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A.N. Wilson's brilliant biography shows how hard Lewis struggled for the wisdom he shared in his books--The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Problem of Pain and Surprised by Joy. Photographs. A.N. Wilson's brilliant biography shows how hard Lewis struggled for the wisdom he shared in his books--The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Problem of Pain and Surprised by Joy. Photographs.


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A.N. Wilson's brilliant biography shows how hard Lewis struggled for the wisdom he shared in his books--The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Problem of Pain and Surprised by Joy. Photographs. A.N. Wilson's brilliant biography shows how hard Lewis struggled for the wisdom he shared in his books--The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Problem of Pain and Surprised by Joy. Photographs.

30 review for C.S. Lewis: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lynne King

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I first came across C. S. Lewis several years ago through reading his book "A Grief Observed". It is somewhat rambling but it is a true account of a man who suffered so much with his wife Joy's death that he literally put on paper all of his thoughts at the time. He did not admit authorship of the document but a student of his university realised that Lewis was the author and it was finally published under his name and sold successfully for many years and more so after his death in 1963. Three y I first came across C. S. Lewis several years ago through reading his book "A Grief Observed". It is somewhat rambling but it is a true account of a man who suffered so much with his wife Joy's death that he literally put on paper all of his thoughts at the time. He did not admit authorship of the document but a student of his university realised that Lewis was the author and it was finally published under his name and sold successfully for many years and more so after his death in 1963. Three years after his wife Joy died. My husband had died in 2014 and I must have read innumerable books on grief, read this book but decided in the end, we all have own way of grieving and it was best if I continued as I had done. What astounded me about this book on grief was the utter devastation of Lewis. Joy evidently was rather a "battle axe" but nevertheless he loved her, in fact in a way it was her strong character that rather enthralled him about her. It was a rather unusual marriage. He had initially "met" her as a penfriend and then she came to England from the States, got divorced from her husband and decided, I do believe that Lewis would suit her very well, which indeed proved to be the case. He had no idea that he loved her until he found she had an incurable tumour, thus married her and took her back to "The Kilns", his house in Oxford. She went into remission for about three years and Lewis got osteopathy which I found bizarre. It was if he had taken Joy's pain had entered into his own body. I guess this can happen. Needless, to say this very happy time - three years of peace, love and pleasure - came to an end and she really suffered with pain as she was dying. Sad, so sad... Then last year I saw the wonderful film "Shadowlands" with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. A splendid film but I found out later that it did not depict the true Lewis. A.N. Wilson has written a thoroughly sensitive biography with no complaints on Lewis's character when in fact Lewis was known to be rather a bully. Many evidently didn't like him at both the Oxford and Cambridge Universities but then others admired his intelligence and erudition. There were indeed two facets to his character, the bully and on the other hand, the man who charmed. So who do you go along with? I find it remarkable that an individual such a Lewis known for his apologies, religious beliefs and mediaeval literature, in addition to his public speaking, on the whole is remembered for his "Chronicles of Narnia" and his "Cosmic Trilogy". Perhaps I'm returning to my childhood sooner than I planned. What is so fascinating about Lewis is that when he was seventeen or so he became "involved" with Janie Moore, known as "Minto". She with her daughter Maureen shared Lewis's life for over thirty years - all rather "hush hush" because of Lewis working at the rather university where most individuals did not indulge in incidences such as this. Janie's husband known as the "beast" (I don't know why he was called that) was lurking somewhere in Ireland where he eventually died. I do believe Lewis's interest in Minto was due to his losing his mother very early in life and it appeared to be the same thing when he met Joy, a divorced woman with two children. All in all quite a fascinating and wonderful book that kept me enthralled to the last page, even though admittedly when there were some rather sad sections. I continue to browse this book quite often. It soothes me.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael Perkins

