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Author Study: C.S. Lewis Curated by Natasha Sung '23: Biography

 

Bibliography

Childhood & Adolescence 

C.S. Lewis, whose full name was Clive Staples Lewis, was born in Belfast, Ireland on November 29,  1898, to a family of three which consisted of his father, mother, and older brother Warren Hamilton Lewis, who would later also become and author. C.S. Lewis was a bright child – he was reading by the age of three and writing by the age of five. He had a close relationship with Warren and were both heavily influenced by Beatrix Potter’s personification of animals in The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902) and The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (1903) as well as stories of knights in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sir Nigel (1906). The Lewis brothers would then adopt elements of these works to create their own fictional universe which they called Boxen, about which C.S. Lewis wrote stories about during his preteen years. 

In August 1908, C.S. Lewis lost his mother, Flora Lewis, to cancer. He was only 10 years of age, and Warren only 13. This incident brought the two brothers closer together – Lewis describes it in his autobiography Surprised by Joy as "Two frightened urchins huddled for warmth in a bleak world". Subsequently, the Lewis brothers were sent to separate boarding schools. C.S. Lewis struggled to fit in and was sent into a depressive state soon after. Having previously accepted the beliefs of Christianity, he then lost his faith in 1913 after immersing himself into German mythology, which he believed to be as true as Christianity was. He even ventured to write plays which were heavily inspired by both German and Greek mythology. During his last few years of schooling before university, C.S. Lewis was tutored by his old retired headmaster William T. Kirkpatrick. Under Kirkpatrick’s influence, Lewis developed a staunch stance on atheism.  While still under the tutorship of Kirkpatrick, Lewis read Phantases (1858) by Christian author George MacDonald, on which he remarked that it “"did to me was to convert, even to baptise . . . my imagination.” Phantases would later heavily influence the works of Lewis.

 

Adulthood 

Lewis served in France during World War I for a short year, during which he met a dear friend Edward Moore, whom he lovingly called Paddy. The two became close friends and Lewis later stayed with Paddy’s mother after Paddy passed away during the war. Lewis continued his academic endeavors at Oxford after being sent home from the war after an injury. He graduated from Oxford with flying colors, having performed very well in his studies in Greek and Latin texts, classical history, and philosophy. He published his first book Spirits in Bondage in 1919 under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton, which deeply reflected his atheist and dualist beliefs at the time. In 1925 (27 years old), he was awarded a teaching position at Magdalen College (Oxford) and would stay there for 29 years. At Magdalen, he met J.R.R. Tolkien in 1926 through a collective of writers and scholars called the Inklings. Through conversations with group members and deep talks with Tolkien late into the night, Lewis found himself embracing Christianity more and more. He converted from atheism to theism in 1929, having already been deeply impacted by many Christian works such as John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations (1908), and G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man (1925). On September 28th, 1931, C.S. Lewis took a leap of faith and fully embraced Christianity, with the help of Tolkien and another close friend. It had been a slow process, but Lewis finally realized that the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened."

Lewis’ first book after his conversion was The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933), an allegorical account of his conversion, but his first successful work of fiction was Out of the Silent Planet (1938), a science fiction novel. Because of his early interests in mythology, later education at Oxford on classical history, inclination on logic and intellect, and personal involvement in his Christian faith, Lewis wrote books with a broad range of genres, from literary criticism, fantasy novels, to poems. However, writing was not his only forte. Lewis was invited to give 15-minute broadcasts since 1941 on the BBC and during that same year, also started speaking at Royal Air Force bases in England. Lewis accepted an offer in 1954 from Cambridge University, Oxford’s rival school, to teach English there.

While Lewis was still teaching at Oxford, he met Joy Gersham, an American who had become a Christian in part through reading Lewis’ books. Joy had previously gotten a divorce from her husband who had been unfaithful. Lewis and Joy got married in 1956, but six months later, she was diagnosed with cancer. There was a joyful period of remission, but the cancer returned in 1959 and Joy passed away in 1960. His grief process is outlined in his book A Grief Observed. After Joy’s passing, Lewis published very few original works and resigned from his post at Cambridge in 1963 due to declining health. He passed away on November 22, 1963.

 

Lewis' childhood home Little Lea in Belfast, Ireland, the birthplace of his fictional world Boxen. 

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Lewis as a child. 

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C.S. Lewis and The Inklings. 

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C.S. Lewis and his wife Joy. 

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