Peter Washington

Unlikely Rebel

C S Lewis: A Life – Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet

By

Hodder & Stoughton 431pp £20 order from our bookshop

My Oxford tutor, J I M Stewart, aka Michael Innes, was an easy-going man as a rule, but he couldn’t be doing with C S Lewis. Stewart was a sceptical Scot of bone-dry humour and fey imagination who baulked at Lewis’s dogmatic manner. ‘I could have put up with Jack’s constant references to the Almighty,’ he would say, ‘but not with the implication that God returned the compliment.’

Having been even more bored by the Narnia novels as a child than I was by The Hobbit, and force-fed The Screwtape Letters and The Problem of Pain – a book Lewis came to regret, according to the author of this new biography – at school, I applauded the witticism even when I discovered that it wasn’t original. Only Lewis’s day job interested me. Most English academic critics at the time were textual commentators or bug-eyed Leavisites, both indifferent to the cultural and historical background of literature and actively hostile to any religious connotations. Neither approach appealed much to one such as myself who day-dreamed his way through university life. There were exceptions – John Jones, for example, who lectured on Hegel and wrote a fine book about Aristotle – but such people were considered eccentrics who belonged in other faculties: strange, out-of-the-way places like the philosophy school. And although the exchange with my tutor took place during the annus mirabilis of 1968, when a literary and political revolution was sweeping Continental Europe, England remained – as usual – largely immune to such excitements.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • One woman 'travelled round the south of India with a retinue of 750 people, fourteen elephants, two racing camels f… ,
    • Stuck for a gift idea for Father's Day? Subscribe to Literary Review and get a FREE copy of 'An Impeccable Spy' –… ,
    • 'Gone. All gone. The ease, the pleasure, the effortless eloquence' From May 1995, Margaret Forster's withering rev… ,
    • RT : SO excited to tell you about this event! 😆 The amazing digital colourist, will be joining w… ,
    • 'Peters was unashamed and evidently unshamable, an impostor who wholly inhabited his fabrications and who indignant… ,
    • ‘At every waking moment Barbara Hepworth was aware of herself as a woman paving the way in a man’s world’ From the… ,
    • The entertaining Howard Jacobson is in conversation with Prof John Mullan at the Queen’s Park Book Festival on Sund… ,