C.S. Lewis Biography
Clive Staples Lewis was born on November 29, 1898, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to Albert and Florence Lewis. His parents were highly educated and fostered a love of reading in Lewis and his older brother, Warren. While still a toddler, Lewis declared that his name was Jack, and for the rest of his life he remained “Jack” to close friends. As children, Lewis and Warren loved to invent stories of anthropomorphic animals who lived in a fictional world they called Boxen, inspired by the work of Beatrix Potter. The brothers remained close friends throughout their lives. After Lewis’s mother died when he was nine, Lewis’s father sent him to boarding schools in England and Northern Ireland. Lewis had a miserable time, and eventually a private tutor took over his final year of primary schooling, preparing him for the Oxford entrance exams. He received a scholarship in classics at University College, Oxford in 1916.
Lewis started Oxford in the summer of 1917, joining the Officer’s Training Corps there. At the time, England was embroiled in World War I, and Lewis wanted to support the war effort. He joined the Somerset Light Infantry, and soon had to put his university education on hold when the Royal Army shipped him to France. There in the trenches he met Edward “Paddy” Moore, a fellow cadet. They promised each other that in the event of one of their deaths, the other would care for their families. When Lewis returned to his studies at Oxford in 1918 he also struck up a friendship with Paddy’s mother, Janie Moore, and they remained close for the rest of her life.
Back at university, Lewis studied literature, classics, and ancient history. In 1925, Magdalen College at Oxford awarded Lewis a teaching fellowship in literature. Around this time, Lewis developed a deep friendship with fellow writer J. R. R. Tolkien. Because of the grief he had experienced in his life, Lewis had been an avowed atheist since he was a teenager. The spirited arguments and debates he had with Tolkien, a devout Catholic, along with the writing of authors like G.K. Chesterton and George MacDonald led Lewis to renounce his atheism and become a Christian in 1931. He would later describe his conversion in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy (1955). Lewis became famous for his Christian apologia, or written works defending Christianity, including Mere Christianity (1952), in which he collected and revised a series of talks he gave for the BBC. Many of his Christian apologetics take the form of following logical arguments, mirroring the process of Lewis’s own spiritual awakening.
As a teacher and scholar, Lewis began his writing career penning scholarly works, primarily literary criticism. However, Lewis was also a part of a group of fiction writers at Oxford known as The Inklings, which included his brother Warren and Tolkien. They acted as a critique group, sharing their writing and supporting each other. In 1933, Lewis’s first non-scholarly work, an allegory called The Pilgrim’s Regress was published. Regress used fiction to explore Christian theology, a theme present in the majority of Lewis’s work. For example, in 1942, Lewis published The Screwtape Letters (1938), an epistolary novel containing the letters of a senior demon to his nephew discussing how to best tempt souls away from Christianity. Most famously, Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven fantasy novels for children also deeply rooted in Christianity. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950) opens the series with the tale of four British children who find a portal to a magical land called Narnia that’s embroiled in a war between good and evil. The Narnia series has been adapted for stage, television, radio, and film, and endures as a classic of children’s literature.
In 1954, Lewis accepted a chair at Cambridge University in their Medieval and Renaissance literature department. Around this time, he met American writer Joy Davidman, and the two began a deep friendship. Joy had come to England after divorcing her abusive husband. She and Lewis secretly married in 1954 to allow her to remain in the country. In 1956 Joy developed terminal bone cancer, spurring her and Lewis to formalize their marriage with a Christian ceremony. She succumbed to cancer in 1960, and Lewis recounted his raw, faith-shaking grief in A Grief Observed (1961), which he published under the pseudonym N. W. Clerk. Later that year, Lewis became ill with kidney disease. He underwent treatment and continued to write, but died of kidney failure on November 22, 1963. In 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of his death, Lewis was honored with a memorial plaque in the poet’s corner of London’s Westminster Abbey, the resting place of many of Britain’s greatest writers.
C.S. Lewis Study Guides
C.S. Lewis Quotes
"Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward."
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal . . . Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket. . . it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
“I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia.”
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”