More about the Wilson biography of Lewis
- I'd like to explain a little more carefully why I think that the Wilson
biography is inadequate. When one reviews it, it's hard to not come across as a
nitpicker who ignores the larger conclusions of the book. Wilson is an
extremely good writer. Indeed, he's probably the person with the greatest
literary reputation who has written about Lewis. It's easy to get the impression in
reading the book that he's spent a lot of time thinking about Lewis and that
this is the sum of a lifetime's research into Lewis.
In fact, it's clear that Wilson was working very fast when he researched and
wrote the book. Wilson is what's sometimes called a "quick study" (i.e.,
someone who can research a large subject and summarize it very quickly). I
think this is partly because he comes out of a British academic tradition in
which this ability is highly valued. When you spend your undergraduate career
writing an essay every week for your tutor which is supposed to be both
well-written and moderately insightful, you learn to be able to do this sort of
quick research and writing.
The point of showing how many little factual errors Wilson made is to show
just how fast he was working. Given how little time he had to write this
book, in comparison with the largeness of the subject, one should hesitate about
accepting the larger conclusions that Wilson makes about Lewis. Some of
those conclusions are reasonable and a fairly good analysis of Lewis, considering
how little time Wilson spent on the book. Some of them are just way off
though, in my opinion.
I almost want to say that I wish that Wilson had spent more time on this
book, doing more research and thinking more closely about Lewis. The problem is
though that apparently that's just not how Wilson works. He doesn't think
of himself as a subject matter expert who writes the definitive book on a
topic. He thinks of himself as someone who writes popular books about (more or
less) literary topics that sell well mostly because he has fans who buy all of
his books. To spend the time to write a better book about Lewis would be to
give up the career Wilson has chosen.
I don't know how someone could write the definitive biography of Lewis that
really needs to be written. Compared to how much the book could possibly
make, it's hard to see how someone could afford to spend the time that the book
would require. Really though, we don't need any more acceptable but
superficial biographies of Lewis. We need the definitive biography.
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