    8/1/2020 I'm adding something important about Lewis that I've neglected to include in my Lewis reviews, i.e. he knew absolutely nothing about science. And he was quite hostile to scientists, as comes out loud and clear in his Space Trilogy. This will probably not surprise some people. I have a scholarly background in Christianity, but now consider myself an agnostic-skeptic, so this "epiphany" came to me late. If a believer is going to depend on the Bible to any degree, he can't genuinely accept 8/1/2020 I'm adding something important about Lewis that I've neglected to include in my Lewis reviews, i.e. he knew absolutely nothing about science. And he was quite hostile to scientists, as comes out loud and clear in his Space Trilogy. This will probably not surprise some people. I have a scholarly background in Christianity, but now consider myself an agnostic-skeptic, so this "epiphany" came to me late. If a believer is going to depend on the Bible to any degree, he can't genuinely accept science. He might try to compartmentalize, otherwise he will have a bad case of cognitive dissonance. The evil scientist in the Trilogy is based on a distinguished British scientist, J. B. S. Haldane, who defeated Lewis in an Oxford Union debate. Lewis was quite the bully and didn't like losing. It seemed as if Lewis was out for petty revenge by portraying Haldane as evil in his fiction. Below is a link to what Haldane wrote in response to the Trilogy. In it's on a site that is pro-Lewis, but the writing is all Haldane. http://lewisiana.nl/haldane/#Auld_Hornie =========== Those who like the stained glass version of C.S. Lewis (which I suspect would have embarrassed Lewis immensely) are not going to find the false mythology they are looking for here. Sorry, no hagiography. The irony is that this biography is highly sympathetic to Lewis. There are no broadsides here. Instead a portrait of a real person, a scholar, a bachelor Don who had his life radically altered when he married a Jewish convert to Christianity, Joy Davidman. His loss of her to cancer made Lewis more completely human through his suffering and grief. I have read most of Lewis's books and other books about him, but I learned a great deal about him from this book. I think part of the value of Joy Davidman is that she opened him to other viewpoints and instilled more empathy in him. Up until then, he was often seen as a bully trying to shove his arguments down the throats of others. Once he accepted the fact that he not changed the minds of any of his friends, including Tolkien, he turned to writing fantasy instead, Narnia, the books he is most likely to be remembered for decades hence. A companion review to this one.... https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    I'd been dreading the Wilson bio for a while. I've read other Lewis biographers who throw shade on this one. But I knew I had to bite the bullet. Published by W. W. Norton in 1990, it's a landmark in Lewis scholarship. This is much more chronologically-driven than some of the other Lewis biographies out there (such as The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis, which is more literary-driven). The chapters are very short, covering small spans of 5-8 or even 2-4 years at a time. This makes I'd been dreading the Wilson bio for a while. I've read other Lewis biographers who throw shade on this one. But I knew I had to bite the bullet. Published by W. W. Norton in 1990, it's a landmark in Lewis scholarship. This is much more chronologically-driven than some of the other Lewis biographies out there (such as The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis, which is more literary-driven). The chapters are very short, covering small spans of 5-8 or even 2-4 years at a time. This makes Lewis's life easily digestible, which is helpful, particularly for his earlier years where so much happens and changes in a short amount of time (just think about the fact Lewis went from Kirkpatrick tutoring, to Univ College, to army training at Keble, to the French trenches, all during one year). But following the chronology in this way severely limits Wilson's ability to make cross-connections between different people, writings, and influences as they changed over the course of Lewis's life. Much of his writing feels constrained because of this. Wilson is persistently, almost strangely sympathetic to both Albert and Mrs. Moore. Wilson says the burden of proof is on those who claim Lewis and Janie Moore did not have a sexual relationship. But why? Surely if you are arguing for something, you need to cite evidence to craft a case for it? But no. He states this as fact, and moves on immediately to the next topic, never giving any written evidence or description of what we do know about their relationship, based on letters of the time. I find this extremely odd. If there is some evidence, why not cite and explain it? Wilson's inconsistency is irritating. He adamantly disagrees with Warnie's view of Minto, but trusts Warnie's opinion of Joy? Why? For Albert, I'll admit it is useful to see a biographer describe more of his side in the tumultuous Albert/Lewis relationship. Wilson seems to be unable to understand why Lewis had such a hard time connecting with his father. I see it easily. I've never been fond of Albert, and this bio didn't sway my opinion of him. At the same time, Wilson is very antagonistic toward Christianity. He seems to take Lewis's conversion experience as an odd, quaint sort of happenstance, and he never does a thorough exploration of how the conversion impacted Lewis's work. Later in the bio, Wilson outright attacks Christianity. At one point he says the books of the Bible "cannot be described as 'records' of the kind which would compel rational belief." Ouch. So he thinks all Christians through all time are irrational? Wilson certainly seems to think Lewis irrational for believing the gospels as truth. I found it contradictory that Wilson says we can't believe anything the gospels claim Jesus actually said, while I'll wager Wilson believes the claims of other historians of the same time writing about the words of other historical figures. This isn't the first Lewis bio I'd recommend picking up, as it's not an honest or easy entry point. Wilson assumes the reader is familiar with Lewis's own writing, and his exploration of the quality of Lewis's work feels very partial and personal. Wilson calls Lewis's The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature "the most completely satisfying and impressive book he ever published." Hardly. He seems to completely ignore Till We Have Faces. Wilson also assumes the reader already knows the historical context for much of Lewis's story. I had to look up things as I read. Do you know who Aleister Crowley and Barbara Pym are? Because I sure didn't. While I like a bio that can dig into the subject's character flaws, I don't think Wilson did well here. There's too many unfounded assumptions, lack of citations, or simply wrong stuff. Looking up book reviews, you can find lots of authors who have pointed out the obvious factual errors in this bio. In the last chapter, Wilson critiques "the Lewis cult" as he calls it, or fans of Lewis, but again it’s an extremely narrow and skewed view of the scholarship. In this bio, Wilson mentions: Through the Shadowlands: The Love Story of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman Instead of this one, I would recommend reading these bios: For an Oxford-driven biography, read: C. S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet For a literary-driven biography, read: The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis For a spiritually-driven biography, read: A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis I still need to read these bios: Sayer's biography: Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis Green's biography: C.S. Lewis: A Biography Doug Gresham's biography: Jack's Life: The Life Story Of C.S. Lewis Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis See Brenton’s review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... See a list of errors here: https://cslewis.drzeus.net/papers/wil... See a book review here: http://www.lewisiana.nl/definitivebio...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Chuck

