The C S Lewis chronicles
Darton, Longman & Todd, 2005, £9.95, Pbk., 256p., ISBN 023252646X
Note the word ‘Chronicle’ in the title – this is a detailed chronology rather than a narrative biography. Colin Duriez has taken information from many sources to provide a book listing not only key events in the life of C.S. Lewis but also the day to day minutiae recorded in letters and diaries.
The underlying structure is that of a diary, with short paragraphs under individual dates, some entries longer than others and not every day recorded. Some of the entries focus on details, such as gardening or the Inklings meetings, while others record milestones in Lewis’s life, including his academic appointments and the publication of his books. A third type of entry is not directly about Lewis or his close circle but notes events which were to have an impact on him, one being the publication of G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, which would influence Lewis’s Christian conversion. For each year there is a brief note on key historical events. Interspersed among all this chronology are boxes giving a miscellany of facts, covering an incredible breadth of topics. The titles include ‘Important childhood places’, ‘Academic chairs held by the Inklings’, ‘Chronology of Narnia and England’.
As someone who has only a basic knowledge of C.S. Lewis I thought that this format would be very dry but it is to the author’s credit that the book drew me in and kept me reading. The book gives an overview of Lewis’s life and yet, because of the detail that is recorded, also sends you away with the impression of knowing Lewis better. The inclusion of information about world events and the activities of his friends and contemporaries means that the book also demonstrates how Lewis’s life and work fits into the historical and literary landscape.
My only complaint about the book is that an index would have made it useful as well as interesting. In particular, many of the miscellany items are very informative but difficult to find again, for example where would you look for the list of academic chairs held by the Inklings, when the group in various forms met from the 1930s to the 1950s? (It happens to be at the end of 1945).
Overall I found this a fascinating book, one which I would probably not have chosen for myself but which has revived my interest in C.S. Lewis and prompted me to read more of his work.
Contributed by: Kirsty A Robinson, BA, MCLIP, People’s Network Development Manager for Hampshire County Libraries and former Chair of the CLIS Executive Committee.