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Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis Paperback – June 20, 2005
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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"My object ... is to present the factual background to the motivation and character of a remarkable man."
About the Author
GEORGE SAYER (1914–2005) was head of the English department at Malvern College in Worcestershire until his retirement in 1974. While there, he and Lewis held long literary discussions on their frequent walks in the countryside. Sayer and Lewis maintained a long friendship.
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The book's twenty-two chapters are roughly chronological. Each deals with a time or location important to Lewis's life, a writing project, or a close relationship. The writing chapters are the most interesting, revealing discussions, readings and insights that influenced Lewis's work. We learn, for example, of his crafting The Chronicles of Narnia stories as "pre-Christian" instructional tools for children to help them more easily recognize moral concepts as adults. These chapters summarize Lewis's thinking by excerpting from his writing without creating the impression that the reader no longer needs the original work. Skillfully done!
In the relationship chapters the author dispels misconceptions about three people in his subject's life. The first is his brother Warren who, as Lewis's secretary, was intimately involved with his business and correspondence. Warren's alcoholism strained their relationship, but did not cause the estrangement other biographers have suggested. The book explains Lewis's relationship to Mrs. Janie Moore, in whose household he lived for many years. Mrs. Moore was the mother of Lewis's close friend, Paddy Moore. After Paddy was killed in WWI, Lewis fulfilled his promise to look after his friend's mother. In some ways she assumed the role of Lewis's own absent mother.
There is also description of Lewis's relationship with his wife, Joy Davidman. The author dismisses its portrayal in the movie Shadowlands as inaccurate. His own account is based on observation and conversations with both Joy and Lewis. It captures the couple's progression from tentative correspondents to close and happy partners. The relationship chapters are written in the same abstract, summary style as the writing chapters. But it is less effective here; the few anecdotes whet the readers appetite, but leave it unsatisfied. Their effect is one of distance from Lewis, rather than of increased intimacy. This is unfortunate.
This book is recommended as a summary of Lewis's character traits and ideas. It is worth reading. It should be accompanied or followed by Mere Christianity,Surprised by Joy, and other works by Lewis himself.
One area in which Sayer may be unbalanced himself is in his treatment of Lewis' brother Warren Lewis. He is at pains to correct what he believes is Warren's flawed view of Mrs. Moore and of Joy, Lewis' two chief female companions during his life. While many speculate upon the true nature of Lewis' relationship to Mrs. Moore, Sayer believes it to have been free of any sexual or even sensual qualities--Mrs. Moore was to Lewis the mother he lacked during the traumatic experiences of his youth to which he speaks so much of in his autobiography, according to Sayer. Lewis' relationship to Joy prior to and during their legal marriage is also a point of emphasis with Sayer. He argues that Lewis preserved chastity until after he and Joy's "Christian" marriage ceremony, at which point Lewis had developed a real marital affection for Joy, as opposed to the empathetic feelings that led him to rescue her from the disastrous marriage in which she was stuck in the U.S.A., where she did not believe her two boys were safe from harm. Given Lewis' own childhood experiences, it is not difficult to see that he would be willing to take unusual measures to protect children whom he believed were subject to abuse. Much of Sayer's arguments stem from his desire to correct other biographer's "misunderstandings" of Lewis based upon Warren Lewis' letters. One can also see how Sayer's closeness to Lewis influences his view of Warren's irresponsibilities resulting from his alcoholism and his diffidence to help out with domestic affairs at the Kilns. He does attempt to balance out his portrait of Warren by acknowledging Warren's immense help in answering Lewis' fan letters, and in recognizing Warren's prodigious knowledge of Nepoleonic France (including praises for the quality of Warren's writing).
Sayer also does a fine job of demonstrating Lewis' propensity to keep his private affairs hidden from even his closest friends. Most of Lewis' academic friends were oblivious to his relationship with Arthur Greeves, Lewis' closest childhood friend next to Warren, and his most intimate confidant during his intense spiritual struggles prior to, or rather during his long process of conversion to Christianity.
All in all Sayer's biography is top-notch and a pleasure to read. He captures the finer points of Lewis, of which Lewis himself was candid in his autobiography, while also presenting lots of details and insights, which Lewis either declined to include or was unlikely (or, indeed, unable) to identify and express.