    I would recommend this biography as to anyone who wants to know more about C.S. Lewis. Because of the nature of much of Lewis' writing (in favor of Christianity), many biographers have recast Lewis into an image favored by the biographer's own religious beliefs, so an American fundamentalist biographer ignores Lewis' smoking and drinking, and a British Anglican glosses over the fact that the two women who were Lewis' "life partners" were neither acceptable partners by the standards of Lewis' own I would recommend this biography as to anyone who wants to know more about C.S. Lewis. Because of the nature of much of Lewis' writing (in favor of Christianity), many biographers have recast Lewis into an image favored by the biographer's own religious beliefs, so an American fundamentalist biographer ignores Lewis' smoking and drinking, and a British Anglican glosses over the fact that the two women who were Lewis' "life partners" were neither acceptable partners by the standards of Lewis' own Church, the Church of England. Wilson tries, and I think, succeeds admirably, in painting a portrait of Lewis the man, one based on a careful reading of the author's work, of letters, manuscripts, and other artifacts, and of interviews with many who knew Lewis personally. The Lewis that emerges is one worth knowing. The flawed man, deeply hurt by the loss of his mother in early childhood, the man who lived, except for the horrors of the trenches in World War I, a life that many of us could lead, one of domestic chores, reading, writing, teaching, grading papers, is all the more estimable because of what accomplished facing what to many of us are barriers for writing and "getting important things done." For those interested in Lewis' criticism, Lewis' readability, the 'learning worn lightly,' as Wilson puts it, is what gives the critic's work "life" long after its approach has grown unfashionable. It is the fact that Lewis approaches literature AS A READER, and, through his work,' speaks to us as fellow readers, and someone with whom he wants to share his enthusiasm. Lewis the critic never reminds us how smart he is or makes us, the reader, feel foolish. It's more of a conversation, a 'Have you read this' or 'Have you thought of that' that we respond to. Lessons from Lewis the critic are valuable to those of us who love reading and to anyone who teachers, not just because of their content, but because of what they show us about the essential nature of teaching--we want to share what we love with others. For those interested in Lewis' non fiction religious writings, the flawed man is all the more approachable--someone who says, "Yeah, I'm kind of screwed up to, but I hold on to my faith and this is why it helps me through the day." Lewis is not a moralist--he is not one of those prigs who tell others how they should lead their own lives. Rather, he is a fellow sufferer, showing that Chritian virtues are not grand themes to be contemplated on Sunday mornings but rather are meaningful, or not, in how we take out the trash, treat our children, or approach the people with whom we work. Lewis is about faith lived, not faith preached. For those interested in Lewis' fiction, particularly Narnia, there is much of value to learn--about where the stories come from, about Lewis' own faith in children and in childhood, and about why he wrote so much for children. There is also a deft exploration of some of the religious themes of Narnia and of his 'Space Trilogy', one that never gets bogged down in minutiae but still gives the reader food for thought. The criticisms are thoughtful, fair, and not uniformly laudatory. I found myself both understanding the great appeal Azlan had to me when I was a young reader and had no idea what 'allegory' was or that the book was full of Christian symbolism. But the book still spoke to me in some deep way; Wilson helps explore this. Similarly, I have always found That Hideous Strenght, the last novel in the 'Space Trilogy,' unreadable. Wilson explores why the book fails on many levels but still helps the reader understand the many good eleements that are present. The book also, in an afterward, explores the appeal of the book and film 'Shadowlands,' noting, as Lewis would, that, although many of the 'facts' are changed, the story still captures some of the essential 'heart truths' that the book contains. This book is extrememly well done; it helps the reader understand Lewis the real person and it enables a fuller understanding of the author's work. My reasons for not giving a 'five star rating,' for not considering it in, say, the same class as 'Jackson Benson's 'The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer' (regardless of one's opinion of Steinbeck, Benson's biorgraphy of him remains a titanic achievement of literary biography) are perhaps unfair. Becuase if the distance from which Wilson writes, the author was not able to interview many of the people who knew the author personally. Particularly missing are JRR Tolkien and "Warnie," the author's brother. This is not something the biographer can be blamed for, since he took up the topic of Lewis' life after these two men died. But both Tolkien and Warnie lived ten years after Lewis' death, and one finds oneself wishing that a biographer of Benson's caliber, perhaps an older version of Wilson himself, who in early adolescence when Lewis died, would have set her or himself the task of a definitive Lewis biography. Instead, the field was taken up by religious hagiographers or conspiracy theorists such as the author of 'The C.S. Lewis Hoax,' and so the chance of a truly definitive biography about Lewis ever being written probably passed in the time between Lewis' death and the time Wilson took up the pen to write about him. This is as close to a definitive biography of Lewis as will ever be written, probably.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brenton

    If this were a drinking party instead of a book, A.N. Wilson's C.S. Lewis: A Biography would be a five-star book. Humorous, light in tone, deftly written, the life of C.S. Lewis told here is engaging, moving, and poignant. Unfortunately, this was not a night around the dinner table, picking and eating and drinking and talking about this Oxford don our new friend Wilson had met one time. It is a book that purports to be a biography but has the unfortunate condition of not being terribly accurate. If this were a drinking party instead of a book, A.N. Wilson's C.S. Lewis: A Biography would be a five-star book. Humorous, light in tone, deftly written, the life of C.S. Lewis told here is engaging, moving, and poignant. Unfortunately, this was not a night around the dinner table, picking and eating and drinking and talking about this Oxford don our new friend Wilson had met one time. It is a book that purports to be a biography but has the unfortunate condition of not being terribly accurate. You can see a list of errata by Kathryn Lindskoog here: http://cslewis.drzeus.net/papers/wils.... The list is as telling about C.S. Lewis studies as it is about Wilson's work. Many Lewis fans will have rejected the book because it has damning or lurid things in it, and because it drifts toward the Freudian, psychoanalytic view of history. I don't reject it out of hand for these reasons provided there can be sufficient evidence that the author can bring us truthfully into the history of the moment. Wilson's smoking jacket old boys club approach to biographical approach to storytelling, though, left me with no confidence whatsoever that I could either trust his account where biographers differ, or that I could test his hypothesis. The errata is part of it. Even when you take out the protectionistic and interpretive bits, there are just dozens of errors. As Arend Smilde coyly noted in his much more complete review of the book, "Wilson might have been practising a kind of biography which is legitimate in its own way but which I have not yet learnt to appreciate." http://www.lewisiana.nl/definitivebio.... Perhaps, but then Smilde goes on to list pages of errors that we can divide into the rough categories of: 1) error of fact due to sloppiness; 2) error of interpretation due to uncareful weighing of evidence; 3) concerns or errors due to the fact that Wilson's evidence is based on hearsay, gossip, or private conversations; and 4) places where Wilson just simply seems bent against a sensible or evidence-based interpretation. These categories are a bit puzzling to me as I have read Wilson's biographies on St. Paul and Tolstoy. I enjoyed Tolstoy, though I know almost nothing about the figure. I have done a masters degree on Paul, however, and that book made me angry at times. As scholars we make biographical and historical choices based on the best of our reading, and hopefully keep checking our biases. Wilson's bio of Paul simply slalomed through, grabbing the best interpretation from scholars to suit his purposes. It was a frustrating read, but what makes his bio of Lewis so different is that the Paul bio was pretty well researched. This Lewis biography was not well researched, leaving out the most important biography of the generation: Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis by George Sayer, Lewis' student and friend. This makes me wonder if Wilson's Lewis book is a bit of a gap in his must stronger (though still controversial) work. I won't repeat the errors--not simply because others have done that with startling accuracy, but also because I just really enjoyed reading this book. To be fair, this was my "jammed between the seats of the car to read while I'm waiting for things book" book. It is a special category of book, made up of a soft-cover text that can hold a pencil, about 300-350 pages so it sits nicely between the seats, one that I can both hold the story together in my head and one I don't mind taking 2 or 3 years to read. Because I read it in such small segments, and because my expectations were low, I never got really angry at any one point. It was an entertaining read that filled time in the dentist's office or the garage or while waiting for the traffic behind the water main break to flow again. It is not, however, the first or last biography of C.S. Lewis anyone should read. That is, of course, if you are thinking of history. To honour the late-night story feeling of the book, I will put a few quotes that I enjoyed on my review at A Pilgrim in Narnia. Here is the link to the extended review: https://apilgriminnarnia.com/2019/02/....

