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Sunday, 10 January 2016

C. S. Lewis


Clive Staples “Jack” Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, on November 29, 1898. His father Albert James Lewis (1863–1929) was a prominent solicitor and his mother, Florence Augusta Lewis, née Hamilton (1862–1908), the daughter of a Church of Ireland priest.

As a small child he didn’t like the name Clive. When he was four, his pet dog Jacksie was run over by a car, and from then on he answered only to the name Jacksie and then Jack.

When Jack was seven, his family moved into "Little Lea." A 3-storey house with an acre and half of garden on the outskirts of Belfast, it cost them £800 in 1904.

Little Lea, home of the Lewis family from 1905 to 1930

A hand carved wardrobe in one of the upstairs rooms at Little Lea became the inspiration for The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe.

Jack's mother died when he was ten, after which he was sent away to boarding schools in England. Jack was educated first at Cherbourg House Boarding School, a prep school which he likened to a concentration camp, then Malvern College. After leaving Malvern, Jack studied privately with William T. Kirkpatrick, his father's old tutor and former headmaster of Lurgan College.

In 1916, Lewis was awarded a scholarship at University College, Oxford. Within months, the British Army shipped him to France to fight in the First World War.

Jack arrived on his nineteenth birthday at the front line in the Somme Valley in France, where he experienced trench warfare. His experience of the horrors of war confirmed his atheism.

He was wounded on April 15, 1918 by a British shell falling short of its target. Jack was demobilized in December 1918 and soon restarted his studies.

Jack 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.


In the late 1920s C.S. Lewis was an agnostic, skeptical English Literature Professor.  He was convinced by his Catholic friend, J.R. Tolkien, the author of Lord of the Rings, and another pal Hugo Dyson, that the Christian story could be treated as a "myth which is true".

A few days after his conversation with his two friends, on September 22, 1931, C. S. Lewis converted while riding to Whipsnade Zoo in his brother's motorcycle side car. "When we set out I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did," he said.

Lewis was a reluctant convert commenting that he "came into Christianity kicking and screaming."

After his conversion Lewis gave away two thirds of his income to charity so his heavenly treasure greatly exceeded his earthly one.

Later Lewis described dying to oneself through Christ's death as "feeling infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity, which has made you restless and unhappy all your life."

The Anglican Lewis described his own theology as "neither particularly high, nor particularly low."


Lewis was round shouldered, stooping and balding. A scruffy, pipe smoking academic, he was relaxed in spirit, but had a somewhat acidic temperament. Lewis was loving but by discipline rather than inclination.

Photograph by Arthur Strong, 1947 Source:
The Kilns was built in 1922 on the site of a former brickworks in the village of Risinghurst, Oxford.
The Kilns was bought by C. S. Lewis, his alcoholic older brother Warren and Janie Moore (d 1958) a widow old enough to be his mother. Janie Moore's daughter, also lived there.

In 1952 the Jewish New Yorker Joy Gresham entered Lewis' life. She was a former Hollywood scriptwriter, who had married a member of the Communist Party before departing from him. This tough, brash, intellectual woman, a mother of two sons, was an unlikely partner for the donnish, pipe smoking Anglican Lewis but an initial friendship developed into an autumnal love affair.

Lewis and Gresham married at the register office, 42 St Giles, Oxford, on April 23 1956. When six months later Joy was stricken with cancer they properly tied the knot at her bedside, as she lay gravely ill.

After their bedside marriage Gresham's cancer went into remission for two and a half years then out of the blue returned again. She died in excruciating pain. Lewis wrote A Grief Observed as a result of this.

The 1993 movie Shadowlands movie, starring Anthony Hopkins and Deborah Winger, tells the story of Lewis and Gresham's love affair. It was based on William Nicholson's 1985 television production and 1989 stage adaptation of the same name.


In 1925, Lewis was elected a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he served for 29 years until 1954. He had a reputation as a charismatic lecturer.

Between 1941 to 1943, Lewis gave a series of wartime religious talks on the BBC from London while the city was under periodic air raids. These broadcasts were much appreciated by civilians and servicemen alike. The broadcasts were anthologized in Mere Christianity.

In 1954, Lewis accepted the newly founded chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he finished his career.

Lewis still maintained a strong attachment to the city of Oxford after 1954. He kept a home there and returned on weekends until his death in 1963.


Lewis published forty books including poetry, theological, science fiction and literary scholarships. In addition despite having no natural ways with children, he penned some of the greatest children's literature ever written.

Lewis' first published work was a collection of poems. Spirits in Bondage. They were published under the pen name Clive Hamilton, after he'd returned from military service in the First World War.

For many years Lewis met with "The Inklings", a group of his Oxford friends including Tolken, to read aloud and talk about their compositions.

In 1940 CS Lewis wrote The Problem with Pain, a Christian apologetic classic. In it he argued "suffering is the price which had to be paid for freedom and love to exist at all."

C.S. Lewis wrote his famous Christian allegory, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, part of the Narnia Chronicles in 1950. The first of seven novels in the Narnia series, it was written for, and dedicated to, his goddaughter Lucy Barfield. She also lent her name to the book's heroine, Lucy Pevensie.

JRR Tolkien hated the inclusion of Father Christmas in the Chronicles of Narnia. He believed that mythologies shouldn't be mixed.

C.S. Lewis wrote his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy in 1955, which describes his conversion to Christianity. The book has no connection with Lewis' unexpected marriage in later life to Joy Gresham. However, Lewis' friends and contemporaries were not slow to notice the coincidence of the title, frequently remarking that the longterm bachelor had really been "Surprised by Joy".

C.S. Lewis popularized the term ‘verbicide’, which means the ‘murder of a word’ by distorting its original meaning.


In mid-November 1963 Lewis was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure. He collapsed in his bedroom exactly one week before his 65th birthday on November 22, 1963 and died a few minutes later.

Media coverage of Lewis' death was almost completely overshadowed by news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred approximately 55 minutes following Lewis' collapse. English writer Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, also passed away the same day.

Lewis is buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Headington, Oxford.

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