Lewis reminded readers of The Preface to Paradise Lost that the man who writes a love sonnet loves not only the beloved, but also the sonnet itself. Elsewhere, he wrote that "sometimes fairy stories say best what's to be said." Lewis dabbled in science fiction not out of any interest in technology, but because the genre allowed him to develop themes of romance and longing in a particular way. Authors, he argued, ought to select their literary form as carefully as a sculptor selects his marble.
McGrath's blind spot in this area especially mars his treatment of Lewis's autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Lewis framed the book (subtitled The Shape of My Early Life) as a kind of testimony or personal apologetic. His goal was not to give a comprehensive account of his life, but simply to tell the story of his conversion. That purpose determined what he chose to include and what he chose to leave out. But McGrath seems to interpret Lewis's omissions as signs of dishonesty or attempts to hide things that complicate the preferred narrative. He uses the unfortunate but oft-quoted statement by Dr. Robert Havard (Lewis's personal physician and fellow "Inkling") that Surprised by Joy should have been titled Suppressed by Jack. This comment may be clever, but it does a serious injustice to Lewis's integrity as an author.
McGrath often wonders what Lewis left out and why. There are moments in the book when one senses the real Lewis has dropped out of the narrative, or been replaced by a figment of the biographer's imagination. Based on speculations about what Lewis didn't write, a repressed Lewis emerges, hidden from all until McGrath draws him out of the shadows. He seems to neglect the likelier possibility that Lewis was merely exercising a degree of discretion perfectly proper—and utterly necessary—to the art of autobiography. Telling one's story is a different matter than listing bullet points of biographical detail. It's about weaving together the threads of one's life into a coherent and compelling tapestry.
In one instance, McGrath begins to question why Lewis spends more time discussing his school days than his war years. Had McGrath appreciated Lewis's respect for literary form, he might have made more sense of this. Since Lewis was writing the story of his pilgrimage to faith, extended discussion of his school days enabled him to emphasize his loneliness and isolation. His discussion of the loss of his mother and estrangement from his father allowed for a similar emphasis. This is significant, given that the impulse propelling Lewis toward an eventual conversion experience was his quest to recover some object—comprehended only dimly, if at all—of his deepest longing. Lewis writes less about his war experiences because they occupied a shorter period of time, and in some ways, apart from discovering "Guns and Good Company" and G. K. Chesterton, they were less formative in his pilgrimage to faith.