Summary: An older biography of Lewis, but with the memories of a friend and student.
I continue, after about 18 months of reading about one book a month on or by CS Lewis, to be continually impressed by him. Part of what continues to impress me about Lewis is his humanity in the context of his greatness. Lewis was certainly fallible and this biography by a former student and long term friend acknowledges the fallibility.
Fallibility is important, I think especially in regard to Christians. Christianity is large part is centered around the need for a savior and acknowledgement of our sin and limitation. So I think it is especially important for Christian biography to honestly (and gently) talk about limitation (and sin) in a way that acknowledges that humanity. We are not gods, and all those that are not God are limited.
CS Lewis was certainly limited. He was limited by his lack of math (won’t have gotten into Oxford without his military exemption from the Math entrance exam and throughout his life his poor understanding of his finances and his ability to sell his books limited him.) He was limited by life situations (he cared for the mother of a friend throughout his life as well as his alcoholic brother.) He was limited by time. He was only 63 when he died and that was just a couple years longer than his wife (they were only married for 3 years before she died.)
Now that I have read four biographies on Lewis (and his autobiography and a biography of his wife) I am starting to get a decent handle on the what is known about Lewis and what is still questioned or controversial. Joy (Lewis’ wife) is controversial. Lyle Dorsett’s biography is fairly positive about her. McGrath’s biography and this one were pretty negative about Joy, although I think Sayer’s biography was a bit more balanced in the end. Lewis’ relationship to Mrs Moore (the mother of his friend) is controversial and questioned.
None of these biographies, except Devin Brown’s really spend much time on Lewis’ spiritual formation and even that one leaves lots of holes and questions.
The usefulness of Jack: A Life is all of George Sayer’s personal reflections and memories. You never forget this book is written by someone that knew him and was present for much of his life, including the first time Lewis met Joy.
If you read one biography, then Alister McGrath’s is probably the best. Devin Brown’s is really about his spiritual life and not a broader biography. I need to go back and re-read Alan Jacob’s biography (The Narnian) because it has been too long to adequately compare, but its focus is more on the literary than the biography. But if you are interested in the man and not just the story of the man, I think this book is worth picking up.
(If you read ebooks, the publisher, Crossway, has offered Jack for $1.99 about once a year for the past couple of years. Unfortunately, the most recent time was a couple weeks ago.)
- Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy #1)
- Perelandra by CS Lewis (Space Trilogy #2)
- That Hideous Strength (Space Trilogy #3)
- A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of CS Lewis by Devin Brown (Spiritual Biography)
- Reflections on the Psalms by CS Lewis
- CS Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath (Biography)
- Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis (Autobiography)
- Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by CS Lewis (Second Reading)
- Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis (Second Reading)
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Narnia) (Book/Movie Review)
- The Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis (Narnia)
- The Silver Chair by CS Lewis (Narnia)
- The Magician’s Nephew (Narnia)
- The Last Battle by CS Lewis (Narnia)
- God in the Dock (Essays)
- Mere Christianity