- BuyC.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath
Hodder, 431 pp, £20.00, April 2013, ISBN 978 1 4447 4552 8
It is difficult to write about C.S. Lewis without giving offence. Most authors have their admirers, and literary sectarianism is hardly rare, but Lewis is unusual in being at the heart of more than one cult, having excelled in genres where attachments are warmest and the cool touch of analysis can be most resented, such as popular religious writing and children’s literature. That he was also a noted scholar and academic only makes appraisal of his achievements more perilous, since one group of loyalists will fear that focusing on his celebrity among various kinds of ‘ordinary reader’ signals an undervaluing of his contribution to the study of medieval and Renaissance literature, while those who claim to speak for the legions of passionate admirers will be suspicious of any intellectual perspective liable to be seen as unsympathetic to the elemental readerly needs assuaged by his writing.
[*] The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis by Alister McGrath (Wiley, 191 pp., £19.99, April, 978 0 470 67279 2).
Vol. 35 No. 13 · 4 July 2013
I suppose any parallel between C.S. Lewis and J.B. Priestley is bound to be hurtful to admirers of the latter (LRB, 20 June). But Stefan Collini’s ‘Jolly Jack’ caricature surely overlooks the dark side of Priestley. Certainly, there was ‘middlebrow’ consolation to be had from his wartime broadcasts (there was a war on, after all), but if that was all there was to them, why were Conservatives so eager to take him off the air? Priestley depicted a nation cut off from a prewar past, which in any case wasn’t worth going back to, but unable to make the leap to a better future without undergoing a kind of secular conversion, signs of which he thought he had detected in 1940. By 1945 the warning, as voiced by his eponymous Inspector, was getting more strident: ‘We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.’ As befits Priestley’s Dissenting background, this fire-and-brimstone preaching has little in common with Lewis’s cosy Anglicanism. As it became clear, after the war, that Priestley’s hopes had not come to fruition, his darkness returned. Not much middlebrow reassurance there.
Sheffield Hallam University