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C. S. Lewis
Scholar and Author
22 November 1963

cslewis.DrZeus.net.jpg (16171 bytes)God gives His gifts where He finds the vessel empty enough to receive them.

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on November 29, 1889, Clive Staples ("Jack") Lewis was reared in a peculiarly bookish home, one in which the reality he found on the pages of the books within his parents' extensive library seemed as tangible and meaningful to him as anything that transpired outside their doors. As adolescents, Lewis and his older brother, Warren, were more at home in the world of ideas and books of the past, than with the material, technological world of the 20th Century. When the tranquillity and sanctity of the Lewis home was shattered beyond repair by the death of his mother when he was ten, Lewis sought refuge in composing stories and excelling in scholastics. Soon thereafter he became precociously oriented toward the metaphysical and ultimate questions.

Memories from Lewis's childhood reveal a deep desire for joy. As a child he imagined places where joy existed freely and eternally. As an adult he read the romantic poets, Plato, and Norse Germanic mythologies in hopes of finding a sense of lasting joy. "I doubt whether anyone who has tasted [joy] would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world," wrote Lewis.

In 1917 he enlisted in the service but was allowed to remain at Oxford until he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to frontline action. After being wounded and discharged, Lewis resumed his studies where he graduated at the top of his class. With no philosophy teaching posts available, Lewis entered a fourth year at Oxford College where he met a Christian student named Nevill Coghill, a man whose perspective helped to change the way Lewis viewed life.

Lewis began reading the works of Christian authors. He particularly admired George Macdonald, a Scottish Christian writer. In his writings, Lewis found a quality of holiness he had not seen before. The works of John Milton, especially Paradise Lost, intrigued him as did the close friendship he shared with J. R. R. Tolkien who wrote The Lord Of The Rings.

In 1925, Lewis received an English fellowship at Magdalen College at Oxford. Lewis's classes were filled to capacity, so much so that a larger lecture hall had to be found. Meanwhile, his search for God accelerated. In a letter to a close friend, Lewis spoke of "a long satisfying talk" with two Christian friends in which he stated, "I learned a lot." He had moved from Idealism, no idea of a personal God, to Pantheism, an impersonal God in everything, and then to Theism, the existence of God.

"In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed . . . . The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation." Lewis's final step to Christianity came when he accepted the incarnation of Jesus Christ as fact. "I was now approaching the source from which those arrows of Joy had been shot at me ever since childhood. . . . No slightest hint was vouchsafed me that there ever had been or ever would be any connection between God and Joy. If anything, it was the reverse. I had hoped that the heart of reality might be of such a kind that we can best symbolize it as a place; instead, I found it to be a Person." Eternal joy was at last a reality for C. S. Lewis.

Lewis is best known for his fiction and his Christian apologetics, two disciplines complementary to each other within his oeuvre. In 1936, Lewis completed the first book in a science-fiction space trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, that introduced the hero, Edwin Ransom, a philologist modeled roughly on Lewis's friend, J. R. R. Tolkien. Perelandra, a new version of Paradise Lost set in Venus, followed in 1943, and That Hideous Strength completed the trilogy in 1945; the latter Lewis billed as "a fairy tale for adults," treating novelistically of the themes Lewis had developed in his critique of modern education in The Abolition of Man, published two years earlier. Lewis's most notable critical and commercial success, however, is certainly his seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia, which he published in single volumes from 1950-56. These popular children's fantasies began with the 1950 volume, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a tale centred around Aslan the lion, a Christ-figure who creates and rules the supernatural land of Narnia, and the improbable adventures of four undaunted British schoolchildren who stumble into Narnia through a clothes closet. Lewis's own favourite fictional work, Till We Have Faces, his last imaginative work, published in 1956, is a retelling of the Cupid/Psyche myth, but has never achieved the critical recognition he hoped it would.

Lewis's reputation as a winsome, articulate proponent of Christianity began with the publication of two important theological works: The Problem of Pain, a defence of pain--and the doctrine of hell-- as evidence of an ordered universe, published in 1940; and The Screwtape Letters, a "interception" of a senior devil's correspondence with a junior devil fighting with "the Enemy," Christ, over the soul of an unsuspecting believer, published in 1942. Lewis emerged during the war years as a religious broadcaster who became famous as "the apostle to skeptics," in Britain and abroad, especially in the United States. His wartime radio essays defending and explaining the Christian faith comforted the fearful and wounded, and were eventually collected and published in America as Mere Christianity in 1952. In the midst of this prolific output, Lewis took time to write his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, published in 1955. In the two decades before his death, Lewis published more than eight books that directly or indirectly served him in the task of apologetics and he is arguably the most important Christian writer of the 20th Century.

A prolific and popular author, Lewis's criticism, fiction, and religious essays stay in print, and are continually reprinted in various bindings and new collections. Annual book sales remain over two million - half of which comes from the children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia.

Lewis met Joy Davidman Gresham in 1952 and they were married in 1956. She had two sons David and Douglas. They knew when they got married that she had cancer. Theirs was a short but very happy marriage. She died in 1960; he died in 1963.

     Text adapted from C. S. Lewis Home Page (no longer available online) Chris Orvin's Featured Review (no longer available online)
        Image from BBC