CS Lewis revisited: the McGrath biography

By Anthony Haynes

June 6, 2013


Category: reviews

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Last month I published a post about a talk by Alister McGrath on his biography of CS Lewis. Since then, I have been enjoying the book itself.

My enjoyment is in part a function of Hodder & Stoughton’s book design. Most publishers use, for the body text of  most books, a font that is too small for many readers to read comfortably. This book, in contrast, uses a comfortable, spacious text design.

But my enjoyment stems also, of course, from McGrath’s writing, which is clear, scrupulous, and respectful (to both the subject and the reader).

It is also – praise be! – selective. Rather than bore the reader with a relentless blow-by-blow account, McGrath restricts his study to manageable proportions (under 400 pp.). The result is a strong, uncluttered portrait.

I don’t, however, think that McGrath is a natural biographer. He is more essayist than storyteller. He seems most at home when writing analyses – of when Lewis converted to Christianity, for example, or what the effect was of public criticism of his work by Elizabeth Anscombe. He occasionally overlooks the need for straightforward description. In his analysis of Lewis’s ‘Ransom’ novels, for instance, he seems just to forget to explain what the books are about in terms of plot.

Overall, however, I emerged from reading this book feeling well-informed. And if McGrath’s aim was to stimulate greater interest in his subject, then in the case of this reader at least he succeeded. He has whetted by appetite to read more of Lewis than I have done to date.


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