I finished Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis by George Sayers earlier this week, and I genuinely loved it. This book should have already joined the many biographies in my library. Honestly, I cannot say why I have not read it earlier, because it was right up my alley.
Sayers was a pupil of Lewis at Oxford, and subsequently became a close friend. This depiction of Lewis benefits from his first hand knowledge of the man. It paints an intimate picture of the man, complete with his flaws and foibles as well as his virtues. To my eyes it is not an unctuous portrayal that seeks to polish a friend's reputation, but rather a measured view of the man through research, seasoned with personal knowledge. It was delightful.
My wife always measures how much I love a book by how often I rush to her side to read excerpts. She can testify that the last week or so was filled with these outbursts. Amongst my favorites were the depictions of the man in plain terms, descriptions that showed who he really was. Such as,
From that time on, he found it difficult to spend more than the minimum amount on himself or more than a necessary amount on anyone or anything. His only personal luxuries were beer, whiskey, and tobacco, the first and last of which he regarded as almost necessities. He seems to have never owned a watch or a good fountain pen. What he gained from those years was a complete freedom from the snobbery based on possessions, and a sympathy with and understanding of poor people. The many thousands of pounds he was to give away in the years ahead were nearly always bestowed on those short of money.
As I said before, the depictions are not always so flattering. Jack had a rough early life. He lost his mother at a young age, and the family never quite recovered. As a child and teen, Jack bounced moved through several boarding schools, one of which subjected its students to conditions that read like a small school in a third world country, not what you think of when you hear "English boarding school". These events and more left scars on Lewis that persisted until his conversion.
Sayers paints a great picture of the state of Lewis' soul before conversion, and then powerfully shows how full that change of heart and mind really were. He ushers you into the very presence of Lewis to see what a changed life looks like, and it is a great encouragement.
Sayers does not linger on accounts of Lewis writing his famous works, but he does not short change these periods either. To me, these accounts read like well-portioned side dishes accompanying the meat of the story, which is Lewis as he was. What is covered is insightful and helped me gain a fuller picture of the context of each work, allowing me to examine them from a better vantage point. For the avid Lewis reader, this may be the books greatest trait, even if it is not the entrée.
For anyone who want to get to know C.S. Lewis this book is first-rate. I found that this account also gave me real insight into his works, looking at his books after this biography is an exercise in expanded perception. It did not change my readings of his works, it illuminated their depths in a new, and encouraging, way. It's a fantastic account of a unique man. For that alone it is worth your time.