Friday, September 19, 2008

Best C.S. Lewis Biographies

On this day in 1955, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C.S. Lewis was published. As far as autobiographies are concerned, it is somewhat lacking. A friend of Lewis once called the book not Surprised by Joy, but Suppressed by Jack, referring to Lewis's nickname as well as the fact that some episodes in Lewis's life receive rather scant attention or none at all.

The book is mostly about Lewis's struggle with reason and imagination, as well as his concept of Joy or desire or longing (also referred to as Sehnsucht by Lewis), and how these issues influenced his thinking and, ultimately, his conversion to Christianity.

My favorite C.S. Lewis biography is Jack by George Sayer, who actually knew Lewis. It's a great book, full of interesting information about the famous atheist turned Christian. I'm a little wary of the occasional quotations attributed to Lewis that are based on nothing more than Sayer's recollections. On the whole, however, Sayer's bio is excellent.

Both biographical books by Douglas Gresham, stepson of C.S. Lewis, are helpful. These include Lenten Lands and the more recent Jack's Life, though the latter is somewhat short and repetitive in its content, while the former delves much into autobiography about Gresham at times rather than biography of Lewis. Still, Gresham has a clever style and this keeps both books moving along well.

David Downing's The Most Reluctant Convert: C.S. Lewis's Journey to Faith is a great read, filling in some gaps that other biographies sometimes skim over such as Lewis's period of fascination with the occult.

The Narnian by Alan Jacobs is well written and generally informative, but I found it somewhat negative regarding the value of apologetics. To his credit, Jacobs takes on some touchy subjects in the life of Lewis such as his relationship with Mrs. Moore and with Joy Davidman, referring to Lewis as Joy's "sugar daddy" at one point.

C.S. Lewis: The Authorised and Revised Biography by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper is thorough, but a bit on the dry side. It contains a number of excerpts from Lewis's writings, including his letters. Both Green and Hooper knew Lewis, though Hooper only for a short time. Green, on the other hand, knew Lewis for many years and was instrumental in convincing Lewis to complete The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

The Professor of Narnia: The C.S. Lewis Story just out this month by Will Vaus is a wonderful introductory biography of Lewis suitable for middle school age or younger through adults. Vaus keeps the story moving along well with particular attention to Narnia, but also sharing humorous anecdotes about Lewis. I'm looking forward to reading this one aloud to my children as soon as I get a copy (I read a near final draft of the manuscript).

With the exception of the new Vaus biography, all of these biographies as well as a few others served as research material for my book Conversations with C.S. Lewis. In writing a fictional work featuring Lewis as the main character, I wanted to capture authenticity as best I could in relation to Lewis, his life, and his ideas.

Since Conversations with C.S. Lewis is both a journey of ideas as well as a journey through the life of Lewis, the end result is a unique and, I hope, entertaining look at C.S. Lewis, bringing him to life in dialogue with a contemporary atheist. Without the helpful biographies listed above, I could never have pulled it off.

1 comment:

david said...

I'm bookmarking this page! :)