C.S. Lewis: a Life discussion questions
C.S. Lewis: a Life discussion questions E-mail

C.S. Lewis: a Life

By Alister McGrath


General questions


1.  Compare McGrath's biography with other biographies of C.S. Lewis you may have read.  For example:

Jack: C. S. Lewis and His Times by George Sayer
C.S. Lewis: a Biography by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper

C.S. Lewis: a Biography by A.N. Wilson

The Narnian by Alan Jacobs

Jack's Life by Douglas Gresham

What aspects of Lewis’s life are emphasized?  What aspects are skimmed over or omitted?   

How well did the writer know his subject?


2.  Compare McGrath’s biography with Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy.  What did Lewis leave out?  What did he include?  Why do you think Lewis selected the material that he did?  


3.  What were the significant influences on Lewis’s academic, literary and spiritual formation?

4.  Whom did Lewis influence?

5.  What new aspect of Lewis did you learn?




6.  Owen Barfield said (p. x) there are three C.S. Lewises.  Which Lewis are you most acquainted with?  Which one would you like to know better?  Is there a fourth C.S. Lewis?

7.  What do you think of McGrath’s qualifications to write a biography of Lewis?  Would you give more credence to a biographer who knew his subject personally or one who did not?

Chapter 1 


8.  Discuss Lewis’s Irish roots.  Did this influence his writing?  Why do you think C.S. Lewis is thought of as an English writer rather than Irish?


Chapter 2

9.  What do you make over the discrepancy between Lewis’s Surprised by Joy description of his boarding school experience and his brother Warnie’s and friend/biographer George Sayer’s account?  

Chapter 3

10.  We tend to forget that Lewis originally aspired to be a poet and failed.  How did God use this failure to redirect Lewis?  Have you had a similar experience? 

11.  C.S. Lewis wrote little about his war experiences in Surprised by Joy.  McGrath suggests that like many veterans, Lewis repressed the trauma.  Do you agree?  How did the war years shape Lewis?  


Chapter 4 


12.  McGrath bravely tackles the subject of Lewis and sexuality.  What do you think of Lewis’s response to Arthur Greeves’ disclosure?  Of his relationship to Mrs. Moore?

Chapter 5  

13.  A few years after getting a teaching position at Magdalen College, C.S. Lewis loses his father who had continued to support him financially during the lean years.  What do you think of Lewis’s relationship with his father?  What, if any, influence did it have on his later life and work?

Chapter 6

14.  McGrath sets the stage for C.S. Lewis’s conversion by noting other writers who professed Christianity the early 20th century.  What do you think of Greene and Waugh’s argument (p. 133) that the author’s belief in God gives their fictional characters reality and depth?  If you have read any of Graham Greene’s or Evelyn Waugh’s novels, what did you think of them?

15.  McGrath describes Lewis’s conversion as a “process of crystallization” (p. 136) over time.  In Surprised by Joy Lewis talks of God actively pursuing him.  If you are a Christian, think back to your conversion.  Was it a process or a specific moment in time?  Were you searching for God or did God find you?  (Note: Each believer has a unique story.  There is no template.)

16.  What role did J.R.R. Tolkien play in Lewis’s conversion?

17.  What do you think of McGrath’s argument that C.S. Lewis’s conversion to theism occurred a year later than Lewis himself stated in Surprised by Joy?

Chapter 7

18.  How did the Inklings shape Lewis’s work and life?

19.  What, if anything, impressed you about C.S. Lewis’s academic career at Oxford?

Chapter 8

20.  What role did the little known Father Walter Adams play in C.S. Lewis’s life?

21.  How did the BBC radio talks reflect Lewis’s idea of “mere” Christianity?

Chapter 9

22.  How do the arguments from morality and from desire serve as clues to the meaning of the universe in Lewis’s apologetics? 

23.  What problem does McGrath, himself an apologist, see with Lewis’s trilemma argument?

24.  What prompted Lewis to try writing science fiction?

Chapter 10

25.  What do you think about Oxford University’s snub of Lewis?  Was it justified?

26.  What was the Oxford Socratic Club?  How did C.S. Lewis’s debate with Elizabeth Anscombe affect Miracles?  His other writings?


Chapters 11 & 12

27.  Discuss some of the sources Lewis drew on for the Narnia series.

28.  Why do you think the Narnian tales have stood the test of time?

29.  What do you think of Aslan as a type of Christ?

Chapter 13

30.  How did the move to Cambridge affect Lewis’s life?

31.  McGrath has been criticized for his portrayal of Joy’s pursuit of Jack.  How did his account strike you? 

For more on the subject, consider: 
Gina Dalfonzo’s article “C.S. Lewis’s Joy in Marriage: What I think Alister McGrath got wrong about Lewis’s wife, Joy Davidman” at


or for another perspective, Don W. Kings’ “A Naked Tree: Joy Davidman’s Love Sonnets to C.S. Lewis” in SEVEN vol. 29 (2012).

Chapter 14

32.  How did Lewis respond to the loss of his wife, Joy?  How has major loss shaped you?

Chapter 15

33.  Why do you think C.S. Lewis’s books continue to sell 50 years after his death?

34.  What do you see as his greatest legacy?

© 2013 by Allyson Wieland