, it is a very readable and insightful look at this influential writer-scholar who never set out to be famous. McGrath has scoured all of Lewis’ writings and letters and pieced together the Narnian’s life story from beginning to end. We see Lewis as the intelligent child trying to fit in, the soldier in WWI, the ardent atheist, the scholar who reasons to belief in God, the everyman champion of Christianity and the writer of subtle, yet complex novels. Many love his simple intellectual approach to belief (as in Mere Christianity), others can’t stand that the theology of this non-theologian wasn’t perfect (as if theirs is) or that he loved to smoke and drink. Ultimately, as this detailed biography shows, Lewis was, like us all, a very complex individual who didn’t claim perfection (or that Christianity made one so).
McGrath’s book is a study of Lewis, not his books, but through those writings McGrath looks into the mind of one of the few writers remembered decades after they have passed. His influences were many and together they left quite the legacies. For some, it was his creation of Narnia that has inspired many others (even those who didn’t like his mythos). There was his lesser known Space Trilogy (or the Ransom Trilogy, as McGrath suggests it should be known as) that showed us the dangers of scientisim and other irrational thought. His books that explored issues we all face, regardless of our beliefs, such as A Grief Observed or The Problem of Pain. Through Lewis’ many books and letters, and those who knew him, his life can be reconstructed in a way that can be accomplished for very few writers.
Indeed, it was his life that made him a writer that will be long remembered.