- "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."
- ―C. S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis (29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963), commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis or Jack by his friends, was an Irish author and scholar. Lewis is known for his work on medieval literature, Christian apologetics, literary criticism and fiction. He is best known today for his children's series The Chronicles of Narnia.
Lewis was a close friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings, and both were leading figures in the Oxford literary group The Inklings. Due in part to Tolkien's influence, Lewis converted to Christianity, becoming "a very ordinary layman of the Church of England". His conversion would have a profound effect on his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity brought him wide acclaim. Late in life he married the American writer Joy Gresham, who died of bone cancer four years later at the age of 45.
Lewis' works have been translated into over 30 languages and continue to sell over a million copies a year; the books that comprise The Chronicles of Narnia have sold over 100 million copies. A number of stage and screen adaptations of Lewis' works have also been produced, the most notable of which is the 2005 Disney film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe which grossed US$745,000,000 worldwide.
C. S. Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1898, into an Anglican family. His grandfather, Thomas Hamilton, was an Anglican vicar. As a teenager, he abandoned the Christianity of his home and became interested in mythology and the occult. He enrolled in Oxford, but his studies were interrupted by World War I. He enlisted, was commissioned, and was then wounded in action. While convalescing, he became very close to Jane Moore, the mother of a fellow soldier. They were close, and even lived under the same roof for years, though the details of their relationship are unclear. In part as a result of his friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis came to believe in God at age 31 and in Jesus Christ two years later. He married Joy Gresham, first in a civil ceremony of convenience and later in a Christian ceremony. She died of bone cancer soon thereafter. Lewis himself died of renal failure in 1963.
Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland (now in Northern Ireland) on November 29, 1898. His father was Albert James Lewis (1863-1929), a solicitor whose father had come to Ireland from Wales. His mother was Flora Augusta Hamilton Lewis (1862-1908), the daughter of a Church of Ireland priest. He had one older brother, Warren Hamilton Lewis (Warnie). At the age of four, shortly after his dog Jacksie was hit by a car, Lewis announced that his name was now Jacksie. At first he would answer to no other name, but later accepted Jacks which became Jack, the name by which he was known to friends and family for the rest of his life. At six his family moved into Little Lea, the house the elder Mr. Lewis built for Mrs. Lewis, in Strandtown, Northern Ireland.
Lewis was initially schooled by private tutors before being sent to the Wynyard School in Watford, Hertfordshire, in 1908, the same year that his mother died of cancer. Lewis's brother had already enrolled there three years previously. The school was soon closed due to a lack of pupils—the headmaster Robert "Oldie" Capron was soon after committed to an insane asylum. Tellingly, in Surprised By Joy, Lewis would later nickname the school "Bergen-Belsen concentration camp|Belsen". There is some speculation by biographer Alan Jacobs that the atmosphere at Wynyard greatly traumatized Lewis and was responsible for the development of "mildly sadomasochistic fantasies". Four of the letters that the adolescent Lewis wrote to his lifelong friend Arthur Greeves (out of an overall correspondence of nearly 300 letters) were signed "Philomastix" ("whip-lover"), and two of those also detailed women he would like to spank.
After Wynyard closed, Lewis attended Campbell College in the east of Belfast about a mile from his home, but he left after a few months due to respiratory problems. As a result of his illness, Lewis was sent to the health-resort town of Malvern, Worcestershire, where he attended the prep-school Cherbourg House (known to Lewis as "Chartres"). It was during his time at Cherbourg at the age of 13 that he abandoned his childhood Christian faith and became an atheist, becoming interested in mythology and the occult.
In September 1913 Lewis enrolled at Malvern College, where he would remain until the following June. Later he would describe its culture as a "burning desert of competitive ambition" relieved only by the "oasis" of pederastic loves between upperclassmen and the younger students, though he would also call this a "perversion". After leaving Malvern he moved to study privately with William T. Kirkpatrick, his father's old tutor and former headmaster of Lurgan College.
As a young boy, Lewis had a fascination for anthropomorphic animals, falling in love with Beatrix Potter's stories and often writing and illustrating his own animal stories. He and his brother Warnie together created the world of Boxen, inhabited and run by animals. Lewis loved to read, and as his father's house was filled with books, he felt that finding a book he had not read was as easy as "finding a blade of grass." He also had a mortal fear of spiders and insects as a child, and they often haunted his dreams.
