Updated: Apr 7, 2019
The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and CS Lewis
Hey, everybody! Welcome back to Tumnus’ Bookshelf, where we review any and all books written by, about, and inspired by CS Lewis, The Land of Narnia, and The Inklings. For today’s review, we will be looking at Patti Callahan’s historical romance novel Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and CS Lewis.
Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and CS Lewis.
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
October 2, 2018
All her life, Joy Davidman has been in a search for something more. A woman of incredible intelligence and talent in a time with few options. Her marriage was troubled, and she continued to try and make a name for herself as a writer, while tending to her duties as a wife and mother. That is until she read an article on British author CS Lewis.
From there she struck up a correspondence seeking advice on God. As the correspondence grew into friendship, and later love, it would inevitably change both of their lives forever as their two divergent worlds would collide in a love story for the ages.
Despite how much we love seeing a good love story end in the words “We all live happily ever after” there is something about the tragic love story that continually draws us back into its vortex. Whether it’s the stories of Romeo and Juliet, or Orpheus and Eurydice, these are the ones that haunt us the most, as we wonder if maybe things could have gone differently for these star-crossed lovers. The same is true for the literary world, as for many fans of the works of CS Lewis of the stories of his life, after his friendship with the Inklings, we seem to be most fascinated by the story of his love and marriage to Joy Davidman.
It’s none to surprising as it has all the makings of a great love story, as these two people from seemingly divergent worlds come together. There have even been many great biographies written about them, and their life together. There was also William Nicholson’s play The Shadowlands that sought to dramatize their story, but the most ardent fans of C.S. Lewis will note that the play left out many key details and omitted many key players, including Joy’s other son, David, and many of Lewis’ close friends including Professor Tolkien.
Thus, none of us have truly experienced their story, until now. Author Patti Callahan’s novel Becoming Mrs. Lewis, is a bold new retelling of the love story we all think we know. All the key principal players are present, and accounted for, and it becomes clear from page one that Joy, and likewise Jack are in for the ride of their life. The story even opens at the point in Joy’s life where her first marriage is starting to show signs of deterioration, and she is clearly wanting and needing more.
However, Joy is not some swooning princess in an ivory tower waiting for a prince to rescue her .Here she’s fiery, feisty, jealous, and spirited to the point you could almost picture Katherine Hepburn. She’s well read, articulated, intelligent and we see that she was actually a very gifted writer in her own right. We learn just why it was she took criticism so harshly between disapproving comments from her father, her first husbands attitude, and her society in general, and understand just why it was the reactions from the Inklings made her uncomfortable without them meaning to.
We also see through this journey that because of how smart and opinionated she was, just why this would have rubbed many of the Inklings the wrong way as she didn’t quite act like the “polite British women” like Edith Tolkien or Moira Sayer, When she wants something she goes after it, when she has an opinion, she makes it known, even at the expense of all else in her life. This is something Joy even recognizes as a fatal flaw as she is torn between her duties to her children. Douglas and David both have very real roles and very distinct personalities that shine off the page. As the story unfolds it also becomes a matter of what might be best for them.
Often times in portrayals of CS Lewis prior to his marriage to Joy the great error has been to assume he was a stogy old man who lived a monastic lifestyle until Joy came into his life. We see him as a witty, intelligent man who was more than just an author of Christian apologetics, or even a fantasy writer but a literary scholar, and someone who enjoyed a good joke and a pint. We see him interact with Warnie and the Inklings and these don’t feel like stuffy Oxford dons but almost like a Monty Python troupe.
We are reminded of the pain he did feel in his life between the death of his mother, and his time in the war that he had made the grievous error he warned about in the Four Loves of closing himself off. Moreover we are reminded that he was a very kind and generous person to a fault that it is easy to see just why and how the Inklings would have been worried about him. He was in a situation he wasn’t ready for, and not only were they worried he was being taken on a ride, but they were concerned about the social scandal of him being involved with a divorced American woman and what this could do to his academic career
Not only do the Inklings, including Tolkien and Warnie, show up in this book, but so do a whole host of friends of Joy’s including her “sci-fi boys” in London which included Arthur C. Clarke , an interaction with PL Travers and her long time friend Belle. With such rich characters and so little space in the book, the only shame is we don’t get to know this eclectic bunch better. However were each person be featured in this book, it would have probably become a trilogy.
The story of Joy Davidman and CS Lewis is one that in lesser hands could easily becoming a cheesy romance novel, or worse, band lifetime movie. However, this is not the case for Becoming Mrs. Lewis. Callahan carefully researched every aspect of Jack and Joy’s lives, even consulting with Douglas Gresham, to the pint that they, and the respective worlds they live in feel real, and vibrant, and you see them not as cheesy romance subplot subjects but lovers from two seemingly divergent worlds who find each other, on par with the best from Jane Austen and William Shakespeare.
Callahan does such a great job crafting Joy and Jack’s story and the experience she takes readers on is so exquisite that when the story reaches it’s heartbreaking conclusion and she develops cancer, who desperately wish it wasn’t so. You want for them to enjoy their time together and live happily ever after until the end of their days but you know it’s not to be. It’s a hallmark of all great tragic romances, hoping against hope that they end up together, even though they won’t in the end, and thus it allows you it to stay with you and haunt you long after you close the book.
While I’ve read all the biographies on CS Lewis and Joy Davidman, this is the one that broke my heart by sending me on the experience with them. Brilliant, and utterly poignant, Becoming Mrs. Lewis is one of the best telling of one of the literary world’s greatest love stories. Read More
Five out of Five shields 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Buy the book from Amazon.com
February 14, 2019
C.S. Lewis, Inklings, Joy Davidman Gresham,
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