is C.S. Lewis?
brief biography by Emilie Griffin
timeline of Lewis's life
Staples Lewis—known to his friends and family as “Jack”—is
one of the most influential writers on Christian faith
of the twentieth century. Author of more than 70 titles, including
works of science
fiction, fantasy, poetry, letters, autobiography and Christian
apologetics, Lewis’s book sales are reported to be
more than 2 million annually. That number promises to skyrocket
release of Walden Media’s new screen version of Lewis’s The
Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
in Belfast in 1898, Lewis was educated at home and at boarding
schools in Britain.
After his mother died when he was almost ten, “Jack” grew
closer to his brother Warren, who was two years his senior.
Lewis studied English and philosophy at Oxford and served in
the military. He became a university man who taught (mostly English
literature) at Oxford’s
Magdalen (pronounced “Maudlin”) college for much of his life.
Later in life he was appointed to a professorship at Cambridge. As a member
Oxford faculty, Lewis developed a strong reputation in English literary criticism
and a much larger reputation as a witty and imaginative writer of poetry,
fiction, and non-fiction works on Christian faith.
a time of growing secularism, Lewis was a persuasive defender
of Christianity. Some of his best-known books began as broadcast talks in which he explained
the essentials of the Christian faith to a broad listening audience. To
do this, he spoke in simple terms, using homely comparisons.
These talks were
collected and published as Mere Christianity, one of the most
popular books about Christian belief in recent history. Mere Christianity has
brought many people to the Christian faith and contributed to ecumenical
easily across Christian denominations by focusing on the basic teachings
that most Christians believe.
also wrote an amusing book about temptation called The Screwtape
Letters, popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The novel, cast in the
form of a correspondence
between a senior and a junior devil, offered a fresh angle on Christian
belief. Screwtape landed Lewis on the cover of Time magazine.
“Jack” Lewis also tried his hand at fiction, quite successfully.
a lover of adventure stories, he wrote three widely read novels
Space Trilogy) about interplanetary travel. These space travel narratives
about redemption, partly inspired by Lewis’s reading of John
Paradise Lost. The Chronicles of Narnia is a series
of seven tales for children inspired by Lewis’s interest in myth
and fairy tale. Written with an underlying Christian theme, the Chronicles
have been enjoyed by children and adults for generations.
did Lewis, who was essentially a professor of English literature,
become such an influential writer? C.S.
Lewis was raised on books. Wide reading shaped his thought from
childhood onwards. He had
a vivid imagination and a broad education
in ancient and
a young man, Lewis was agnostic—possibly even an atheist— though
he had been raised as a Christian. After serving in World
he returned to Oxford
to teach, and there he experienced a religious conversion. His
religious quest was stirred in part by literature and vigorous
use of the intellect.
He was partly influenced by friends at Oxford who were thoughtful
believers, among them J.R.R. Tolkien.
Because of his conversion experience, Lewis turned his creative
energy toward Christian writing. Many of his books were attempts
his own nagging
questions. The Problem of Pain took up the perennial
question of how God, if he is good, permits suffering. Miracles examined
and supernatural events. Lewis also wrote two treatments of his
own conversion—The Pilgrim’s Regress, in
which he attempted
a modern narrative inspired by John Bunyan; and Surprised
by Joy: The Shape
of My Early Life, which traced his own pursuit
of faith in a strongly literary vein, describing how books and
had converged to bring him to his knees. Lewis became a faithful
of the Church of
England and developed a strong spiritual life.
male friendship—was vital to Lewis. Together with his
brother Warren, a former military man and a writer,
C.S. Lewis took
a literary circle known as “The Inklings.” Over
decades this group met to share their works in progress. Such
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were
first read at the Inklings. Many of these scholars
and writers had a common view of literature and faith. One
important member of the Inklings was the writer and editor
Williams was a
poet and an authority on Milton and Dante. He also wrote a
series of remarkable novels about Christian faith.
of Lewis’s ventures was the Socratic Club, in which
he argued questions of faith with any atheists who were rash
enough to debate him. In his personal life, Lewis had two important domestic alliances.
For many years he lived with and helped support Mrs. Jane
Moore, the mother
friend “Paddy” Moore,
who had been his comrade in World War I. When Paddy died
in combat, Lewis fulfilled his promise to care for Paddy’s
mother and sister. Lewis and the Moores shared a household
near Oxford. Eventually Warren
Lewis lived with his brother
as well. (Lewis also maintained rooms in college.)
in life, after Mrs. Moore’s death, Lewis became involved
with an American divorcée, Helen Joy Davidman. Their
romantic friendship and clandestine
marriage are dramatized in the play Shadowlands (also
a television drama and a film). Speaking of his marriage,
Lewis told his longtime friend
Nevill Coghill: “I
never expected to have, in my sixties, the happiness that
passed me by in my twenties.”
Joy’s death from
cancer shattered that happiness. Lewis captured his agony
in a touching memoir, A Grief Observed. The influence
of their marriage
is also found in his book, The Four Loves, which he dedicated
to his late wife.
Lewis died at his home, "The Kilns," in Headington Quarry,
near Oxford, on November 22, 1963, after a brief illness.
gravestone is a line from
King Lear—one of his mother’s favorites: “Men must
endure their going hence.”
timeline of Lewis's life
copyright ©2005 Emilie