Douglas Gresham,
Jack's Life: The Life Story of C.S. Lewis
(Broadman & Holman, 2005)

Although Clive Staples Lewis produced a large number of works during his career, he will be forever remembered as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia. With a new film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe (the first in a seven-book series) now in theatres, Lewis's works and life are coming under new scrutiny.

A recitation of the bare facts of Lewis's life doesn't take very long. He was born in 1898 in Belfast, Ireland, and educated in England, where he spent most of his life. He fought in the trenches during World War I, returned to Oxford and finally became a professor there. In 1952, he met Joy Davdiman Gresham, an American writer with two sons; they married in 1956. Joy died of cancer in 1960 and Lewis followed in 1963.

Gresham states in his preface that he chose to write yet another biography of Lewis because most of the existing biographies focus only on one aspect of Lewis's life and character: the Creator of Narnia, the Christian Writer, the Teacher. He wanted to tell the story of Lewis the Man. In addition, only two of the other biographies were written by people who actually knew Lewis; Gresham knew him very well indeed, as Lewis was his stepfather.

Jack's Life (and yes, the nickname is explained), is a fascinating story and nicely embroiders the bare facts recited above. Unfortunately, Gresham has chosen to write in the same semi-conversational tone in which Jack himself wrote the Narnia books. While such a tone works for books designed for children, there is no indication that this book is intended for children and the style rapidly becomes tedious for the adult reader.

The book comes packaged with a DVD that contains a short interview with Gresham (about 25 minutes). The interview is, in some ways, more interesting than the book, especially as Gresham no longer seems to be talking down to his audience. I would have preferred to see more of what was plainly a lengthy discussion dissected by clumsy cuts: in one spot, Gresham is cut off mid-thought.

While Jack's Life is a warm, loving portrait of Gresham's stepfather, it would have been better served had he chosen a different style in which to write it.

by Laurie Thayer
21 January 2006

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