The Narnian: A Few Thoughts

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this biography of C.S. Lewis. As I said earlierJacobs does a nice job of bringing the great author to life. He manages to take him off the pedestal that Christians have him on without ignoring some of the anti-Lewis arguments (he’s a misogynist, a sexual pervert, a racist, etc). He keeps him human and keeps the focus nicely on how his life story came to make the man who created Narnia. Having read Surprised by Joy last year  it was interesting to hear Jacobs’s insights into various episodes in Lewis’s life as compared to Lewis’s own thoughts.

It was also interesting to read the following passage after reading The Pleasures of Reading in the Age of Distraction by Jacobs earlier in the year:

So, even as he grieved deeply the loss of his beloved wife, he engaged in his last great polemic, and it had nothing to do with Christianity. Instead, it was an attack on the “literary Puritans” who wished to transform reading into an exercise in spiritual formation- an exercise guided by those strict Critics who would tell you what to read and why it was good for you. p. 295

…. what [this] creates in people is not a desire to read, but a desire to have read, and even more a desire simply to be in the know about what one should read….Having described the household obsessed by the desire to be part of this literary Inner Ring, Lewis continues: “Yet, while the goes on downstairs, the only real literary experience in such a family my be occurring in a back bedroom where a small boy is reading Treasure Island under the bedclothes by the light of an electric torch.”  p 295

It was easy to see where Jacobs got his own ideas about how to answer the question What to read?. Having greatly liked Jacobs answer to the question myself, I liked hearing Lewis’s thoughts on the problem also.

So overall, very good book. I appreciated in particular Jacobs trying to deal with some of the arguments against Lewis, in particular that he is a racist and a misogynist. I appreciated it until I got to this part.

Of course, it is possible that a person like Jane would be happier raising children than trying to finish her dissertation on Donne. There are people in the world of whom that could rightly be said. But this judgment would be easier to take if there were elsewhere in Lewis’s fiction women of greater stature (emphasis mine)….p 259

Mr. Jacobs, I’ll venture that there are plenty of women and men who are happier raising children than finishing that dissertation on Donne. I’ll raise my hand to include myself as a “person like that”. It’s not entirely clear what Jacobs means by “greater stature” but assuming it has to do with a richer intellectual life I’ll also venture to suggest to Mr. Jacobs that many of us who are “those kind of people” have intellectual lives that are rich and varied. We read. We think. We learn new things. Even while happily raising children.

3 thoughts on “The Narnian: A Few Thoughts

  1. I didn’t take that comment to mean, “Women of greater stature than Jane,” or women of greater stature than mothers. I thought he just meant that there simply aren’t that many developed women characters in Lewis — not a very large field of comparison. So it’s easy to jump to conclusions. I didn’t take it as a chauvinistic statement by Jacobs.

    I think Lewis was in general a humble figure. He made efforts to bridge the gap between an obviously penetrating intellect and level of scholarship, and a popular audience. I’m personally very grateful for that. But he has his moments of snobbery, and sometimes (in my humble opinion) of chauvinism. I remember being bothered by it at times in ‘An Experiment in Criticism.’

    • Hmmm. I still read it the way I originally did. But maybe you are just more gracious than me. 🙂 I’ll have to go back and read it in context again and think on it some more.

      I agree that Lewis has his moments. I think what I did like about Jacobs is that he is able to say “yes, he was human and had these failings” without saying “so therefore we can’t trust anything he says.” He neither puts him on a pedestal like many Christians do or focuses solely on his defects like so many of his critics.

  2. Pingback: Best of 2012 in Books | Supratentorial

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