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C. S. Lewis - A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet
C. S. Lewis - A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet
Alister McGrath
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2013
448 pp., $24.99

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Don W. King

A Fresh Reading

Alister McGrath's biography of C. S. Lewis

Alister McGrath's C. S. Lewis: A Life is the first important biography of Lewis since A. N. Wilson's C. S. Lewis: A Biography (1990). Not that there haven't been other biographies. George Sayer revised and enlarged his 1988 biography Jack: C. S. and His Times in 1994, and Alan Jacobs published The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis in 2005. However, Sayer's revision brought little new to light and Jacobs' biography—while wonderfully written and immensely instructive—is primarily a biography of Lewis' imaginative life rather than a detailed exploration of his lived experience. Wilson's Freudian reading of Lewis' life will always be suspect to many readers and scholars—although in fairness, Wilson's discussions of some of Lewis' books, notably The Discarded Image, are often perceptive and penetrating. Enter McGrath's biography, the first fresh reading of Lewis' life in a generation. McGrath, a prolific writer in theology and apologetics with a thorough grounding in literature and history as well, brings to the task a broadly informed understanding of Lewis and 21st-century Western culture; both perspectives serve him well as he discusses Lewis' life and work through the lens of their potential to engage contemporary issues, especially postmodernity.

Knowledgeable readers of Lewis will find much that is familiar, yet they will be fascinated by at least four "new readings" of Lewis advanced by McGrath. By far the most interesting and thoroughly documented is McGrath's suggestion that the heretofore agreed upon date of Lewis' conversion to Christianity, September 28, 1931—during a trip to Whipsnade Zoo—is off by as much as nine months; instead, McGrath believes the conversion may be plausibly dated June 1932. The cause of this discrepancy? Lewis' poor memory for dates. After carefully examining Lewis' correspondence with Arthur Greeves during this period—especially Lewis' recounting of an important conversation with J. R. ...

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