I’ve just finished The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs. The subtlety of this passage delights me:

In Surprised by Joy, he [C.S. Lewis] looks back at his younger self and sees someone whose interest in philosophy was less than serious—indeed, less than truly philosophical. Even some years later, when he was actually teaching philosophy, he was having lunch with [Owen] Barfield and a pupil named Griffiths when he casually referred to philosophy as a “subject.” “‘It wasn’t a subject to Plato,’ said Barfield, ‘it was a way.’ The quiet but fervent agreement of Griffiths, and the quick glance of understanding between these two, revealed to me my own frivolity.”

(The quotation is from Surprised by Joy, though I didn’t catch that the first time around.)

The Narnian is the probably the best biography that can be written about Lewis, who was clearly a private man, and who led a compartmentalized life. The documentary evidence allows all of the interesting questions to be raised but not answered, viz., the reasons for his conversion to Christianity, his relationship with Mrs. Moore, the reasons for his marriage to Joy Davidman. More or less the only judgment of Lewis that we can reach from the book is that he successfully guarded his privacy. The quality of the prose is very good; Jacobs is a professor of English. The literary insights are very helpful. The organization is more topical than chronological, so I at least am left with uneasy recollections of what happened when, but it’s not certainly not clear to me that narrating events in chronological order would have been an improvement.The last chapter can be skipped.

A final oddity: Lewis was staunchly anti-Freudian. Nevertheless, he himself lost his mother at an early age, had a terrible relationship with his father, and then got into an (almost certainly) sexual relationship with a woman twenty years his senior, whom he eventually came to call “Mother”. Yeah, no place for Mr. Freud’s theories here…