As a teenager, he was wonderstruck by the songs and legends of what he called Northernness. These legends intensified a longing he had within, a deep desire he would later call "joy." He also grew to love nature — the beauty of nature reminded him of the stories of the North, and the stories of the North reminded him of the beauties of nature. His writing in his teenage years moved away from the tales of Boxen, and he began to use different art forms (epic poetry and opera) to try to capture his newfound interest in Norse mythology and the natural world. Studying with Kirkpatrick ("The Great Knock", as Lewis afterwards called him) instilled in him a love of Greek literature and mythology, and sharpened his skills in debate and clear reasoning.
World War I
Having won a scholarship to University College, Oxford in 1916, Lewis enlisted the following year in the British Army as World War I raged on, and was commissioned an officer in the third Battalion, The Somerset Light Infantry. Lewis arrived at the front line in the Somme Valley in France on his eighteenth birthday.
On 15 April 1917, Lewis was wounded during the Battle of Arras, and suffered some depression during his convalescence, due in part to missing his Irish home. On his recovery in October, he was assigned to duty in Andover, England. He was discharged in December 1918, and soon returned to his studies. Lewis received a First in Honour Moderations (Greek and Latin Literature) in 1920, a First in Greats (Philosophy and Ancient History) in 1922, and a First in English in 1923.
While being trained for the army Lewis shared a room and became close friends with another cadet, "Paddy" Moore. The two had made a mutual pact that if either died during the war, the survivor would take care of both their families. Paddy was killed in action in 1918 and Lewis kept his promise. Paddy had earlier introduced Lewis to his mother, Jane King Moore, and a friendship very quickly sprang up between Lewis, who was eighteen when they met, and Jane, who was forty-five. The friendship with Mrs. Moore was particularly important to Lewis while he was recovering from his wounds in hospital and his father refused to visit him. His father probably didn't visit him because he was not acting as a Christian should.
There has been some speculation among some Lewis scholars as to the nature of the relationship between Lewis and Jane Moore. Lewis for most of his life introduced Moore as his "mother" to all his acquaintances. Lewis was exceptionally reticent on the matter in his autobiography, writing only "All I can or need to say is that my earlier hostility to the emotions was very fully and variously avenged". The biographer A. N. Wilson declared categorically that they had been intimate during the period of his convalescence, but this seems to be based on few and poorly interpreted letters, and owes something to Wilson's tendency to psychological interpretation. Walter Hooper, Lewis's literary executor, allowed that it was possible, but as a late acquaintance his data are all derivative, as are Wilson's. George Sayer, who was a student of Lewis and later a friend, wrote that, after talking to Jane Moore's daughter, he was quite certain that they were lovers. At any rate, their friendship was certainly a very close one. In December 1917 Lewis wrote in a letter to his childhood friend Arthur Greeves that Jane and Greeves were "the two people who matter most to me in the world".
After the war, in 1918 or 1919, Lewis and Moore shared a house, although Lewis also kept rooms at his college, and in 1930, they and Lewis's brother, Warren Lewis, moved into "The Kilns", a house in Risinghurst, Headington (a suburb of Oxford). They all contributed financially to the purchase of the house, which passed to Lady Dunbar of Hempriggs, Moore's daughter, when Warren died in 1973.
Moore has been much criticized for being possessive and controlling and making Lewis do a lot of housework. However, she was also a warmhearted, affectionate and hospitable woman who was well liked by her neighbours at The Kilns. "She was generous and taught me to be generous, too", Lewis said to his friend George Sayer.
Moore suffered from dementia in her later years and was eventually moved into a nursing home, where she died in 1951. Lewis visited her every day in this home until her death.
"My Irish life"
Lewis experienced a certain cultural shock upon first arriving in England: "No Englishman will be able to understand my first impressions of England," Lewis wrote in Surprised by Joy. "The strange English accents with which I was surrounded seemed like the voices of demons. But what was worst was the English landscape ... I have made up the quarrel since; but at that moment I conceived a hatred for England which took many years to heal."
