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Thursday, August 23, 2007

cover of The Narnian

A biography of C. S. Lewis that approaches the man through his writing, particularly his fiction. Jacobs says at the outset that he is not going to include every detail of Lewis' life because he is interested in "the life of a mind, the story of an imagination"; through this book he is trying to answer the question, "what sort of person wrote the Chronicles of Narnia?"

It was surprising to me how little I actually knew about Lewis' life. For a man who is so well-known, and whose writings are so familiar and often-quoted, I think we don't know all that much about him (what kind of childhood he had, his relationship with his father and brother, his education, his experience in the war). Wherever possible, Jacobs relates Lewis' experiences to those of his fictional character-- so, for instance, in the hardships of Lewis' schooling, there are resonances with what we know of Edmund's and Eustace's schools. Also, I found that having Lewis' writing placed in the context of his life (what he wrote when, who influenced various books) was very illuminating.

This book is very readable and enjoyable. I found myself amazed at the amount of research Jacobs must have done-- trawling through the masses of papers we have from Lewis' life (it is wonderful that we have so much of it, but I find the idea of it a little overwhelming) and his voluminous writing to find the perfect quotes from or about him to describe a particular episode or part of his life or characteristic.

I'm glad I read this book. Now when people quote Lewis or illustrate a point from his life, I have an idea of the big picture (and often they're oversimplifying-- although I don't know where to start to try to tell them that).

Title:The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis
Author:Alan Jacobs
Date published:2005
Number of pages:342


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