Hey, everybody! Welcome back to Tumnus’ Bookshelf, where we review any and all books by, about, and inspired by CS Lewis, the land of Narnia, and the Inklings. Today, we will be looking at Robert Verlarde’s Conversations with CS Lewis.
Author: Robert Verlarde
Publisher: IVP (2008)
One day while recovering from another session of chemotherapy, a man named Tom has a strange encounter. Stepping out from a mysterious wardrobe in the room, CS Lewis appears and takes him on a journey through CS Lewis’ life. Wondering if it’s a dream brought on by medication, Tom skeptically agrees to go with the mysterious stranger.
Tom gets to personally travel to Lewis’s childhood in Northern Ireland, brave the trenches of World War I, and even witness the conversion on the way to Whipsnade Zoo. He’ll also get to listen in on a conversation with the Inklings as he learns more about CS Lewis’s life and learns a thing or two about faith. He even gets to visit the lands dreamt of in Lewis’s imagination including Narnia, the Grey Town and even the offices of Hell. It’s a journey that will have a profound effect on Tom, in this biography with a twist.
One of the difficulties with a biography is simply the question of how do you take the same information that is presented in several other books and tell it again in a new way. Take for example the life of CS Lewis. Most longtime fans will have probably read the good biographies (and even some of the bad ones) so when they come across another book about him; they will wonder what makes it so different from the other ones they’ve already encountered. But what if you could take that same, familiar information, and showcase it in a unique fashion?
Conversations with CS Lewis does exactly that. Undoubtedly for many readers of NarniaFans if we were asked to name one person, living or dead whom we would like to have dinner with, near that top would be CS Lewis ( with JRR Tolkien right behind him.) Rather than simply lay out the biographical details of Lewis life, Verlarde actually has Lewis take the protagonist, Tom, on a journey through his life. The end result is a book that reads more like a fantasy story akin to Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, or CS Lewis’s The Great Divorce and less like a biography. Considering the subject of this biography, it’s a fitting format. When a vast majority of people know him more for writing Narnia than anything else, what better way is there to re-present his story?
Here we almost get a glimpse of just what CS Lewis may have been like and hear his explanations for how and why he came to the faith and his rationale for his writing. Lewis’s answers are derived from all of his writings, giving readers an authentic voice for Lewis. Verlarde includes a full bibliography and reference page for readers who are curious about these points.
Tom is fairly well developed and we get to learn a bit about him, but this story is not about him. CS Lewis is the real star of the story and it is through their journey together that Tom gets to see that this “Christian writer” had wit, wisdom and was the kind of guy with whom he’d like to throw a few pints back and chat about books for a while. In many ways this book is not only a biography of Lewis’s life but a story about the importance of writing and stories. After all, for most fans of Narnia, we “meet” CS Lewis through his literary works, and it is through those writings that he continues to make a difference.
Some readers may take umbrage with the idea of Tom conversing with a dead man. However there is a bit of an implication that this could very well be a dream brought on by the chemotherapy while reading Mere Christianity. Sadly of Lewis’s many works, the only ones exempt are the Space Trilogy and his last work of fiction Till We Have Faces. However these omissions would probably not have advanced the story much had they been included.
The writing style moves at a brisk pace, making it an ideal introduction into the life of CS Lewis for newer fans and younger readers. Long-time fans will enjoy the unique twist to the biography of their favorite author and no doubt want to check out the more in depth books on Lewis afterwards. In all, this book is just a good read from cover to cover. Conversations with CS Lewis is one encounter you won’t want to miss.
Four out of Five shields