To countless children (and their parents), C.S. Lewis is known as the author of the Narnia books, the popular fantasy series the first two books of which have recently been adapted for television. To an equally wide audience, Lewis is known as a Christian apologist, author of THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, MERE CHRISTIANITY, and other books in this vein with cumulative sales in the millions. Finally, to students of English literature Lewis is known as a superb critic whose works combine deep erudition with a pleasurable readability rarely encountered in the thickets of academic literary criticism.
One of the key challenges for a biographer is to show how these three Lewises were intimately related to one another, though for much of his life Lewis kept these diverse aspects of himself in distinct compartments. In A.N. Wilson, Lewis has finally found a biographer equal to the task. Wilson himself is a writer who appears in various guises. Best known as a prolific novelist and biographer (his excellent biography of Leo Tolstoy appeared in 1988), Wilson has also published essays and criticism, a children’s story, and a book in the spirit of Lewis’s apologetics, HOW CAN WE KNOW?, about the fundamental questions of Christian belief. Wilson views his subject from a position of knowledge and sympathy, but he will have nothing of the sanctimony that has infected so much writing about Lewis. Indeed, as Wilson notes, since Lewis’s death in 1963 a veritable cult has grown up around him in evangelical Christian circles.
Tracing Lewis’s life from his childhood in Belfast, Northern Ireland, through his long career at the University of Oxford and his final years at Cambridge, Wilson is neither a hagiographer nor a reductive psychobiographer. He attempts to sort out Lewis’s tangled sexual life--his long, strange relationship with a woman old enough to be his mother; his late marriage to an aggressive American divorcee whom most of his old friends loathed--but that is only part of a story that includes Lewis’s reading (where he lived most intensely), his friendship with men such as J.R.R. Tolkien, and much more. C.S. LEWIS: A BIOGRAPHY is not simply the best among the several biographies of Lewis currently available; it is one of the best literary biographies in years.
Sources for Further Study
Christian Century. CVII, May 16, 1990, p.525.
The Christian Science Monitor. March 19, 1990, p. 12.
Commentary. LXXXIX, May, 1990, p.61.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 29, 1990, p.8.
The New Leader. LXXIII, March 19, 1990, p. 17.
The New Republic. CCII, May 28, 1990, p.35.
The New York Review of Books. XXXVII, April 12, 1990, p.3.
The New York Times Book Review. XCV; February 18, 1990, p.11.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVI, December 22, 1989, p.48.
The Times Literary Supplement. February 16, 1990, p.161.