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Don W. King
With the flood of C. S. Lewis books timed to capitalize on Disney's release of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, readers awash in the deluge may be forgiven a certain amount of cynicism. While it may be hyperbole to call such marketing a Narnian frenzy, the truism "Lewis sells" is being eagerly exploited by publishers determined not to miss their chance to turn a profit. Thankfully Alan Jacobs' The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis is one of the better offerings amid the flotsam, combining fine scholarship with winsome writing to produce what may be called a critical biographythat is, a careful reading of Lewis' oeuvre with an eye for how it may comment upon his imaginative life. This is not hagiography nor a definitive biography (it never set out to be), but it is an important contribution to Lewisian biography drawing extensively upon the massive work of Walter Hooper in the first two volumes of Lewis' Collected Letters. In addition, Jacobs cites from but does not depend upon Lewis' autobiography, Surprised by Joy, and the earlier biographies of A. N. Wilson, Walter Hooper and Roger L. Green, and George Sayer; some eyebrows will be raised by any use of the Wilson biography, but Jacobs rightly discerns when Wilson is worth citing and when he is patently ill-informed.
Jacobs' biography is guided by his
belief that Lewis's mind was above all characterized by a willingness to be enchanted, and it was this openness to enchantment that held together the various strands of his life; his delight in laughter, his willingness to accept a world made by a good and loving God, and (in some ways above all) his willingness to submit to the charms of a wonderful storywhether written by an Italian poet of the sixteenth century, or by Beatrix Potter, or by himself.
Because of this willingness to be enchanted, Jacobs argues, "Lewis's imagination was a transforming one: he took the people he knew and loved, the great events he experienced, the books he read, ...