Since boyhood Lewis immersed himself in Irish mythology and Irish literature and expressed an interest in the Irish language. He developed a particular fondness for W. B. Yeats, in part because of Yeats’ use of Ireland's Celtic heritage in poetry. In a letter to a friend Lewis wrote, "I have here discovered an author exactly after my own heart, whom I am sure you would delight in, W. B. Yeats. He writes plays and poems of rare spirit and beauty about our old Irish mythology." In 1921, Lewis had the opportunity to meet Yeats on two occasions, since Yeats had moved to Oxford.
Surprised to find his English peers indifferent to Yeats and the Celtic Revival movement, Lewis wrote: "I am often surprised to find how utterly ignored Yeats is among the men I have met: perhaps his appeal is purely Irish — if so, then thank the gods that I am Irish." Early in his career, Lewis considered sending his work to the major Dublin publishers, writing: "If I do ever send my stuff to a publisher, I think I shall try Maunsel, those Dublin people, and so tack myself definitely onto the Irish school." After his conversion to Christianity, his interests gravitated towards Christian spirituality and away from Celtic mysticism.
Perhaps to help cope with his homesick feelings, Lewis, occasionally, expressed a somewhat tongue-in-cheek chauvinism toward the English. Describing an encounter with a fellow Irishman he wrote: "Like all Irish people who meet in England we ended by criticisms of the inevitable flippancy and dullness of the Anglo-Saxon race. After all, ami, there is no doubt that the Irish are the only people ... I would not gladly live or die among another folk."
Due to his Oxford career, Lewis did indeed live and die among another folk, and he often expressed regret at having to leave Ireland. Throughout his life, he sought out the company of his fellow Irish living in England and visited Northern Ireland regularly, even spending his honeymoon there. He called this "my Irish life".
Conversion Back to Christianity
Although raised in a church going family in the Church of Ireland, Lewis became an atheist at the age of 13, and remained as such until he was 31 years old. His separation from Christianity began when he started to view his religion as a chore and as a duty; around this time he also gained an interest in the occult as his studies expanded to include such topics. Lewis quoted Lucretius as having one of the strongest arguments for atheism:
- Nequaquam nobis divinitus esse paratam
- Naturam rerum; tanta stat praedita culpa
- Had God designed the world, it would not be
- A world so frail and faulty as we see.
Though an atheist at the time, Lewis later described his young self (in Surprised by Joy) as being paradoxically "very angry with God for not existing".
Influenced by arguments with his Oxford colleague and friend J. R. R. Tolkien, and by G.K. Chesterton's book, The Everlasting Man, he slowly rediscovered Christianity. He fought greatly up to the moment of his conversion noting that he was brought into Christianity like a prodigal, "kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape." He described his last struggle in Surprised by Joy:
- "You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."
After his conversion to Theism in 1929, Lewis converted to Christianity in 1931. Lewis's 1931 conversion followed a long discussion and late-night walk with his close friends Tolkien and Hugo Dyson; after it Lewis converted to Christianity, while on his way to the Zoo with his brother, and joined the Church of England—somewhat to the regret of the devout Roman Catholic Tolkien, who had hoped he would convert to Catholicism. It should be noted that Chesterton was a Catholic as well.
Although a committed Anglican, Lewis' beliefs in many respects inclined to the Catholic rather than the Protestant tradition; for example, he accepted the Catholic doctrine of mortal sin, implying that he believed Christians could lose their salvation (which is at odds with Reformed views on justification. This opinion was expressed by the demon Screwtape, in his book The Screwtape Letters.
Lewis was also sympathetic to the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. His references to the subject in his final work, Letters to Malcolm, find him taking a line similar to the Roman Catholic theologian John Henry Newman's approach in "The Dream of Gerontius".(It seems likely that Newman in turn took his position from Catherine of Genoa's "Purgation and Purgatory".)
Also, Lewis is sometimes considered to have serious elements of Orthodox Christianity belief. Literary and church figures quote his works as sources of Lewis' hidden Orthodox Christian belief.
In addition to his scholarly work, Lewis wrote a number of popular novels, including his science fiction Space Trilogy and his fantasy Narnia books, most dealing implicitly with Christian themes such as sin, the Fall, and redemption.
The Pilgrim's Regress
His first novel after becoming a Christian was The Pilgrim's Regress, his take on John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress which depicted his own experience with Christianity. The book was critically panned at the time, particularly for its esoteric nature - as to read it requires a close familiarity with classical sources.