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ancient Weaver

    Great book for Christians and non-Christians alike. Very accessible and interesting. I didn't know much about C.S. Lewis the man before I read his autobiographical Surprised by Joy. Until then, I just assumed he led the kind of prosaic, upright (i.e. largely boring) existence you might imagine a conservative, Christian apologist/professor might live. After having read Lewis' SBJ I was surprised to find this professor to be such a Romantic at heart, and while I enjoyed SBJ very much, I could tel Great book for Christians and non-Christians alike. Very accessible and interesting. I didn't know much about C.S. Lewis the man before I read his autobiographical Surprised by Joy. Until then, I just assumed he led the kind of prosaic, upright (i.e. largely boring) existence you might imagine a conservative, Christian apologist/professor might live. After having read Lewis' SBJ I was surprised to find this professor to be such a Romantic at heart, and while I enjoyed SBJ very much, I could tell there was something a bit strange about Lewis' version of events. For one thing, the closer Lewis brings you to the time of his conversion from atheism to Christianity,what one might imagine to be the defining moment of his life, the more evasive and silent Lewis's account becomes. In the same way, Lewis scarcely has anything to say about events such as his time in WWI or his father's death. On top of that are Lewis' cryptic allusions to his love life (why bother with the teasers if he wasn't going to say anything further?) - all very strange. Wilson's C.S. Lewis: A Biography provides you with the fuller picture that Lewis left out of his autobiography. Lewis was a more complex and interesting man than you might imagine what with his secret affair with a married woman over 20 years his senior that started when he was about 18, his alcoholic brother, his tendency to supress emotion, his tendency to compartimentalize his relationships and life in order to preserve his secrets, and his his kinky penchant for sado/masochism. Wilson often disagrees with Lewis, but he clearly has a degree of admiration and affection for the man. This biography isn't worshipful of Lewis, but it is sympathetic. It may present embarrassing and scandalous facts, but it is not a hatchet job or an anti-Lewis polemic. I never much cared for the cock-sure, annoying, belligerent, irrational, bully-boy persona Lewis adopts in his Christian apologetical works, but Wilson's biography cuts through that bluster. Now I can see how Lewis was an imperfect but genuine and complex human being, and not just an insufferable bigot. By the the time the book reaches the end of Lewis' life, you feel sad to have to say goodbye to the strange and contradictory man.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chris Fellows

    Doubtless I have written many dumb things and on the principle of ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ ought to remain silent. But I am weak. Here is an extract from a letter quoted in this book: They keep sheep in Magdalen grove now, and I hear the fleecy care bleating all day long: I am shocked to find that none of my pupils, though they are all acquainted with pastoral poetry, regards them as anything but a nuisance: and one of my colleagues has been heard to ask why sheep have thei Doubtless I have written many dumb things and on the principle of ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ ought to remain silent. But I am weak. Here is an extract from a letter quoted in this book: They keep sheep in Magdalen grove now, and I hear the fleecy care bleating all day long: I am shocked to find that none of my pupils, though they are all acquainted with pastoral poetry, regards them as anything but a nuisance: and one of my colleagues has been heard to ask why sheep have their wool cut off. It is immediately followed by a second extract from the same letter: It frightens me, almost. And so it did the other night when I heard two undergrads, giving a list of pleasures which were (a) Nazi, (b) leading to homosexuality. They were: feeling the wind in your hair, walking with bare feet in the grass, and bathing in the rain. Think it over: it gets worse the longer you look at it. Now, if you knew nothing at all about the writer except that (s)he wrote the first quote as well as the second quote, it would be blindingly clear that (s)he has overheard two pretentious undergraduates, with little experience of life outside the city and in obvious reaction to the early 20th century German cult of Nature, saying that these simple pleasures lead to Nazism and homosexuality. Theundergraduates are saying that bathing in the rain leads to Nazism and homosexuality. But, but, this is the ridiculous thing, A. N. Wilson doesn’t get it! This is what he says: ‘It is twenty-two years since I read that letter ... and on and off I have been thinking it over. At no time have I been able to see anything Nazi or necessarily homosexual in the listed pleasures, which are precisely of the kind which might occur in a George MacDonald fantasy. But the pleasures are, of course, those of youth, and Lewis at the age of forty seems to have forgotten what it was like to be young. He sees exuberant, and perhaps sensual, pleasure in the natural world ... now such stuff seems to him ‘Nazi’.’ Perhaps this would be excusable if Lewis were a minor figure in this book. But it is a biography of him! Elsewhere in the book, it is clear that A. N. Wilson read everything C. S. Lewis ever published, as well as reams of unpublished material and things written about him by people who knew him personally. He ought to have gleaned some vague sense of what the fellow is like. In twenty-two years, how could it not have clicked that his reading of the letter was preposterously wrong? Didn’t he show his manuscript to any friends or colleagues who could have pointed out that his reading of the letter was wrong? If he could misread his subject so badly, what is he doing writing a biography of him at all?

