Review of C. S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alister McGrath
Overview from www.goodreads.com: 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 wanted to get this book since I’d first heard of it. I am a fan of C.S. Lewis and especially his Narnia series and the book Mere Christianity. But when I read the first reviews of this book online I thought maybe I’d better hold off on buying it until I had actually read it. Most of the reviews from regular folks were saying that the book was too dry and academic. I wanted to see if my library would have it as an e-book to borrow and happily, they did.
My verdict is that the book was a little dry at points and academic (though the academic part didn’t bother me) but not nearly so much as the reviews I read implied. At least not for me.
For me the biggest (and only) negative was that the author seems to repeat himself at certain points. I started to wonder if he got paid by the word. He would make a point at the beginning of the paragraph and then it seemed like he just reworded the same sentence at the end. It seemed totally unnecessary. I know that some English classes will teach their students to write that way but it is not a good way to write an engaging biography.
Overall, I liked it a lot. Yes, it was academic but as I said that didn’t really bother me and I expected it to a certain extent since the author is also a professor. And yes, the book was very thorough but I think that is what most readers of biographies expect. Unlike memoirs, biographies are supposed to cover the subject’s entire life, not just certain parts of it. If you don’t want to know “all that information” then a biography of the person in question is not for you. I don’t know why some people don’t get that.
The best part for me was that I learned a lot of things that I didn’t know about Lewis before. I didn’t know how much he admired and encouraged J.R.R. Tolkien in his publication of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which I also love. I really wish I could have been just a fly on the wall at one of the meetings of their writer’s/discussion group which was appropriately called Inklings. I am sure it would have been entertaining as well as informative.
McGrath is great at highlighting all of these little known facts about Lewis and does so as objectively as possible. Lewis was no saint and McGrath doesn’t gloss over the flaws in his personality or personal relationships but at the same time he does not ignore the possible reasons why Lewis may have had a weak spot for certain individuals and vices.
The chapters focusing on Narnia were especially well thought out and timely for the many fans of the movies and books. Here I found the answers to my many questions about how Lewis developed these story ideas.
Overall, I think it is a worthwhile book even if it does take a while to get through it. I would definitely recommend it to all who enjoy Lewis’ books. I hope you agree.