C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet

C.S. Lewis was born in Northern Ireland in 1898, so technically Lewis was not British but Irish, although he would end up spending most of his life in Britain.  At age six he loses his mom. He grows up in a house with his widower father and older brother, a house that is also full of books, which he read voraciously.

When he was a bit older, he was sent to various boarding schools in England, which contributed to a strained relationship with his dad that lasted the rest of his father’s life. As a young man, Lewis would serve in France in World War I, where he was wounded. He studied at Oxford University and began teaching there after he graduated.  He would spend most of his career as a professor at Oxford University before moving to Cambridge University in the final years of his life.

Lewis was a scholar in medieval British literature.  He was a scholar of the first rank. He was extremely well read.  In fact, one person called him the most well-read man of his generation. He was a fabulous lecturer and a very popular professor at Oxford.

He was an atheist as a young man, but he converted first to theism and then to Jesus Christ at about age 30. J.R.R. Tolkien, another professor at Oxford, was a very close friend of his who had an enormous influence upon Lewis becoming a believer.  Lewis has referred to himself as the most reluctant convert in all of England.

In addition to writing scholarly works, as a young believer Lewis began writing Christian works also. He was inveterate writer.  He had even written an extensive fantasy tale when he was a child. During World War II, the BBC asked Lewis to record a series of broadcasts to the nation involving religion.  These talks were later put into a book in the form of Mere Christianity.  So many people testified that this book was extremely influential in their spiritual journey.  I add my name to that list.  Lewis became a popular figure from Mere Christianity and other works.  In 1947 he was on the cover of TIME magazine. He later wrote the very popular children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia.

A life-long bachelor, Lewis fell in love with an American divorcée a few years before he died. She died first of cancer, but they had an intense love relationship for a brief time. He expressed his grief upon her death with the book, A Grief Observed, which was published anonymously because he was so open about his doubts.

Lewis died on November 22, 1963, the same day that J.F.K. died.

He thought that people would stop reading his books after a few years, but their popularity has increased on both sides of the Atlantic and he is more popular today than ever.

This biography by Alister McGrath is superb.  McGrath has two earned doctorates from Oxford University, one in science and one in theology.  He is a first-rate intellectual and perhaps the leading Christian apologist (defender of the faith) today.  He had the opportunity to research tons of Lewis’ letters which had not been available to previous biographers. McGrath is positive about Lewis but he is not uncritical.  He does not hesitate to point out Lewis’ flaws.

One feature of the book that was especially helpful for me was his analysis of the writings of Lewis, book by book.

C.S. Lewis was an eccentric and flawed man, but he had a good heart and he was a genius and an incredibly lucid writer.  How God has used him in the lives of so many people and continues to use him!