Last summer I read a biography of C. S. Lewis as part of the Tyndale Summer Reading program. When I saw that this summer’s list includes another book by Alister McGrath, If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C. S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life, I was immediately intrigued and added it to my list of books to read.
The biography had certainly been interesting, but long and sometimes overly detailed. McGrath says in the preface to this new book that a lot of people want to learn from C. S. Lewis, more than to learn about him. That was definitely how I felt after slogging through the biography, and since McGrath had indicated in that book that he was planning to also write a book about the ideas of C. S. Lewis, I looked forward to reading it. I don’t know if this book is what he was talking about, but the idea of imagined lunches with Lewis seemed very attractive.
I wondered just how McGrath would manage it. I figured there would be excerpts from Lewis’s various writings, drawn together with some explanation by McGrath. I wondered if McGrath would paraphrase lengthier passages, and how he would give the impression of a casual talk rather than a formal lecture. No doubt some of Lewis’s letters would give that informal feel, I thought. There certainly is plenty of material to draw from.
But in fact there is rather little of Lewis’s own words in these imagined lunches. McGrath explains in the preface that it would not be fair, either to Lewis or this book’s readers, to invent imaginary dialogue, so instead he provides “accurate summaries of Lewis’s ideas, spiced up with some of his better phrases and quotes.”
So mostly the voice is that of McGrath rather than Lewis. He tells about Lewis’s life as it relates to his ideas and writings, naturally in much more abbreviated form than the biography. And the order of chapters is not chronological, though it does start with Lewis’s conversion and end with his death.
Perhaps this could more accurately be described as lunches with Lewis’s biographer. It is still interesting, and a good introduction to C. S. Lewis for someone who has not already read the biography and a number of Lewis’s books. It would also be a good book for someone who has no particular interest in Lewis, but who has questions about the big questions of life or about the Christian faith.
But it’s really not lunch with Lewis, so I couldn’t help feeling somewhat disappointed.