A.N. Wilson’s biography of C. S. Lewis is an account of the life of an important literary figure. C. S. Lewis is now justly famous as the author of the “Narnia” series of books for children (The Big Read) he was, however also a distinguished academic, spending much of his career as a college tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford.
His pupils included John Betjeman (who became one of Britain’s favourite poets). Lewis’s circle of friends also included J. R. R. Tolkien, who with Lewis and others meet regularly as a society known as the “Inklings”.
C. S. Lewis was also a prolific Christian writer, and his religious books included, “The Screwtape Letters” and “A Grief Observed”. The Narnia books also have a strong religious message.
Wilson’s biography is actually as much about Oxford in the middle years of the last century as about the eccentric and bookish figure of Lewis. Wilson is an accomplished writer himself, known for his biography of Tolstoy, his journalism and novels; he was also a friend of the later Queen Mother.
This is an interesting account of Lewis’s life and some idea of the flavour can be gained from the following quotation:
“But this was not how the Inklings saw themselves. Another new face in the circle after the War was J. R. R. Tolkien’s son Christopher. He felt that the famous Thursdays were never without embarrassment. He developed a profound attachment to and admiration for Lewis which made the cooling between his father and Lewis all the more painful to him.
The old ‘cut and thrust’ of conversation was beginning to cause wounds on all sides. Dyson, for example, who had been elected to a Fellowship at Merton after the War and now taught English there, felt a marked antipathy to Tolkien’s writings, so that the readings of The Lord of the Rings – always a high point of the better evenings – were no longer a pleasure.
Aware that some of his audience were unappreciative, J. R. R. Tolkien mumbled and read badly. Christopher, who was about to show himself one of the most eloquent lecturers Oxford has ever known, was brilliant at reading aloud, and took over the task.
But he could not be sure that his readings would not be interrupted by Dyson, lying on the sofa with his club foot in the air and a glass of whisky in his hand, snorting, grunting and exhaling – ‘Oh f**k, not another elf!’ In such an atmosphere, it was not surprising that the Tolkien readings were discontinued.”
However Wilson’s claim that Lewis had an affair with Mrs. Jane Moore in his youth is not supported by firm evidence. His later relationship with Joy Gresham (see the film Shadowlands) is dealt with.
This is not a great biography, but if you know nothing of Lewis it is worth reading.
Pub. Flamingo 1991