|Book review – C.S. Lewis - A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet|
|Written by Michael Parker (reviewer)|
|Friday, 30 August 2013 17:59|
C.S. Lewis - A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet
by Alister McGrath
Tyndale House Publications, Inc., Carol Stream, Ill. 448 pages
In “The Twilight of Atheism” (2006), “The Dawkins Delusion?” (2010) and similar books, Alister McGrath defends Christianity against the New Atheism of writers such as Richard Dawkins. As a Christian apologist, he no doubt imagines that he has taken up the mantle of C.S. Lewis. Some of his book titles suggest as much: “Surprised by Meaning” (2011) and “Mere Apologetics” (2012). He’s even co-authored a children’s series, “Aedyn Chronicles,” about the adventures of children in a magical paradise now fallen – sound familiar?
Like Lewis, McGrath was born in Northern Ireland and became a professor at Oxford and later Cambridge – though now McGrath teaches at Kings College London. Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that he would write a biography of his intellectual hero, C.S. Lewis.
For those who know Lewis well, much of the book will be trotting over familiar ground, which raises the question: Does the world really need another biography of Lewis? McGrath makes a good case for one. In the last few decades much critical work has been done on Lewis, expanding our understanding of his writings and the details of his personal life. This biography includes this new material, making it the most up-to-date narrative we have of Lewis’s life.
McGrath, moreover, makes contributions of his own. His single most important correction of the record is the re-dating of Lewis’s conversion, shifting it from 1929 to 1930. He also provides clarity and nuance for some of Lewis’s more significant relationships, such as those with his father and J.R.R. Tolkien. He manages, in particular, to soften the crusty image of Mrs. Moore, the older woman with whom Lewis shared his home for over three decades. Conversely, he takes an adverse view of Joy Gresham, rejecting the romanticized portrayal of her presented in “Shadowlands,” a book and Hollywood movie. McGrath depicts Mrs. Gresham as a gold digger whose intention from the outset was to “seduce” Lewis.
This biography lacks the warmth and personal insights of the two earlier biographies of Lewis by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper, and by George Sayer – all close friends of Lewis. McGrath, however, because of his distance, adds objectivity and literary insight to his subject. His book is also appropriately balanced. It doesn’t, for example, give undue space to Lewis’s relationship with Mrs. Gresham. Instead, it devotes two whole chapters to the “Chronicles of Narnia,” which, given the importance of these books to Lewis’s literary legacy and the current popular interest in them because of recent Hollywood movies, is spot-on.
McGrath’s final chapter explains Lewis’s burgeoning popularity among general readers, moviegoers and above all American evangelicals. Lewis’s literary works not only engage the rational mind but provide an imaginative and attractive vision of the faith that evangelical writers often lack. Hence in our post-modern world, in which story is paramount, Lewis’s popularity may continue unabated when other apologists have long since been forgotten.
MICHAEL PARKER is the PC(USA) coordinator of the Office of International Evangelism.