  8. 5 out of 5

    RE de Leon

    A well written biography of CS Lewis. It should be noted that Lewis' stepson Douglas Gresham, while agreeing that the book is well written and well researched, has noted his disagreement with some of the book's conclusions and depictions. A well written biography of CS Lewis. It should be noted that Lewis' stepson Douglas Gresham, while agreeing that the book is well written and well researched, has noted his disagreement with some of the book's conclusions and depictions.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Camino

    I'm inclined to believe one owes quite as much to the biographer of one's childhood hero as to that mysterious figure himself. As it is, I found Wilson quite the gentle adoptive guide through the life of C.S. Lewis, no matter that I could not possibly have a higher opinion of the man than when I set out, a thoroughly indoctrinated child hanging on the mane of Aslan. Wilson paints a touching, if not particularly charming, portrait the man, and one is struck by the significance of certain episodes I'm inclined to believe one owes quite as much to the biographer of one's childhood hero as to that mysterious figure himself. As it is, I found Wilson quite the gentle adoptive guide through the life of C.S. Lewis, no matter that I could not possibly have a higher opinion of the man than when I set out, a thoroughly indoctrinated child hanging on the mane of Aslan. Wilson paints a touching, if not particularly charming, portrait the man, and one is struck by the significance of certain episodes all but neglected in Lewis's published autobiographies. Lewis himself asserts that while "truth is always about something, really is about that which truth is about." In this sense, Wilson provides us with "truth," just as other more sanctimonious biographies have provided us with "reality"--a mythological reality that is--in which certain "truths" may be ascertained despite departure from hard facts. This kind of myth Wilson describes both as dehumanizing and (as it was in Lewis's own conversion) a powerful exercise of faith and imagination. Lewis's christianity relied on a fundamental Romanticism, and Wilson makes it clear that his writing suffer and swell accordingly. Accordingly, Wilson attaches to Lewis's famous faith a profound imaginative capacity, and one gets the distinct impression that this imagination is a form of compassion. Indeed, if this is true, both Lewis and Wilson are the supreme executors of compassion. Still, perhaps the highest compliment I can offer to Wilson's profound, compassionate, and comprehensive biography is that like the famous story of Narnia, it is one "in which every chapter is better than the one before."

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alyssa

    I randomly grabbed this off a library shelf because I am a C.S. Lewis fan. I got about 40 pages into it and decided to quit reading it due to the author's boring and convoluted way of presenting ideas and events. However, I have a bad habit of always having to finish any book that I start, even if I don't like it, so I did finish this (it took me awhile) and I guess I'm glad I read it just for the better understanding of Lewis's life history (although I'm almost positive I could have found a Lew I randomly grabbed this off a library shelf because I am a C.S. Lewis fan. I got about 40 pages into it and decided to quit reading it due to the author's boring and convoluted way of presenting ideas and events. However, I have a bad habit of always having to finish any book that I start, even if I don't like it, so I did finish this (it took me awhile) and I guess I'm glad I read it just for the better understanding of Lewis's life history (although I'm almost positive I could have found a Lewis biography written by someone else that would have been better). Oh well. At the very least, it made me want to re-read some of Lewis's books now that I know the background context for different time periods of his writings. And there are a few more books of his I haven't read yet that I am interesting in reading now.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dave Maddock

    This bio gets a lot of criticism for what is essentially being open about what the author's biases are, not portraying CSL in a pro-Christianity, fawning light, and occasionally engaging in speculation when necessary (eg. the nature of his relationship with Minto). I for one appreciated that the biographer did not appear to be a Christian. There's a million white-washed, mythologized books on CSL written by the fanboy religious. If that's what you want, it is easy to find. If this book leans a l This bio gets a lot of criticism for what is essentially being open about what the author's biases are, not portraying CSL in a pro-Christianity, fawning light, and occasionally engaging in speculation when necessary (eg. the nature of his relationship with Minto). I for one appreciated that the biographer did not appear to be a Christian. There's a million white-washed, mythologized books on CSL written by the fanboy religious. If that's what you want, it is easy to find. If this book leans a little too heavy on Freudian psychologizing, it is redeemed by the fact that the Freudian analysis is so damn obviously relevant--as Lewis himself noticed. For a group that loved mythologizing everything in a religious context (Surprised by Joy, anyone?!), it fascinates me when Inklings and their devotees complain when it is done to them in a secular context.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Julie Reed

    After reading about the "true" C.S. Lewis, I only love and admire this man more. I wanted to hear about his sins, not just that he was a saint as he has come to be known in Christian circles since his death. He was a real person who had real struggles, personality flaws, and bad habits. He readily admitted that he was a sinner. I enjoyed this book although it was clear that the author didn't agree with some of Lewis's apologetics. If you are writing a biography on someone, shouldn't you remain n After reading about the "true" C.S. Lewis, I only love and admire this man more. I wanted to hear about his sins, not just that he was a saint as he has come to be known in Christian circles since his death. He was a real person who had real struggles, personality flaws, and bad habits. He readily admitted that he was a sinner. I enjoyed this book although it was clear that the author didn't agree with some of Lewis's apologetics. If you are writing a biography on someone, shouldn't you remain neutral?

