Saturday, July 20, 2013

Book Review: C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath

I've just finished this book on my Kindle, and I have to say, it was an absolutely splendid read. As one who has devoted much personal and academic study to Lewis and his works, I came to this book expecting it to merely rehearse the same old facts of Lewis' life that have been told and retold numerous times already. I confess, I was merely reading it because I wanted to see what a scholar like McGrath could do with the data. Of course, the basic biographical dates and facts are there, but McGrath presents the information in a wonderfully synoptic way -- framing the story of Lewis's life within a survey of the cultural climate in which he lived and an erudite analysis of Lewis's major works. McGrath has successfully avoided three pitfalls of other biographers of Lewis. First, he does not make him out to be a plaster saint. Lewis's character flaws are exposed, albeit not excessively. McGrath's biography is simultaneously honest and honoring. Second, McGrath avoids attempts at speculative Freudian psychoanalysis of Lewis by which some have sought to titillate their readership. McGrath does not hide from the strange and sordid facts of Lewis's infamous relationship with Mrs. Moore (and her entire family), the homosexuality of one of Lewis's closest friends, the deep void left by the death of his mother, the bizarre eruption of Joy Davidman onto the stage of Lewis's life, and Lewis's schoolboy escapades. He simply does not expound on these things with sensationalized theories that would seek to fill in the gaps of Lewis's story that were known only to Lewis himself. He acknowledges that some have done so, but challenges the merits of those suggestions. Third, McGrath has not penned a biography in the vein of some who offer a glimpse of "my C.S. Lewis," i.e., the one I knew better than you. McGrath claims no secret knowledge of Lewis and acknowledges his dependence on other biographers. He maintains a healthy, objective distance from Lewis, even in the face of his evident regard for him. In conclusion, I would highly recommend this book to those who desire to know more about C. S. Lewis, his life, his work, and his time. It also stands to be recommended for any who enjoy a good biography. I have read very few that are better written than this one.         

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