Derb: Yes, Gopnik does allow that C.S. Lewis was a fine writer. How could he not? But his view is basically this: Lewis was a fine writer, too bad he was also a Christian! I was especially struck by this passage: “The religious believer finds consolation, and relief, too, in the world of magic exactly because it is at odds with the necessarily straitened and punitive morality of organized worship, even if the believer is, like Lewis, reluctant to admit it.” This is sheer nonsense; it is certainly quite the opposite of what Lewis and Tolkien always maintained, which is that fantastic literature is not escapism but rather a way for gaining better insights into what is real. But maybe I’m just a deluded believer. Gopnik probably would think so. I also thought his characterization of the young Lewis as “a warped, morbid, stammering sexual pervert” was cruel and stupid. Did anybody at The New Yorker think to describe Bill Clinton this way? I must have missed that issue.
Gopnik and I do agree on one thing: The best bio of Lewis is by A.N. Wilson. It has its moments of silliness, but Wilson is an outstandingly good writer who is sufficiently admiring of his subject. Technically, Gopnik’s essay is a review of the new Lewis bio, The Narnian, by Alan Jacobs. I have not yet read this book, but I have read Jacobs write on Lewis in various places and I’ve found him to be a good critic. To describe Jacobs as a kind of cultist, as Gopnik does, just isn’t fair.
Finally, didn’t you notice the essay’s title? It’s called “Prisoner of Narnia.” Perhaps the title isn’t Gopnik’s–I’m reluctant to criticize writers for their headlines, which they don’t often write–but it does capture the tone of the piece. I know an attack when I see one.