A new ‘wardrobe door’ into the life of C. S. Lewis (@soonguy)

My mum and dad’s first date, as undergraduates in Oxford during the war, was to hear C. S. Lewis preach his sermon The Weight of Glory at the university church. As a student at Lewis’s Magdalen College (pronounced MORD-lun), my dad would of course see him around the college, though was never taught by him or even spoke with him. He also remembers the regular sight of Lewis’s brother ‘Warnie’ walking in from Headington to visit Lewis in his college rooms.

50 years ago this month, C. S. Lewis died, the news overshadowed by the assassination of President Kennedy on the same day.

His remarkable legacy remains with us. The recent publication of a new biography by Alister McGrath – C. S. Lewis – a Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet – brings valuable insights into a man whose books continue to have a worldwide spiritual impact.

It is hard to imagine anyone better suited to be a Lewis biographer than McGrath. They share Irish heritage, and the experience of academic life in Oxford as both student and faculty. McGrath, like Lewis, is a Christian writer of distinction, penning numerous apologetics, theological and history books (plus a children’s fiction fantasy). His spiritual journey also echoes that of Lewis – from atheism to faith.

“I wish it was longer”

This book is a highly readable and well-researched study. I was constantly wishing it could be twice as long, to give us more detail and background! Unlike most earlier biographers of Lewis, McGrath is too young to have known Lewis as an adult, so he can develop a more dispassionate balance. He also avoids speculation – this is an evidence-based biography using detailed study of published or public sources, He has chronologically crosschecked the relatively recent Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis with the rest of Lewis’s timeline and all his published books, leading to an interesting new discovery.

McGrath provides a helpful understanding of Lewis’s purpose and strategy in fiction writing, with two chapters analyzing his use of storytelling in the Chronicles of Narnia to smuggle in embedded spiritual truths and create a sense of sensucht – longing. I’d have loved even more on this!

A very detailed set of footnotes and extensive bibliography make this a definitive ‘wardrobe door’ into the life and world of C S Lewis, for those who wish to study and explore some more.

Photo credit: Statue “The Searcher” by Ross Wilson, depicting C. S. Lewis looking into a wardrobe (located in East Belfast) | Genvessel/Flickr | Creative Commons

About soonguy

Tony Whittaker is coordinator for Internet Evangelism Day | Team member, SOON Ministries, Derby UK. Contact him here.