: The narnian. the life and imagination of c. s. lewis: the life and imagination of c.s. lewis () : Alan Jacobs : Books
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The Narnian. The Life And Imagination Of C. S. Lewis: The Life And Imagination Of C.s. Lewis

by Alan Jacobs
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Product Details

  • Publisher: HarperOne
  • Publishing date: 01/10/2005
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 0060766905



The White Witch, Aslan, fauns and talking beasts, centaurs and epic battles between good and evil -- all these have become a part of our collective imagination through the classic volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia. Over the past half century, children everywhere have escaped into this world and delighted in its wonders and enchantments. Yet what we do know of the man who created Narnia? This biography sheds new light on the making of the original Narnian, C. S. Lewis himself.

Lewis was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably the most influential religious writer of his day. An Oxford don and scholar of medieval literature, he loved to debate philosophy at his local pub, and his wartime broadcasts on the basics of Christian belief made him a celebrity in his native Britain. Yet one of the most intriguing aspects of Clive Staples Lewis remains a mystery. How did this middle-aged Irish bachelor turn to the writing of stories for children -- stories that would become among the most popular and beloved ever written?

Alan Jacobs masterfully tells the story of the original Narnian. From Lewis's childhood days in Ireland playing with his brother, Warnie, to his horrific experiences in the trenches during World War I, to his friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien (and other members of the “Inklings”), and his remarkable late-life marriage to Joy Davidman, Jacobs traces the events and people that shaped Lewis's philosophy, theology, and fiction. The result is much more than a conventional biography of Lewis: Jacobs tells the story of a profound and extraordinary imagination. For those who grew up with Narnia, or for those just discovering it, The Narnian tells a remarkable tale of a man who knew great loss and great delight, but who knew above all that the world holds far more richness and meaning than the average eye can see.


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  • A book that needs heavy handed editing
    From Amazon

    It is a shame that someone whose style of writing is as fine as Jacobs should nevertheless produce a book of sloppy scholarship and questionable pronouncements. On the plus side, Jacobs writing style is lively, he creates fine links between Lewis's written works and people/events from Lewis's life, and he gives interesting interpretations of Lewis's works in all the various literary genres in which he wrote.

    However, this book receives a two-star rating for several reasons. First, the scholarship is sloppy: numerous factual errors are sprinkled throughout the book, everything from incorrectly labeled photos to wrong dates to incorrect medical information. (One can't help but think that the proofreaders at HarperSanFrancisco were sleeping on the job.) Second, Jacobs seems to be of the A.N. Wilson school of thought in which a biography is an attempt to psychoanalyze the dead by rummaging around through their literary productions and making pronouncements on the inner life (that are not uncommonly contrary to what the biographical subject claimed while alive). Third, while some of Jacobs' theological pronouncements were sound, there were others that seemed naive or just plain muddle-headed. More than anything, it was apparent that while the author has been reading Lewis for a long time, he hasn't read as widely as someone writing a biography should, for several of his opinions would be altered if he knew more about the subject (e.g., Jacobs writes, "The Pilgrim's Regress was C.S. Lewis's least successful book as he himself knew"; but in fact, Lewis did not acknowledge this to be the case; moreover, while some people thought the book unsuccessful, others thought well of it, including folks such as Norman Pittenger, A.N. Wilson, or J.I. Packer, the latter of whom thought it was the single best thing Lewis ever wrote. Certainly it was not the least successful of Lewis's books in terms of either sales or public opinion.)

    Between the numerous factual errors, the lack of sufficient research, the theological absurdities, and the amateurish psychoanalysis, this book would have greatly benefited from some rather heavy-handed editing. The best I could say about it is that it is a decent-though-heavily-flawed book. Bottom line: if you want a reliable account of Lewis's writings, go with Walter Hooper's superb "C.S. Lewis Companion and Guide"; if you want a fine biography, read George Sayer's "Jack: C.S. Lewis and his Times". While Jacobs does do many things well, I'm afraid my pronouncement of "The Narnian" is a statement of Samuel Johnson's: "It is more from carelessness about truth than intentional lying that there is so much falsehood in the world."

  • Narnia for all
    From Amazon

    There are many books about magic worlds, some even excellent. I love the works of E Nesbit, Edward Eager, J. K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien and others, and enjoy rereading them from time to time. It's very pleasant to hang out with old friends and reground for an hour or two; but ah, there's nothing like the thrill of falling back into Narnia. As "The Wind in the Willows" was for C. S. Lewis, Narnia has always been a refuge for me. I wore out the public library's copies of the Chronicles of Narnia before I was ten, and having been banned from checking them out again, have since gone through three sets of my own. I'm substantially older than ten now and find the books just as fresh now on the two thousandth reading as the first.

    I believe that much of whatever is good in my character comes from the difficult lessons Edmund and Eustace learned, the resolution of Diggory's dilemma when he was tempted to steal a Narnian apple to heal his dying Mother and Aslan's repeated admonition of "No one is told any story but their own". When my parents died, the journey to Aslan's country in "The Last Battle" gave me enormous comfort, and still does. I say all this both as a long overdue "thank you" to C. S. Lewis, and because I suspect others feel the same.