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Sabin

    I was so disappointed by this biography. As an avid fan of C.S. Lewis, I will read anything by and about him and many of those I have read multiple times or will read again. A.N. Wilson certainly takes a much different approach when writing about the man whose friends knew him as Jack. From reading other reviews, I discovered A.N. Wilson was not a Christian at the time he wrote this, but became one some time after. I am willing to bet had he been a Christian, it would, to some degree, have chang I was so disappointed by this biography. As an avid fan of C.S. Lewis, I will read anything by and about him and many of those I have read multiple times or will read again. A.N. Wilson certainly takes a much different approach when writing about the man whose friends knew him as Jack. From reading other reviews, I discovered A.N. Wilson was not a Christian at the time he wrote this, but became one some time after. I am willing to bet had he been a Christian, it would, to some degree, have changed how Wilson wrote this book. The book was very much, as many pointed out, more pf a Freudian, psychoanalytic interpretation of Lewis's life. I don't blame him for trying to point out some of the not so flattering facts about Lewis. Facts his friends Sayer, Hooper, Green, would not point out so heavily. Maybe an interpretation McGrath, Jacobs and others who admire him so greatly may not read into. Not to say they completely avoid those things, but obviously, one who loves and admires Lewis is going to interpret things in a different light. But I felt Wilson was trying more of a smear job at times, trying his best to find ways he could criticize Lewis. To which, I don't think that is really fair to Jack. There have been some very monstrous people in history who might not have many redeemable things to write about. And to be fair to Wilson, it is not all bad about Lewis, but it is hard not to think Wilson intentionally wrote this with a much more cynical approach. I wish this would have been written post-conversion. As it is, this is one of the books about Lewis I will NOT be rereading nor would I recommend to anyone else.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Longfellow

    Apparently, a long time ago I read the first forty pages of this book. Recently, I picked it up on a whim, and I’ve been reading it in most spare moments ever since. The read has been a thorough pleasure for a couple reasons. For one, Wilson is an excellent narrative writer, smoothly mixing in paraphrases of interviews, quotes from letters and published work, and analysis and commentary that all reveal something about who C.S. Lewis was, both outwardly and inwardly. Another part of my enjoyment Apparently, a long time ago I read the first forty pages of this book. Recently, I picked it up on a whim, and I’ve been reading it in most spare moments ever since. The read has been a thorough pleasure for a couple reasons. For one, Wilson is an excellent narrative writer, smoothly mixing in paraphrases of interviews, quotes from letters and published work, and analysis and commentary that all reveal something about who C.S. Lewis was, both outwardly and inwardly. Another part of my enjoyment has been in receiving a more in-depth knowledge of Lewis’s life than I’ve previously had. I assume a majority of Lewis fans are like me, lovers of The Chronicles of Narnia and readers of a few other works like Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, The Space Trilogy and maybe some others. But as regards Lewis’s personal and academic life, I’ve known little. Wilson’s biography has given me a much clearer picture of this man, and that glimpse has been fascinating. Wilson is upfront about his purpose of exposing Lewis as a mere human, a contradiction of virtues and vices like the rest of us, and he succeeds in this to a degree that will surely offend some fans of Lewis. Scanning other goodreads reviews of this bio, it’s clear that this is the case, and I don’t think it’s entirely unwarranted. Wilson is not shy about analyzing Lewis’s motives and critiquing--fairly harshly at times--some of his writing and thinking. While I enjoyed this aspect of the book for the most part, I did find myself resisting it to some extent in the second half, as there are times when it feels like Wilson is determined to bring Lewis down more than a mere notch, harping on brief excerpts from letters and reaching assumptive conclusions about Lewis’s thoughts and feelings. He has certainly given a vastly different impression of Lewis than one gets from reading his most popular publications. The truth is, Wilson’s analyses and critiques occasionally approach the caustic, including the book’s closing statement, which sarcastically (I think) suggests that Lewis is a person to be worshiped. And though I appreciate the emphasis on Lewis’s humanness and personal psychology, it’s hard to dismiss the impression at times that Wilson’s tone is affected by some unexplained anger or resentment. Nonetheless, I never received the impression that Wilson’s harsh criticism is anything other than sincere and, for the most part, an honest attempt to analyze documents and testimonies that inform us of Lewis’s life as it was lived. Though I found myself mildly irritated in the last several chapters and rushing to finish so I could be done, I’m still delighted with this read, and I have a curiosity to read another bio or two of Lewis to see other perspectives and come to some kind of informed conclusion of my own regarding Lewis’s character and personality, especially since Wilson comments on the veracity of other Lewis biographers, as have other goodreads reviewers. And because, chronologically speaking, Wilson’s work is now one of the “early” biographical documents, I’m even more curious. Even now, in attempting to review this book, I feel like I’ve been sucked into a debate about the possible presence of some kind of agenda or slant to Wilson’s perspective and have as a result failed to cover the book’s more specific content. But as mentioned, the narrative details of Lewis’s life are highly informative, engaging, and ring of honest attempts at evaluation. And the commentary on his publications, while heavily opinionated, is equally interesting and compels me to want to read some books that have not been on my list, as Wilson reserves the highest praise for some of Lewis’s less popular works: The Discarded Image: an Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, An Experiment in Criticism, and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama. As is obvious from this list, Wilson is much more impressed with Lewis’s writing on literature than he is with Lewis’s fiction and theology.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anne Homeschooling-Mama

    Didn't like this book at all. Really had to plough through to the end, skipping quite a bit in a few places. The author is extremely unsympathetic towards Christianity. Why a person with such disrespect for the Christian religion would choose to write a biography of a great apologist for the faith is beyond me. It tainted the book and I was glad to be able to put it down. Didn't like this book at all. Really had to plough through to the end, skipping quite a bit in a few places. The author is extremely unsympathetic towards Christianity. Why a person with such disrespect for the Christian religion would choose to write a biography of a great apologist for the faith is beyond me. It tainted the book and I was glad to be able to put it down.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne

    Tried too hard to be an intellectual. Spent too much time criticizing C. S. Lewis, and his writing, and not enough time on his life. Made leaping assumptions, and presented them as fact. Only took into account the information that agreed with where he wanted to go.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Trevor Gill

