Notes & Quotes from C.S. Lewis: A Life, by Alister McGrath

Some of my favorite quotes, and potential sermon illustrations from McGrath’s 2013 biography of Lewis. These are in order as they appeared in the book:

“Both brothers inhabited imaginary worlds, and committed something of these to writing. Lewis wrote about talking animals in ‘Animal Land’ …”. (p. 14)
The seeds of Narnia were planted while Lewis was yet a child. What seeds are we planting in our children/grandchildren?

“There is no doubt that Lewis ended up doing all kinds of menial household chores — running to get margarine from a corner store, retrieving Mrs. Moore’s purse from the bus station, or responding immediately to the sudden collapse of Mrs. Moore’s bedroom curtain rails. But he was the only man in the household, and appears to have willingly pulled his weight to ensure its smooth running. These things had to be done, and Lewis did them. In any case, Lewis came to see such tasks as examples of the tradition of ‘courtly love’, which he declared to be a noble and honourable code of conduct by which a young man might ‘leap up on errands’ or ‘go through heat or cold, at the bidding of one’s lady.’ Lewis might have been able to invest such household chores with dignity and signficance by conceiving them as ennobling expressions of ‘courtly love.'” (p. 97)

“His maiden lecture, given on Tuesday, 14 October at University College [Oxford], was attended by a mere four people.” (p. 108)

“Gradually, the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle began to fall into place, eventually to come into sharp focus in a devastating moment of illumination. In Surprised by Joy, Lewis sets out the series of moves which led him to faith in God, using a chessboard analogy. None of these is logically or philosophically decisive; all are at best suggestive. Yet their force lies not in their individual importance, but in their cumulative weight. Lewis portrays these, not as moves which he made, but moves which we made against him. The narrative of Surprised by Joy is not that of Lewis’ discovery of God, but of God’s patient approach to Lewis.” (p. 136)

“It answered a question that had troubled Lewis since his teenage years: how could Christianity alone be true, and everything else be false? Lewis now realized that he did not have to declare that the great myths of the pagan age were totally false; they were echoes or anticipations of the full truth, which was made known only in and through the Christian faith … If Tolkien was right, similarities between Christianity and pagan religions ‘ought to be there.’ There would be a problem only is such similarities did not exist.” (pp. 150-151)

“Kenneth Tynan … recalls Lewis playing a memory game with him. Tynan would read aloud a line he had arbitrarily chosen from a book he had selected from Lewis’s library. Lewis would then identify the work in question, and set the line in its proper context … Lewis achieved this feat partly by neglecting other sources of reading — such as daily newspapers.” (p. 166)

“Writing to an old friend in 1935, Lewis summarized his present situation in three short statements: ‘I am going bald. I am a Christian. Professionally I am chiefly a medievalist.'”
(p. 182)

“Lewis’s role in the writing of Tolkien’s ‘new Hobbit book’ cannot be overlooked. Too often, Lewis is seen simply as an author in his own right. The story of the completion of this classic work of English literature allows us to see him in quite a different light — as a literary midwife, who encouraged others to produce their masterpieces. In this case, some critics suggest, Lewis helped bring about a classic that would be greater than anything he himself would write.” (p. 197)

“You must translate every bit of your theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome, and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential. It is also of the greatest service to your own thought. I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your own thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning.” (p. 208)

“Although Lewis is far too canny a thinker to believe that he can ‘prove’ the existence of God … he nevertheless holds that the fundamental reasonableness of the Christian faith can be shown by argument and reflection.” (p. 233)

(Following the public humiliation of Lewis’ arguments at the hands of Elizabeth Anscombe at the Socratic club in February, 1948) “Lewis appears to have been taken aback at having the weakness of his argument demonstrated so publicly, and expressed unease about the incident to some of his closer friends. Yet Lewis’s embarrassment concerned the somewhat public nature of this refinement, not the intellectual process itself. The positive and beneficial outcome of Anscome’s intervention is clearly evident in the revised version of Lewis’s argument … the chapter was re-written to take Anscomb’s points into account. It is much stronger intellectually …” (pp. 255, 254)

“‘It isn’t Narnia, you know,’ sobbed Lucy. ‘It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?” (p. 291, quoting Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

“The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain … a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite. The beatific vision — God. I do not find it, I do not think it is to be found — but the love of it is my life … It is the actual spring of life within me.” (Bertrand Russell, noted British atheist writer, quoted on p. 291)

“A man can’t be always defending the truth; there must be a time to feed on it.” (From Reflections on the Psalms, quoted on p. 317)

“‘Mere Christianty’ …. avoids the abuses of power and privilege that too easily arise when denominations and their leaders see their own preservation as taking priority over the well-bein of the Christian faith itself.” (p. 371)


“Lewis’s most famous Oxford lecture courses were two sets of sixteen lectures, entitled, ‘Prolegomena to Medieval Studies’ and ‘Prolegomena to Renaissance Studies’ … The substance of these lectures, developed over many years, would eventually appear in his The Discarded Image (1964).” (p. 167)

“The thirty-one ‘Screwtape Letters’ — one for each day of the month …”.

“Lewis found the phrase in the writings of Richard Baxter (1615-1691), a Puritan writer whom Lewis had encountered in the course of his wide reading in English literature. Writing in 1944, Lewis argued that the best remedy against the theological errors encountered in recently published books ‘is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective.” (p. 219)

“In the year of Lewis’s death, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981), one of the most influential British evangelical preachers of that time, pronounced him to be unsound on a number of issues, chiefly relating to the doctrine of salvation.” (p. 365)

About Shawn Thomas

My blog,, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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