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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 24 September 2018

"Jack: C S Lewis and his times" by George Sayer

This is a biography of C S Lewis. He was an almost lifelong university academic who was prolific in a number of fields:

  • He was a mediaevalist writing books such as The Discarded Image and The Allegory of Love.
  • He was a Christian apologist, broadcasting very popular programmes on the wartime BBC radio and writing a number of books about Christianity including The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce in which he imagines what heaven is like and explains that most dead people won't, rather than can't. enter it.
  • He wrote the science fiction trilogy: Out of the Silent PlanetPerelandra; and That Hideous Strength; the first two are well worth reading but I thought that the third was rather tedious and preachily predicatable. 
  • He wrote and had published books of poetry. His first book rose from his experiences as an officer in the trenches of World War One.
  • He wrote the best-selling children's books the Narnia series: The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe; The Magician's nephew; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver chair; The Horse and his boy; and The Last battle
  • He wrote a partial autobiography called Surprised by Joy; it mostly deals with his conversion to Christianity.
and more!

I have also read the biography by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper (which I think is slightly better than this one which is by one of his students who starts by recounting how he first met his new tutor, Mr Lewis, bumping into another academic called Tollers (J R R Tolkien) in the process!

The childhood of Clive 'Jack' Lewis was far from idyllic. He lost his mother at the age of ten and was sent from Belfast to a pre school where the head was a flogger; then to another prep school in Malvern and hence to Malvern College where he lasted a year before finally finding a school that suited him: a crammer in Great Bookham, Surrey where he translated Latin and Greek in the mornings and read widely in the afternoons.  Accepted by University College Oxford he couldn't go to the University because he couldn't pass the maths exam. He only got to Oxford because this exam was excused for officers who had served in the trenches during the First World War.

He was an incredible reader. During one holiday while at school he read “ Hawthorne, Aeschylus, Arnold Bennett, Edward Fitzgerald, Robert Bridges, Newman’s Apologia, Catullus, Herrick, Apollonius, Maeterlinck, Sir Thomas More, Tennyson, Mangan, and several other writers” (p 63)

He had a highly sexual side. He was an early masturbator and, as a teenager, has sado-masochistic fantasies. “Throughout his life he loved to go skinny-dipping.” (p 67) His mythic poem Dymer contains “one of the most vivid orgies of sexual temptation in the whole of English poetry. there are preying fingertips, warm mouths, rolling breasts; shaggy satyrs, devil dancers, and the incessant beating of a drum.” (p 126) He lived for years with the mother of a friend who had been killed in World War One and this relationship always seemed a little strange. He couldn't marry until this woman had died. But when he married (by civil ceremony) a divorced American, at first it was purely to help her stay in the UK; he didn't love her and they failed to consummate the marriage. After she developed cancer his affection grew and he found a way to marry her in the church (because the husband who had divorced her had previously been divorced himself he held that her marriage had never been a real marriage and that therefore she wasn't a real divorcee) they started having sex.

He was significantly conservative. In his inaugural lecture in Cambridge he asserted that "the great divide in culture and civilization had taken place between the period of Jane Austen and the present day ... rulers had been replaced by leaders .... the decline of Christian belief had cut us off from the past ... [and] the machine ... gives us a new myth - that the new is better." (p 218)

He became a famous Christian propagandist but he had ten early years of atheism. His first book of poetry “is not the work of an atheist, but a Manichee, a believer in dualism” (p 81)

Great lines:

  • The nature of the future: Is it like a line that you can't see or a line that is not yet drawn?” (p 27)
  • Many years later, he enjoyed the novels of ... Mary Renault, especially The Last of the Wine.”(p 28)
  • Loki Bound, an early libretto had a form that was “strictly Aristotelian, with a prologos, a parados, three episodes, and an exodos. ... Loki is proud, defiant, scornful, self-righteous, coming, and resourceful ... He covers up his real character and motives with a mask of hypocrisy. when alone, he sometimes shows his real feelings in outbursts of angry cursing.” (p 59)
  • Bleheris, an early story, includes a character who is “a handsome young man with half-closed eyes who seems to dream of some old sad memory.” (p 59) The heroes “find moored to a rose bush in an autumnal place a little boat ... that will take them to Yesterday.” When the hero is stuck in quicksand the rose bush rescues: it “put its arms around him and drew him back, in the process burying some thorns in his arms.” (p 60)
  • "He never lost his sense of humour. ... [when] he had to go ... for blood transfusions, he wrote: 'For the first time I feel some sympathy with Dracula. He must have led a miserable life'." (p 245)
  • The trouble about God is that he is like a person who never acknowledges your letters and so, in time, you come to the conclusion either that he does not exist or that you have got his address wrong.” (p 92)
  • An educational career is a school of hypocrisy in which you spend your life teaching others observances which you have rejected yourself.” (p 95)


An interesting biography about a fascinating man. September 2018; 252 pages


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