    C.S. Lewis is someone who provokes hero worship and dislike, even loathing, in equal measure. He has become something of a plaster saint to evangelical Christians over the years and his books still sell in huge quantities particularly in the USA. It's interesting that Wilson's biography was lauded by literary figures as one of the best examples of the art of biography, and slammed on various Christian related websites as being too interpretative of Lewis's motives and the impact of events in his C.S. Lewis is someone who provokes hero worship and dislike, even loathing, in equal measure. He has become something of a plaster saint to evangelical Christians over the years and his books still sell in huge quantities particularly in the USA. It's interesting that Wilson's biography was lauded by literary figures as one of the best examples of the art of biography, and slammed on various Christian related websites as being too interpretative of Lewis's motives and the impact of events in his life. Personally I think that a biography which doesn't attempt to analyse its subjects motives and the impact of his relationships would be a very boring read. Wilson's book on Lewis is worth reading if only for the fact that it's an excellent example of the art of biography - thoroughly researched, easy to read and interesting in itself quite apart from its subject. I ended up liking Lewis a lot more than when I started. He comes across as a decent, kind and loyal man. His love of a drink, his cigarette and pipe addiction and his bluff down to earth, often choice language (he could, unfortunately, be particularly crude when talking about women), hardly chime with the sainted status in which he's held by fundamentalist Christians. However, his theological writings still make me wince. For a man as well read and intelligent as Lewis, it's possible to drive a coach and horses through some of the 'logic' he tries to foist on the reader for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. He also completely misses the point to my mind - God is not there to be 'proven', God is there to be experienced and, if you choose to do so, to believe in. Belief is an act of will and imagination. Lewis himself seems to have come to theism and eventually to CofE based faith through personal mystical experience and imagination. Why he should become a straight laced proponent of flawed logic and 'factual', literalist arguments for the existence of God when lecturing the masses in his books and broadcasts is a mystery. It's tempting to take the view that he thought that, whereas a mystical route to God was available to an Oxford Don, the masses needed a more prosaic approach.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Neville Ridley-smith

    You know what I felt after reading this? Depressed. The last section of the book talking about Joy and a seeming lack of friends on Jack's part, the cooling of his friendship with Tolkien, and then eventual death etc is just sad. However I felt like there was something strange going on with Wilson's writing and interpretation. He was not a Christian at the time of writing (he turned back to faith later) and there were certain sections of the book where I was thinking, "this doesn't seem right", kno You know what I felt after reading this? Depressed. The last section of the book talking about Joy and a seeming lack of friends on Jack's part, the cooling of his friendship with Tolkien, and then eventual death etc is just sad. However I felt like there was something strange going on with Wilson's writing and interpretation. He was not a Christian at the time of writing (he turned back to faith later) and there were certain sections of the book where I was thinking, "this doesn't seem right", knowing some of the quotes I know from Lewis himself. Reading other reviews here and links to lists of inaccuracies and critiques, I can see my feelings were well founded. Basically, at the start, Wilson says some Lewis biographers err too much one way in making Lewis out to be a saint and some too far the other way, the implication being that Wilson will be nicely balanced. But he fails to admit he may be incorrect about his interpretations. Which is all quite funny because Lewis wrote about how a lot of biographers and critics look down the well of history and see themselves reflected... Anyway, this is the first biography of Lewis I've read, so I can't compare it with anything else. For what it's worth, I enjoyed it for the most part. Especially the early years. And even if the book can't be 100% trusted, there's definitely things in here worth reading that you won't find anywhere else because the source was from meetings Wilson had with people like Christopher Tolkien himself. I would have preferred more time spent on Narnia but I guess that's covered by other books in more detail. I mean, there was hardly anything about Narnia, which is crazy!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Melton

    A must-read bio of C.S. Lewis No biography is free of flaws, and each C.S. Lewis bio available goes astray in different ways. Each is written on the strength of serious research, including this one. But whereas Hooper & Green were too close to Jack Lewis to be objective and Alister McGrath too objective to be real and Sayer too embedded in the same world to translate it well to the uninitiated, Wilson’s is simply a problem of artistic over-reach and perhaps a breezy overconfidence in reading into A must-read bio of C.S. Lewis No biography is free of flaws, and each C.S. Lewis bio available goes astray in different ways. Each is written on the strength of serious research, including this one. But whereas Hooper & Green were too close to Jack Lewis to be objective and Alister McGrath too objective to be real and Sayer too embedded in the same world to translate it well to the uninitiated, Wilson’s is simply a problem of artistic over-reach and perhaps a breezy overconfidence in reading into Lewis’ internal frame of mind. Critics have made much of a few errors of fact, yet factual purity may elude each bio. There is much in Wilson’s lively and sometimes contentious portrait that recommends it as most human. Here is Lewis, warts and all, deeply respected nonetheless as the towering figure he has become and justifiably revered for the indelible mark he has made. But any reader who desires a hero without clay feet had best stick with the kinder, gentler biographies. Wilson’s narrative approach manages not to get dragged down by minutiae and trivia, rather compelling the reader to keep turning its pages. Serious students of Lewis are wise not to pass it up.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    This book was not quite what I expected. To be honest, I didn't like it much at first. I felt like the author was intentionally painting C.S. Lewis in a unflattering light (my tendency would be to focus on the good and ignore the bad.) I found it hard to reconcile the Lewis who wrote such powerful Christian classics such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity with the Lewis I found in these pages. It wasn't until the end of the book that I understood the author's intent: "If we ignore This book was not quite what I expected. To be honest, I didn't like it much at first. I felt like the author was intentionally painting C.S. Lewis in a unflattering light (my tendency would be to focus on the good and ignore the bad.) I found it hard to reconcile the Lewis who wrote such powerful Christian classics such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity with the Lewis I found in these pages. It wasn't until the end of the book that I understood the author's intent: "If we ignore the kind of man Lewis was, in our anxiety to dismiss him as a fraud or canonize him as a plaster saint, we miss the unmistakable and remarkable evidence of something like sanctification which occurred in him towards the end of his days." Lewis was quite rough around the edges. He was abrasive, rude, proud. He fought with his family and friends and made some questionable choices. Some of his theology was iffy. But he was a testimony of God's grace and the fact that he was an ordinary man who God used to bring others closer to Himself. And in the end, isn't that what I want too?

