C.S. Lewis Biography

C.S. LewisC.S. Lewis was an author, essayist and Christian apologist. He is best known for his children’s classic series – The Chronicles of Narnia.

Clive Staples Lewis was born on 29 November 1898 and lived until 22 November 1963. He was born in Belfast, North Ireland into a Protestant Ulster family. Throughout his life, he retained strong roots to Ireland. He sought out the company of the Irish and took an active interest in Celtic literature and myths. He was a keen admirer of the works of W.B.Yeats, at a time when he was relatively unknown in England.

Lewis was educated at a variety of private tuition and public schools such as Malvern in Worcestershire. His time in public school was not particularly happy, and he later wrote in disparaging times of how schoolboys were mistreated. However, in 1916, Lewis was offered a scholarship at University College, Oxford University. He proved an excellent student, ultimately, gaining a triple first (the top classification in three different degrees). In 1917, his university life was interrupted as he volunteered to join the British army in the First World War. He was transferred to the Somme valley where he took part in trench warfare.

In the last months of the war, he was injured by a shell and was sent home to recuperate from his injuries. During his period of convalescence, he became increasingly friendly with Mrs Moore – the mother of a close army friend Edward ‘Paddy’ Moore. He remained very close to Mrs Moore, often referring to her as his mother until her death in the 1940s.

On returning to Oxford, C.S.Lewis completed his degrees before taking up a post teaching English at Magdalen College, Oxford from 1925 to 1954. He was a prolific writer and formed a close friendship with other Oxford fellows such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. They formed an informal group known as the ‘Inklings’. They would meet at pubs in Oxford such as ‘The Eagle and Child’ where they would read parts of their novels. He encouraged Tolkien as he wrote his epic ‘The Lord of the Rings.’

C.S.Lewis and Christianity

Lewis was brought up in the Protestant Church of Ireland, but as a teenager, he said he lost his faith – turned off by boring church services and the problem of evil in the world. However, after returning to Oxford in the post-war period, he became increasingly perplexed by the existence of God and Christianity. After many evening chats with friends such as J.R.R.Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, C.S.Lewis finally converted to belief in God (theism) in 1929 and became a Christian in 1931. C.S. Lewis later wrote he felt a reluctant and unwilling convert. But, felt compelled to accept the evidence of faith. In his book, “Surprised by Joy” he writes that he came to Christianity:

kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape.”

C.S.Lewis became an influential apologist for Christianity through publications such as the “Screwtape Letters”. He concentrated on a more universal form of Christianity seeking to avoid the sectarianism that was common in his native Northern Ireland. He rarely made any specific reference to a particular denomination of Christianity but sought to reinforce the underlying Christian values shared by all Christian faiths. However, he always remained an Anglican and, to the disappointment of Tolkien, he never converted to Roman Catholicism.

His Christian beliefs also influenced his more popular works such as the “Chronicles of Narnia”. Though he also includes ideas of Roman and Celtic myths, there are underlying Christian notions of sacrifice and Christ-like actions. Lewis began writing  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe during the Second World War. He was partly inspired by three evacuee children who came to stay in his home in Risinghurst (a suburb of Oxford). Lewis said the experience of the evacuee children gave him a new perspective on the joy of childhood. Lewis also remarked he had had an image of a Faun since he was about 16.

“The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.”

The seven book in the series were published one per year from 1950 to 1956. They soon became a publishing success and have become a very influentials genre of children’s books.

After the Second World War, C.S.Lewis became increasingly close to Joy Gresham – a Jewish convert to Christianity who divorced her alcoholic husband (the writer, William Gresham.) Joy later moved to Oxford and the two gained a civil marriage contract enabling Joy to live in the UK. C.S.Lewis very much enjoyed the company of Joy, finding an ideal partner to share his intellectual and spiritual interests. Joy Gresham died from cancer in 1957. Their love story has been romanticised in the popular film – “Shadowlands.”

C.S.Lewis died a few years later in 1963 from renal failure. His death occurred on the same date as the assassination of J.F. Kennedy.

Since his death, his books and influence have continued to grow. He has been rated as one of the top English writers of all time and his books have been translated into numerous languages.

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Biography of C.S. Lewis”, Oxford, UK. www.biographyonline.net, 25th Sep 2009. Last updated 12 January 2018.

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st-paulChristians – Famous Christians from Jesus Christ and the early Apostles to Catholic Popes and saints. Includes St Francis of Assisi, St Catherine of Sienna and St Teresa.

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