I’ll leave a formal review of Alister McGrath’s biography of C.S. Lewis to others . C. S. Lewis Studies has now become a Field, and not one in which I play. For those interested in the man and his work but who have not read any of the biographies before, it is very, very good. For those who have a working familiarity with his life and writing, it has the great merit of making one think afresh of the subject; can one ask more of a biography? So, in a disorganized way . . .
• To my eyes, CSL and his brother show some of the signs, the scar tissue, of a damaged, maybe dysfunctional family. Flora Lewis’s early death may be enough to account for this. Albert Lewis’s personality remains elusive. I’ve read the Green/Hooper, Sayre, Wilson, and now McGrath biographies. None quite explain the brothers alienation from their father. What happened? Family relations are unpredictable and irrational.
• Considering CSL’s career as a Christian writer, I wonder I the task of apologetics is best undertaken by new Christians, those who have worked through the obstructing clutter recently and are most acutely aware of the current cultural barriers. Just wonderng.
• CSL seems to have needed a -what? Not a muse, but an external stimulus- to write fiction. Tolkien and Lewis encouraged each other to write the sort of stories they liked-influence would be way too strong a word. Tolkien sort of midwifed Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, Charles Williams and Tolkien prompted That Hideous Strength, Roger Lancelyn Green seems to have played a similar role for the Narnia stories, and Joy Davidman Lewis for Till We Have Faces. CSL seems to have needed to discuss, try out, and just plain talk about his fiction with a friendly but briskly critical audience. Influence would be too strong a word for the roles they played: prompter, maybe.
• Is anyone ever going to get CSL and his relationship with women? McGrath, wisely, sort of pokes at it but doesn’t try to psychoanalyze the situation.
• In a discussion beginning on page 363, McGrath (echoing Chad Walsh) suggests that by 1965 CSL’s influence was waning. I’m not sure what he means by that. If, “influence among academics and professional theologians,” maybe. “Influence among general readers,” I doubt it. I first encountered CSL around 1964. By 1965 I was reading Miracles, and no doubt misunderstanding most of it. Lewis’s works were easily available in inexpensive Macmillan paperbacks through the 1960s and 1970s – I still have most of them, the one’s that haven’t fallen apart. Lewis was popular enough to keep Charles Williams’ novels in print, in a rather hideous format from Eerdmans. Dodging over to Amazon, I see that Eerdman’s still publishes these. You could even get Voyage to Arcturus, basically on Lewis’s say-so. At least in the sense that publishers kept Lewis in print because his books sold, and the books he liked sold too, his influence did not wane.
• I got a rueful laugh from McGrath’s description of the jealous American theologian, Norman Pittenger. McGrath (p. 241) :
One such broadside came from the pen of an obscure American Episcopalian theologian, Norman Pittinger (1905-1997). Irritated that Time had incomprehensibly overlooked his own vastly superior claims to be the nation’s top Christian apologist, Pittenger declared that Lewis was a theologically lightweight heretic – a total liability to the kind of intelligent Christianity that he himself so conspicuously represented.
“Obscure American Episcopalian Theologian.” Hah! An accurate description, but note his biography via Wikipedia:
Pittenger was born in Bogota, New Jersey and was raised in Princeton, New Jersey. He attended Princeton University for a short time, but left without graduating because he wanted to try a career as a newspaper reporter in New York City. Not able to find satisfaction he went to The General Theological Seminary in Manhattan. He started as a student and soon he became tutor, instructor, and finally professor of Christian Apologetics. Pittenger was one of the first process theologians without connections with the University of Chicago Divinity School and produced the first genuine process theological christology (The Word Incarnate – 1959). At General Seminary, he was priest and chaplain of the Guild of Scholars of The Episcopal Church. After his retirement in 1966 he moved to Cambridge as an Honorary Senior Member of King’s College. Next to his writing on explicitly Christian themes, he wrote on sexuality in general (Making Sexuality Human – 1970) and a Christian defense of homosexuality in particular (Time for Consent – 1970), a book that was so controversial when published that the Church Times refused to review it. He also admitted his own homosexual bias. Norman Pittenger wrote throughout his life ninety books and many articles.
The intellectual rot that has led TEC to Katie Ragsdale has been at work for a long, long time.
So read it. It offers something to any reader, and is available in lots of formats.