Clive Staples Lewis was called “Jack” by his friends. We today know him as C. S. Lewis, the author of the exciting and enlightening Narnia series and his various other writings. Many like to remember him as the famous Christian convert who could help people understand Christianity’s beliefs.
Though we associate him with England, C. S. Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, on November 29, 1898, to Albert and Flora Lewis. His brother Warren (“Warnie”) was born on June 16, 1895, and the Lewis boys loved to read books from their home’s extensive library. When Lewis was 10, his mother died of cancer, and thereafter, his father, an attorney, sent Lewis and his brother to boarding school in England. Lewis was poor in math but did excellent in music and mythology. During this time he abandoned his Christian faith and began writing stories.
In 1916, he won a classical scholarship to University College, Oxford, where he studied until he enlisted in the British army to fight in WW I. Lewis was commissioned the rank of Major in the 3rd Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. During the Battle of Arras, he was wounded on April 15, 1918. He promised a fellow soldier, who was killed, that he would look after the soldier’s mother and sister, Mrs. Janie Moore and Maureen.
Though financially a burden, Lewis rented a house in Headington Quarry for the Moores and himself in June, 1921. Later they jointly purchased a house known as “The Kilns,” with the property title in Mrs. Moore’s name and a special clause stating the Lewis brothers (Warren moved in about 1932) held life tenancy rights. Mrs. Moore died in 1951, leaving the Lewis brothers to reside at the Kilns.
On May 20, 1925, Lewis was elected a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and served as a tutor in English and English literature. He remained for 29 years until he accepted the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Magdalen College, Cambridge.
His father died on September 24, 1929. Lewis also “gave in” and became a theist: he believed in a God. On the evening of September 28, 1931, he talked with J.R.R. Tolkien about Christianity. The following day he and Warnie motorcycled to the zoo. In Surprised by Joy, Lewis wrote, “When we set out, I did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo, I did.” After this, Lewis gathered a circle of friends, known as “The Inklings,” for discussions of literature and Christianity.
From there Lewis went on to write his Christian apologetics books, i. e. his defense of the Christian religion. He wrote The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition, which won the Hawthornden prize for best book in imaginative literature in 1936 and the Gallancz Memorial Prize for Literature in 1937. He wrote his space trilogy. In 1935 Lewis undertook the enormous task of writing about 16th century English Literature for the Oxford History of English Literature series. It was published in 1954 and became a classic. He gave live radio talks in the early ‘40s about Christianity (collected in Mere Christianity) and his weekly Screwtape Letters, which made him internationally famous. He wrote many more articles, book, essays, and novels, too numerous to list.
In the fall of 1952, Lewis met Joy Davidman Gresham, who divorced Mr. Gresham in 1953. Seventeen years younger than Lewis, Joy was a Jewish convert, partially because of Lewis’ books.
On April 23, 1956, Lewis and Joy were married in a civil ceremony to obtain her British citizenship so she wouldn’t be deported. Joy found she had bone cancer, from which the physicians predicted her imminent death. Jack knew his concern was more than friendship. So in December, 1956, Jack and Joy had a Christian marriage ceremony at her bedside. Joy’s cancer went into remission the next year, so in July, 1958, Jack and Joy took a ten-day holiday in Ireland. Also that year he was also made an Honorary Fellow of University College, Oxford.
Joy’s cancer returned, and she died on July 13, 1960, at the age of 45. Lewis wrote about his reaction to Joy’s death in A Grief Observed.
During the summer of 1963,Lewis retired and then was elected an Honorary Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. He died at 5:30 p.m. at the Kilns, one week prior to his 65th birthday. He died on Friday, November 22, 1963, the same day President John Kennedy was assassinated. He is buried in Headington Quarry, Oxford, England.
"Spirit of God, Descend"