  21. 5 out of 5

    James P

    Interesting approach when compared to McGrath’s CS Lewis - a life. Contains many interesting tidbits. Both trace his path to agnosticism and atheism without dwelling, but neither answer the question of his faith prior to his mother’s death or leaving for boarding school. May not be any documents to support. Nowhere near as eclectic as his recent bio of Darwin. Well worth reading. Lewis is a fascinating character and Wilson seems to gain Windows into his inner life which are to say the least prov Interesting approach when compared to McGrath’s CS Lewis - a life. Contains many interesting tidbits. Both trace his path to agnosticism and atheism without dwelling, but neither answer the question of his faith prior to his mother’s death or leaving for boarding school. May not be any documents to support. Nowhere near as eclectic as his recent bio of Darwin. Well worth reading. Lewis is a fascinating character and Wilson seems to gain Windows into his inner life which are to say the least provocative. Wilson, however, seems to believe the encounter with Elizabeth Anscombe at the Socratic Club in early 1948 where Lewis was defeated in debate represented a significant shift in Lewis’ approach to his readers using imaginative literature as the cornerstone of his approach to Christian apologetic. McGrath arrives at a different interpretation of the data which I share in the highlighted passages from this encounter in his CS Lewis Biography - a Life.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Emily Parsons

    An interesting insight into the man CS Lewis. It took me a while to get through the book. At first I was put off by the uncovering of Lewis as a less that perfect model of Christianity, like I had come to believe he was. But the more I read, the more I came to understand the tragedy of a man who simply didn't know how to deal with grief and loss, and how that came to weave its way through his whole life. I have a newfound appreciation for Lewis the man, truly human and imperfect and brilliant. T An interesting insight into the man CS Lewis. It took me a while to get through the book. At first I was put off by the uncovering of Lewis as a less that perfect model of Christianity, like I had come to believe he was. But the more I read, the more I came to understand the tragedy of a man who simply didn't know how to deal with grief and loss, and how that came to weave its way through his whole life. I have a newfound appreciation for Lewis the man, truly human and imperfect and brilliant. The writers style was readable and informative. I think he got the mix of telling Lewis's life story and giving background information right.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Leanna

    I went to pick up a book reserved at the library for me and I couldn't figure out why I would have put a hold on this book. I think I may have read only one book by him and as I was figuring out who he was, I think I had mistaken him for another author. Anyway, I didn't want to second guess myself so I started reading this and it was going slooooowly, so I renewed it. Renewing always puts some guilt on me trying to finish a book, so I plowed my way through. I thought his Oxford career was mildly I went to pick up a book reserved at the library for me and I couldn't figure out why I would have put a hold on this book. I think I may have read only one book by him and as I was figuring out who he was, I think I had mistaken him for another author. Anyway, I didn't want to second guess myself so I started reading this and it was going slooooowly, so I renewed it. Renewing always puts some guilt on me trying to finish a book, so I plowed my way through. I thought his Oxford career was mildly interesting. There were some interesting tidbits about him, but I am still amazed that I finished it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Payne

    A delightful book. Wilson presents the reality of the man without slavish objectivity. The controversial aspects of this biography are actually the most helpful. ANW pushes back against CSL when he makes glib arguments or fails to know himself. The result is to shine light on his real virtues and true brilliance. Where some would accuse Wilson of making deep, dubious Freudian dives into dark waters, he merely explores what is evident on the surface of Lewis's works - see the discussion of the Hi A delightful book. Wilson presents the reality of the man without slavish objectivity. The controversial aspects of this biography are actually the most helpful. ANW pushes back against CSL when he makes glib arguments or fails to know himself. The result is to shine light on his real virtues and true brilliance. Where some would accuse Wilson of making deep, dubious Freudian dives into dark waters, he merely explores what is evident on the surface of Lewis's works - see the discussion of the Hippolytus and Lewis's conversion, or the end of the Last Battle.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Paul Shotsberger

    If you want a painstakingly detailed portrait of CS Lewis that includes the occasional fascinating tidbit, this is your book. Just be warned that you will have to negotiate the author’s tedious run-on sentences and at times astounding run-on ego. Also be aware that your favorite work of CS Lewis may be assailed by the author. Still, perspective is worth a lot, and there is plenty to be had in this biography.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Steffanie Kamper Culp

    The author is not as love struck as some biographers but grows in sympathy with his subject as the book goes on. He makes it clear that Lewis was a much more complex human being with more flaws than the Protestant Saint he has become. Has some strong critiques of Lewis' writing that I will think about as I read Lewis for a class I will be teaching this up coming academic year. The author is not as love struck as some biographers but grows in sympathy with his subject as the book goes on. He makes it clear that Lewis was a much more complex human being with more flaws than the Protestant Saint he has become. Has some strong critiques of Lewis' writing that I will think about as I read Lewis for a class I will be teaching this up coming academic year.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    This man was considered one of the greatest conversions of the 20th century. The book spent a lot of time reflecting on his works and tied bits of his life into it. Surprised by Joy is explained in a different format than C.S. Lewis presented.

  28. 4 out of 5

    MJ

    if you love Lewis's writings, you will love to get to know Lewis in this biography if you love Lewis's writings, you will love to get to know Lewis in this biography

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    A book that seemed very good at the time, but which has been shown to be somewhat flawed by Wilson's biases in regard to Lewis. A book that seemed very good at the time, but which has been shown to be somewhat flawed by Wilson's biases in regard to Lewis.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rex

    This is a critical yet admiring biography by an excellent author. There are some redundancies and repetitions but on the whole Wilson is fair, honest and insightful.

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