Behind the Book: Devin Brown on A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis

Today Devin Brown shares why he wrote A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis.

There have been a number of good biographies written about C. S. Lewis. The first one was released in 1974, eleven years after Lewis’s death, by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper, who knew Lewis personally. Then in 1988, George Sayer, who had been Lewis’s pupil and later his close friend, published Jack. In 2005, Douglas Gresham, Lewis’s stepson and a producer of the Narnia films, gave us Jack’s Life, and Alan Jacobs gave us The Narnian. And there have been others.

So a normal reaction to my recent offering, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis, might be: Why another biography of Lewis?

In A Life Observed, a title intended to echo Lewis’s A Grief Observed, I take a somewhat different tack. Previous biographies about Lewis have been more or less comprehensive in the sense that they tell a little bit about everything. For example, readers might learn who Lewis’s great grandfather was and when and where he lived.

My approach was more focused. I put Lewis’s spiritual journey—both the steps that led to his conversion and the steps he took afterward—at the center. This allowed me to go into more depth in describing his search for the object of the mysterious longing he felt, a feeling he called “Joy,” and in tracing his growth in the years after he became a Christian.

I am also one of the few biographers who makes a living as an English professor, as did Lewis—which means that I have been trained to think and read in the same way that he did. For example, in A Life Observed, I discuss the importance of the epigrams which Lewis uses in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Readers might be amazed to discover all that Lewis packed into them.

English teachers always tell their students write what you know. Lewis was able to provide such penetrating portraits of temptation and redemption because he himself had been greatly tempted and greatly redeemed. I try to connect aspects from Lewis’s fictional accounts of faith with his own journey.

Another aspect of A Life Observed that is different from most other biographies is what might be called authorial stance. Some Lewis biographers have wanted to seem very objective and have been almost scientific in their approach. Though they clearly appreciated and admired Lewis, they did not want to seem biased. In order to do this, they always kept Lewis at arm’s length and never became personally involved in the story they were telling. For some of them, it seems to me, this meant going a bit overboard to make sure they pointed out every real or imagined flaw he may have had.

I hope I never went overboard in the other direction, but rather than keeping Lewis at arm’s length, I fully embraced him and tried to bring his amazing story to life with all the excitement it warrants.

Readers of A Life Observed will find that hardly a page goes by where I do not quote from Lewis directly—from his letters, diary, autobiographical works, apologetics, or fiction. My goal was to allow him to tell his own story whenever possible. Not every biographer of Lewis has tried to do this. A number have intentionally imposed their own agenda on his story and have reinterpreted his life to fit their needs.

Finally, Lewis’s story is the story of a man who wandered, struggled, and was lost for many years but in the end was found and made his way on the right path. In this sense it is biographical. It is also a universal story, because a loving Father in heaven pursues each of us and will not stop until each lost one has been found. In this sense, I hope that A Life Observed will be inspiring and uplifting and will point readers to Christ, for surely this was Lewis’s own goal.

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Devin Brown (PhD, University of South Carolina) is a Lilly scholar and professor of English at Asbury University. A C. S. Lewis aficionado, Brown has written, taught, and lectured on Lewis extensively for more than ten years. He has authored a number of books related to Lewis, including Inside Narnia and Inside Prince Caspian, and lives in Kentucky. In 2008 Brown was invited to serve as scholar-in-residence at the Kilns, Lewis’s home in Oxford.

For more information on A Life Observed, click here.