Your past often shapes you into the adult you become- both bad and good experiences. Often to understand someone today, you need to learn where they came from. This idea is what the premise of Becoming CS Lewis: A Biography of Young Jack Lewis (1898-1918) by Harry Lee Poe is. We know much of his adult life post-conversion, but we don’t spend as much time thinking about what happened before then.
Poe does a great job of highlighting life experiences, literary passion and important relationships in Jack’s life. He spells out the complicated relationships between Jack and his father, especially after the death of his mother. His father truly wanted the best for his son, but did so with little care or concern from what Jack wanted. At the same time, Jack often tried to deflate news of his life for his dad so that his dad would not worry about him.
The friendships and relationships of Jack are thoroughly discussed. It is surprising that he was bullied for being non-athletic as well as dealing with the anti-Irish ridicule from the English. His best friend truly was his brother Warnie, followed by his 50-year friendship with Arthur Greeves- his equal in many interests. Being artistic and brilliant, it is easy to understand the social awkwardness he wrestled with most of his adolescent years.
You also get a glimpse of what influenced the world of Narnia. From his time at the Gastons, to his curiosity and interest in old Norse mythology, Much of what you read in Narnia has its roots in his upbringing and experiences in life. Even his involvement in the war influenced the world that the Pevensie children were living in.
Finally, you also get a glimpse into the evolution of Jack’s faith. Being raised in a home that expected him to be confirmed, Jack ran the gamut of faith. From his early declaration of atheism to agnosticism, to interest in the occult, and finally to believing Jesus was the son of God- you can see the process of his faith journey.
Poe is thorough in his details of the multiple areas of development in Jack’s life. His development is enlightening for the reader who really wants to understand the depth of CS Lewis. Even in some of the uncomfortable areas of sexuality and occult, Poe doesn’t candy coat anything. It gives a greater appreciation for Jack’s eventual conversion to Christ and his writings in defense of faith. Since he ran the entire spectrum of unbelief and faith, you know that he truly understands the depth and philosophical arguments for and against Christianity.
All in all, it was a thorough and enjoyable read. If you are a CS Lewis fan, it is worth reading to fill in a lot of blanks. For the everyday reader, it may be a little much to keep up with if you don’t know the story of Jack.