The C.S. Lewis Chronicles: The Indispensable Biography Of The Creator Of Narnia Full of Little-Known Facts, Events, And Miscellany, by Colin Duriez
Colin Duriez has made a bit of a career, it would appear, out of writing about C.S. Lewis and the Inklings. It’s nice work if you can get it. C.S. Lewis died on the day that JFK was assassinated, and yet his books (especially the Chronicles of Narnia as well as his classic Christian apologetics works like Mere Christianity) have remained popular, and so those who have been able to acquire a reputation in writing about him and about his associates have a good chance at having successful and popular works given the enduring worth of the writings that they are working with. If this book is not the best book ever of its genre, it is certainly a book that is well worth looking at. Who doesn’t want to look at a book that has information and facts about C.S. Lewis? If you’re reading this book you are likely a fan and more or less willing to read anything by him or about him that is written fairly and competently, and this book certainly meets that standard.
This book of about 300 pages is divided into eight sections that look at Lewis’ travels and activities over the course of his life. The book begins with a foreword and a preface that set the tone for the sort of facts that are included and where the information comes from–a great deal of credit is given to Walter Hooper, another man whose life’s work has been deeply tied to promoting and editing the works of C.S. Lewis and is clearly a peer of the author in that regard. The first part of the book looks at Lewis’ childhood in the north of Ireland from 1898-1908, when the death of his mother and his own departure for schooling made for a dramatic change of life. After that the author discusses the school experiences and tutoring that Lewis had in places like Watford, Malvern, and Great Bookham, and where his total inability at math and his own imagination became recognized by others (II). After this comes a discussion of his initial experiences at Oxford as well as in the trenches in France (III), as well as the early Oxford years that followed the end of World War I (IV). The author then looks at Lewis’ life as an Oxford don between 1926 and 1938 where he became close friends with Tolkien (V) as well as his experiences during World War II (VI). Finally, the book ends with a discussion of the beginnings of Narnia and the coming of Joy (VII) up to 1953 and the last decade of his life spent as a professor in Cambridge as an aging scholar and writer.
If I had to give a label to this work, I would not consider it strictly a biography. It certainly does have little known facts about C.S. Lewis, but it operates more like a diary written based on what can be properly dated from letters and other known information. And it is a fascinating picture, as we can see where Lewis was and what he was doing and who he was talking to and what he was writing on a level that is pretty frightening for someone who has not been alive for nearly 60 years. One wonders if this sort of work will become more popular in the future, as famous people are looked at as being worthy of writing about their every move. I can imagine this sort of book being fascinating for presidents or musicians on amazing world tours or for traveling environmentalists to track their massive carbon footprint through flying all over the place on private jets. Nevertheless, even if C.S. Lewis was not exactly a jet-setting traveler but rather someone whose mature life was rather confined within the Oxbridge world, this is still an interesting book because Lewis knew some amazing people and was quite the raconteur himself, all of which makes this an enjoyable if low-key read.