In a footnote of the biography D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981 by Iain Murray, Murray notes the following: "Lewis is said to have valued ML-J's appreciation and encouragement when the early edition of his Pilgrim's Regress was not selling well. Vincent Lloyd-Jones and Lewis knew each other well, being contemporaries at Oxford. ML-J met the author again and they had a long conversation when they found both themselves on the same boat to Ireland in 1953. On the later occasion, to the question, 'When are you going to write another book?', Lewis replied, 'When I understand the meaning of prayer'."
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven fantasy novels for children and is considered a classic of children's literature. Written between 1949 and 1954 and illustrated by Pauline Baynes, the series is Lewis' most popular work having sold over 100 million copies in 41 languages. It has been adapted several times, complete or in part, for radio, television, stage, and cinema. The series has been published in several different orders, and the preferred reading order for the series is often debated among fans.
The books contain many allusions to Christian ideas which are easily accessible to younger readers; however, the books are not weighty, and can be read for their adventure, colour and richness of ideas alone. Because of this, they have become favourites of children and adults, Christians and non-Christians. In addition to Christian themes, Lewis also borrows characters from Greek and Roman mythology as well as traditional British and Irish fairy tales. Lewis reportedly based his depiction of Narnia on the geography and scenery of the Mourne Mountains and "that part of Rostrevor which overlooks Carlingford Lough". Lewis cited George MacDonald's Christian fairy tales as an influence in writing the series.
The Chronicles of Narnia present the adventures of children who play central roles in the unfolding history of the fictional realm of Narnia, a place where animals talk, magic is common, and good battles evil. In the majority of the books, children from our world find themselves transported to Narnia by a magical portal. Once there, they are quickly involved in setting some wrong to right with the help of the lion Aslan who is the central character of the series.
His Space Trilogy or Ransom Trilogy novels (also called the Cosmic Trilogy) dealt with what Lewis saw as the then-current dehumanizing trends in modern science fiction. The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, was apparently written following a conversation with his friend J. R. R. Tolkien about these trends; Lewis agreed to write a "space travel" story and Tolkien a "time travel" one. Tolkien's story, "The Lost Road", a tale connecting his Middle-earth mythology and the modern world, was never completed. Lewis's main character of Ransom is based in part on Tolkien, a fact that Tolkien himself alludes to in his Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. The second novel, Perelandra, illustrates a new Garden of Eden, a new Adam and Eve, and a new "serpent figure" to tempt them. The story can be seen as a hypothesis of what could have happened if "our Eve" had resisted more firmly the temptation of the serpent. The last novel in the Trilogy, That Hideous Strength, also contains numerous references to Tolkien's fictional universe of Middle-earth. Many of the ideas presented in the books, particularly in That Hideous Strength, are dramatizations of arguments made more formally in Lewis’ The Abolition of Man.
This last was based on the series of lectures Lewis had given at Durham University in 1943, designed to counter what he saw as a movement in contemporary literature and thought to de-humanise man. Lewis stayed in Durham, where he was overwhelmed by the cathedral. That Hideous Strength is in fact set in the environs of Durham University ('Edgestow').
It is claimed that Lewis began another science-fiction novel, The Dark Tower, but it is unfinished; it is not clear whether it was intended as part of the same series as the completed novels. The manuscript was eventually published in 1977, though controversy persists about its authenticity.
The Christian apologist
In addition to his career as an English professor and an author of fiction, Lewis is regarded by many as one of the most influential Christian apologists of his time.
His most famous works, the Chronicles of Narnia, contain many strong Christian messages and are often considered allegory. Lewis, an expert on the subject of allegory, maintained that the books were not allegory, and preferred to call the Christian aspects of them "sup-positional". As Lewis wrote in a letter to a Mrs. Hook in December 1958:
- "If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair [a character in The Pilgrim's Progress] represents despair, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, 'What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?' This is not allegory at all."
- C.S. Lewis died on November 22, 1963, the same date as U.S. president, John F. Kennedy and English author Aldous Huxley.
- C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy; Harvest Books (1966) p.107
|"Well done, son of Adam. For this fruit you have hungered and thirsted and wept."
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