Alister McGrath’s C.S. Lewis: A Life— Part Five

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Ben: One of the things your biography of Lewis could not be accused of is being hagiography. I have often wondered why exactly Americans have so often sought to polish the halo of Lewis including those who have written about him, and revere him to such a great degree, whereas by in large this is not true in the U.K. and never has been. I wonder if you have thought as to why the reception of Lewis in the U.K. vs. in America differs to a significant degree? Recently I went and saw a British actor portray ‘An Evening with C.S. Lewis’, and of course Americans attended in large numbers. I wonder if he would get much of an audience in, say Northern Ireland, or England?

Alister: He does, perhaps surprisingly. I spoke at many events to mark the 50th anniversary of Lewis’s death in England, and we were astonished at the large numbers of people who turned up. Lewis had a greater following than we had realized. However, you’re right: Lewis has a far greater following in the United States than in Great Britain, especially among evangelicals and Catholics. Maybe it’s something to do with the romantic appeal of Oxford for Americans. Or it might have something to do with Lewis’s winsome and imaginatively engaging approach to apologetics. There’s no doubt that many Americans find Lewis to be a “soul friend” – and I can understand why. It’s hard to find a convincing explanation about why he attracts less attention in England.

On hagiography: I felt I needed to write an honest biography, in which I asked difficult questions, and turned over stones that had hitherto been ignored. I hope I gave an honest account of him as a flawed human being (like the rest of us), who found ways of coping with his weaknesses and using his many strengths. I came away from writing this biography with a greater respect for Lewis than when I began.