C. S. Lewis is one of the best known Christian thinkers of the 20th century. Harry Lee Poe has been working on a multivolume biography of the man, presenting a revealing and detailed portrait of his life and intellectual development. The first volume, Becoming C. S. Lewis: A Biogaphy of Young Jack Lewis covered 1898-1918 (my review). Here, in The Making of C. S. Lewis (1918-1945): From Atheist to Apologist, we see Lewis in adulthood as he moves from atheism to Christianity and, ultimately, to defending the faith. Readers could certainly read this as a standalone work and glean enormous insight into Lewis’s life, but the first biography is also well-worth the effort.
Harry Lee Poe documents extensively the life of Lewis, but he does so with a style that remains engaging throughout. The biography is divided into various periods of Lewis’s life, such as his return to Oxford, his academic work and war work, and more. Each chapter explores not just Lewis’s life, but also his intellectual development and work. Having recently read Splendour in the Dark: C. S. Lewis’s Dymer in His Life and Work by Jerry Root (review here), it was great to see Poe also highlighting several aspects of this lesser-known work of Lewis’s pre-Christian days. Lewis was pleased to be published, and it was one of the moments that his father also seemed to be pleased with. Perhaps more importantly, however, Lewis’s fascination with myth and enchantment of the world was already fully formed before his conversion. Poe notes the derision with which Lewis held several Christian influences on his life, but how he later changed his views as he encountered more devout believers. Poe balances this experience of Lewis with his intellectual development, showing how Lewis’s exploration of myth and legend led him to be fascinated by Christianity even as he was enthralled by the behavior of some of its adherents.
Lewis as a Christian continued to write and explore themes of myth, while also being pushed by several friends who influenced how and what he wrote. From such exploration, we received works like Miracles, as Lewis was encouraged to write a book defending the possibility of the titular events. Of course, Lewis’s fiction is also a much-beloved aspect of his writing, though the period covered in this book covers his Space Trilogy and not Narnia. Lewis clearly had apologetic intent in mind for these books, as he worked against some of the prevailing themes in science fiction at the time.
One difficulty with this biography is that, while Poe occasionally mentions some of Lewis’s failings, he seems to gloss over others and ignore or leave out some aspects of Lewis’s life that may not be as palatable to the presumably largely American Evangelical audience it is intended to reach. Regarding the latter, for example, no mention of Lewis’s interest in sadomasochism is made here, despite it being recently documented in other works. Additionally, Lewis is portrayed most frequently as a kind of “mere Christian,” a portrayal which makes some sense in light of his own writings. However, this also means that it leaves out some of his Anglicanism and unique beliefs. It’s possible some of this latter discussion will happen in the final volume of the biography, but it makes some of the discussion of C. S. Lewis’s intellectual Christianity seem milquetoast at times. Additionally, little analysis of Lewis’s thoughts are offered here. The style Poe has chosen is generally to simply report the events of Lewis’s life without commentary. Thus, when Lewis makes some alarming comments about women, they are noted with little comment.
Much discussion of Lewis’s personal life, financial situation, and work is included in the biography. Learning of Lewis’s work to philanthropize using the income from his writings even as he failed to make much on them was one of the more intriguing details about his life. Reading of his interactions with the inklings and others who influenced his thought makes him feel much more real and connected to the reader than he was before. Poe does a superb job of weaving all of this into his overall narrative of Lewis’s life.
The Making of C. S. Lewis is another deep dive into the life of a man who is a spiritual hero for many. Poe writes in a way that captures the reader and draws them deeply in to the life of a man whose ideas continue to shape the minds of millions of Christians to this day. It comes highly recommended.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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