No small amount of ink has already been spilled on the life of Clive Staples Lewis. Indeed, between his autobiography, a biography by his stepson, and still further discourse on any number of topics related to him, it is no wonder that even fictitious stories are being written featuring C.S Lewis. Yet The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S Lewis by Alan Jacobs is a different sort of work, and one that is worth fitting into any crowded library. Jacobs goes beyond the scope of mere biography, not content to simply recall names, dates, and major events in the life of C.S.L. Rather, I should call The Narnian a history of C.S Lewis. The word history captures the breadth of the book: Jacobs ambitiously unpacks not only the man known as “Jack” Lewis, but the very ideas that shaped him. He attempts to show us from the very onset of The Narnian not only what C.S Lewis wrote, but also why he wrote it. As much as we can understand a mind from the outside looking in, Alan Jacobs has given us perhaps the best picture.
Beginning with his Ulster childhood at Little Lea and on into his adolescence with Mr. Kirkpatrick (the Great Knock), he traces the earliest stages of Jack’s social and intellectual development. We see a young scholar in the making, even before he heads off to fight in the Great War (WW1) where he is nearly killed by an allied shell. We then journey through his twenties, his “conversion” (if that is the proper term) to Christianity, and on to his life of academia. All the while Jacobs seamlessly blends together the seeds of sehnsucht (longing), grammar, and mythology that would eventually produce the prolific Oxford don.
C.S Lewis said that “we live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” While that was and is perhaps true, we quickly learn that Lewis himself had an unusual aptitude for quiet and reflective time. He was extremely well read, and Jacobs spends considerable script dabbling in the philosophies and worldviews of those who most influenced Lewis. In doing this, he provides background for both his life and his imagination.
Anyone seriously interested in the mind of C.S Lewis simply must read The Narnian. You will find that his life was an odd blend of what the poet and friend of Lewis, Ruth Pitter, called “glory and nightmare” and at times seems like a fairy tale itself. Yet, just as Lewis remarked about Christianity, his life had “just that queer twist about it that real things have.” Don’t be surprised if upon putting the book down you find yourself wondering about the blue flower, looking for a way into Narnia, or pondering the very truth claims of Christianity: that is exactly what Jacobs, and I daresay Lewis, would have intended.