"H. was a splendid thing; a soul straight, bright, and tempered like a sword," C. S. Lewis wrote of his wife, Joy, in his powerful little book A Grief Observed.
Throughout this memoir of a short but intensely happy marriage, he recalls Joy—referred to as "H."—as a woman whose strength, faith, honesty, humor, and loyalty made her the best of companions, and brought out the best in him.
That's why I found Alister McGrath's new biography of C. S. Lewis rather jarring. For anyone familiar with Lewis's loving portrait of her—or the other portraits we have from her friends, her son, and her biographers—the Joy Davidman Lewis of McGrath's book is virtually unrecognizable.
McGrath objects to what he sees as our culture's "romanticised reading" of Lewis's marriage, spurred by the 1993 movie Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. McGrath seems intent on debunking that image—even though, according to those who knew them closely, the marriage was romantic before Hollywood ever got hold of it. McGrath finds the circumstances of Lewis's marriage not quite to his taste, but it's not Lewis himself that he blames for them.
McGrath is not the first to feel this way. As Don W. King, in the introduction to Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman, puts it: "For some time now I have been surprised at the negative attitude otherwise compassionate Lewis devotees adopt with regard to Joy; perhaps they are suspicious of her Communist background, embarrassed by her New York brashness, or upset by her winning Lewis's heart."
Whatever the reason, McGrath's attitude toward her is very negative indeed. He admits ...