    Yes, Lewis was a formidable scholar, intellect, and Christian apologist; prolific writer, gifted teacher, loyal friend and all around neat guy, but the charm and accessiblity of the Narnia books is his greatest contribution to nontheologians and nonacademicians. In other words, most of us.

    The Chronicles of Narnia were not written until Lewis was in his fifties, and Dr. Jacobs has done an admirable job of explaining why they couldn't have been written any earlier. The death of Lewis' mother, his emotionally unavailable father, painful school experiences, the horrors of WWI, his amazing scope of reading while pursuing multiple Oxford degrees, the often brutal world of academic politics, the influence of the Inklings, and a somewhat unconventional domestic life are all frequently discussed landmarks on the way to Lantern Waste, and are well-told here, but unlike any other Lewis biography I've read, Dr. Jacobs documents how the spiritual journey that began with Lewis' conversion to "mere Christianity" in his thirties, with its accompanying generosity of spirit, graciousness, and belief in miracles and joy all contributed to the gift that is Narnia. The reader is not required to take Dr. Jacobs' word for it--the evidence is there, in letters written and received before and after 1928.

    What a monumental task it must have been to write a balanced biography of C. S. Lewis. It's hard enough to write a review. "The Narnian" is not dry, nor cute, nor sycophantic. It is respectful, fair, and a rewarding read. It neither ignores the more inexplicable parts of Lewis' life (which are no one's business anyway) nor his critics, disappointingly Philip Pullman--to whom I'd just like to say, "Bless me, what DO they teach them at these schools"--the very last way you'd describe Lewis is as having a "mean, narrow little mind".

    For those of us who discovered Lewis through Narnia and were driven to explore his other works in hopes of finding a way through the wardrobe, this is our book. "The Narnian" comes as close as anyone can to the essence of Narnia and C. S. Lewis. As a child, I frequently looked for a physical door opening into Narnia and for an intellectual door as an adult. That door is well illuminated by Dr. Jacobs.

  • Wonderful!!!
    From Amazon

    An excellent book! I have recently become a fan of the Narnian Chronicles and have also read them repeatedly to my third grade class since that time. That and Stanford Gibson's review of the Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis has lead me to purchase this book.

    Jacobs has done well presenting the people and events that helped shaped Lewis' writings. His relationships with his father, his mother and her early death, his brother Warnie, Professor Kirk, Prof. Tolkien, the mysterious Minto, and Joy Gresham all have influenced in varying degrees his works, and Jacobs has done an excellent job connecting them to Lewis' writings. It was a very delightful and moving read as one gains some insight into a man whom many have admired since he began publishing his works. This book brings about a deeper respect for Lewis, his works in theology and apologetics, and his work in adult and children's literature. It is a must read for any student of Lewis, and any true friend of Narnia.

  • Good Introduction to Lewis
    From Amazon

    I'm no Lewis scholar but I am a thoughtful reader. Despite the fact that any biography can always be somehow better, I think Jacobs has done a fair job. As one who has read a decent bit of Lewis' work with little biographical background, this gave me a good sketch of his life. I'm sure others will disagree with various details but you have to start somewhere if you want to enter the discussion. Give it a go!

  • At the pub with Inklings.
    From Amazon

    Does the world need another biography of C. S. Lewis? Probably not. Jacobs admits even that he did not need to write one -- it was his agent's fault. Still, he does a generally excellent job in this book. As another life-long reader of Lewis, who had already read several biographies and almost everything by Lewis several times over, I learned quite a bit from this biography. Having sampled several Lewis biographies, like a fan of Hamlet who waits impatiently for Polonius to appear on stage, one gets to like and enjoy reading about other characters just as much -- Lewis' brother, Warnie (who wrote at least one pretty good book, too), the dramatic character he married, and all those incredibly bright friends he hung around with and swilled beer. (A reprise, perhaps, of Chesterton's friendships with Shaw & Wells etc.)

    What I really liked about this book was the good sense Jacobs brings to the project, and his own deep reading in many of the works and people that inspired Lewis. He swerves nimbly around the road-blocks that tumbled Wilson. True, he might have consulted Sayer. But he more than makes up for the occasional error in judgement or lapse in biographical expertise by offering frequent insight into dozens of works that were so much a part of Lewis' thought world. One gets the feeling that Lewis would have enjoyed talking with Jacobs.

    Jacobs is careful to maintain a critical distance from his subject, (some fail here) though he obviously admires him much, which keeps the book from becoming cloying. One area I did not think that worked was the rather tiresome pages in which he takes Lewis to task for (essentially) failing to conform to 21st Century orthodoxy on sexual equality. Some of us (like Lewis) go to the books of another era precisely to take a break from the stale pieties of our own. And it is ludicrous to identify Orual with Minto -- could any two women be less alike? -- Jacobs almost lapses into cheap psychobabble here. But if a writer sheds important light on a subject, and does so with style, I am inclined to forgive him a few such lapses.

    An obviously well-informed reviewer below finds more to complain about. I agree the title is a bit deceptive: the book is only occasionally about Narnia. I didn't think Jacobs was that far off, or negative, on the later Tolkien relationship. Nobody can know everything. Jacobs knows a lot, and pours much careful thought into this biography. It's also a pleasure to read.

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