C.S. Lewis is a major figure for at least three reasons. He was a great, historian of European literature; he was an important creative writer in the realm of Northern mythology; he was the most influential Christian lay teacher in the English-speaking world in our century. These things are not easily reconciled and present great challenges for a biographer.

A.N. Wilson’s biography, reviewed by Lyle W. Dorsett in the June Chronicles (“Another Life of C.S. Lewis“), is probably not the best biography that will ever be written. Among other things, a definitive biography takes at least a half-century’s distance. It may be that Wilson is guilty of the petty errors that Dorsett Chronicles and others as well. Wilson may be wrong in some of his conclusions about Lewis’s private life. I myself disagree with his ratings of some of Lewis’s books. However, a serious and independent-minded work on an important subject deserves a more careful treatment from Chronicles than Dorsett has given it.

If the biography is as defective as Dorsett contends, then we need a critical analysis, not an attack on the author’s competence and motives. The criticism that Wilson has not exhausted all possible sources does not hold, for there is no reason to assume that more research would have changed his interpretation. The review will serve to scare off those who have not read the book. I read the book before I saw the review, and it did not convince me.

Wilson says in his book, though less pointedly than I am stating it, that Lewis has become a cult figure to two different groups of Americans, each of which has a vested interest in presenting a limited piece of the man as the whole. First, a certain type of puritan fundamentalist, exemplified by the Wheaton College Lewis shrine. Second, persons of a certain type of aesthetic sensibility who tend to become Roman converts.

The first group declines to account for the C.S. Lewis who drank and smoked all his life with old-fashioned British heartiness; whose main relationships with women were, if not dishonorable, at the least highly irregular; and whose forays into mythology, if regarded honestly from a fundamentalist viewpoint, would have to be considered diabolical. The second group cannot account for that Lewis who was a bluff Ulsterman, who was baptized and buried a plain Anglican, and who pointedly refused to follow Chesterton and Tolkien on the path to Rome.

Mr. Dorsett seems to be speaking for the first group. The fact that both of these groups have received Wilson’s biography with irritation and recrimination is one of the best arguments in favor of our further attention to the book.

        —Clyde Wilson
Columbia, SC