Biography of C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis, or "Jack", as he was known to friends and family, was born Clive Staples Lewis on November 29, 1898, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His father, Albert Lewis, was a successful lawyer. Albert and Flora Lewis brought up their two sons in a Protestant household. Warren, or "Warnie", was Lewis's older brother, and the two were very close. The family home was affectionately nicknamed "Little Lea", and was a treasure trove of books in which Lewis' imagination blossomed. The stability and happiness of Lewis' childhood, however, was shattered by his mother's death in 1908 from abdominal cancer. Lewis was nine years old at the time.

The death of Lewis's mother proved incredibly influential on the development of the writer's commitment to Christianity. Just prior to her death, Flora gave each of her sons a parting gift: a Bible, inscribed with a message of her love. Lewis, however, reacted to the gift with anger and grief and began to distance himself from Christianity (Dorsett). From 1911 to 1913, Lewis was enrolled in the prep school Cherbourg House, where he decided to completely abandon his Christian faith (The C.S. Lewis Foundation). In 1914, at the age of 16, he moved to southern England and came under the tutelage of William T. Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick was a former headmaster, a rationalist, and a humanist; in Kirkpatrick, Lewis found a tutor and role model and learned to discipline himself in writing and reason. Lewis was admitted to University College at Oxford, where he attended from April through September of 1917.

In September 1917 he enlisted in the British army and became an officer in the 3rd Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. By his 19th birthday, he was on the front lines of active combat in France. In 1918, Lewis was wounded in the Battle of Arras but returned to duty after recovering and remained in the army until his discharge. Lewis returned to his studies in 1919 at Oxford. In February 1919, Lewis published "Death in Battle" in Reveille magazine, his first publication outside of a school magazine; the publication was about the death of his army friend Paddy Moore (The C.S. Lewis Foundation).

Lewis ultimately graduated from University College at Oxford with top honors in literature, philosophy, and history. He was subsequently elected to the prestigious teaching post of Fellow of English Language and Literature at Magdalen College, which he kept for thirty years. While Lewis developed a reputation as a rigorous teacher, he started a prodigious writing career that began with several published books of poems. In 1929, however, his father died; this was also the year when Lewis states he began to believe in God again. His belief was solidified in 1931 when Lewis traveled to Ireland with his brother, Warren. On this trip, Warren spoke of his recent conversion, and Lewis found a new focus for his writing. With Lewis' newfound take on Christianity, he began writing prose, addressing various issues related to religious faith.

Throughout the 1940s, Lewis's popularity as a literary critic and theologian grew, and as his stature increased he surprised many by embarking on the fictional fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia. He explicitly intended the books to be read by children but hoped to maintain their adult appeal by filling them with sophisticated philosophical, religious, and intellectual ideas. Known for his friendly rivalry with J.R.R. Tolkien, a professor of Anglo-Saxon History at Oxford and author of The Lord of the Rings series, Lewis shared with Tolkien an intense passion for epic stories, mythology, and Christian themes. When Lewis completed his draft of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Tolkien was one of his first readers. The book proved enormously successful, and in 1950 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was published, followed by Prince Caspian (1951), The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader' (1952), The Silver Chair (1953), The Horse and His Boy (1954), The Magician's Nephew (1955), and The Last Battle (1956). Lewis was besieged by fan letters, especially from children, and saw it as his duty to answer each of them personally.

In the 1940s, Lewis struck up a correspondence with a Jewish-American woman from New York named Joy Davidman Gresham. Gresham had converted to Christianity and had written him for counsel. She was a writer herself, and, in 1952, on a holiday in England, Joy met with Lewis and Warren over lunch. Lewis and Joy became good friends, and the following year, after her husband abandoned her for another woman, Joy divorced him and moved to England with her two sons, David and Douglas. She continued to write, relying on Lewis's friendship and financial support, particularly concerning the education of her sons. In 1955, Lewis was awarded a professorship at Cambridge University, which gave him more free time to write.

In 1956, the British immigration authorities refused to renew Joy's visa, and Lewis and Joy married in a civil ceremony, strictly for purposes of citizenship. Soon after, Joy was diagnosed with cancer, and her death seemed imminent. Lewis, having lived a long life of bachelorhood, suddenly realized the extent to which he had come to love this woman, and they married again in her hospital room, this time with church rites. Joy miraculously recovered, and she and Lewis traveled to Ireland and Greece. They lived happily with her two sons until the cancerous tumor reappeared. On July 13, 1960, Joy died at the age of forty-five. Lewis survived her for several years, rounding out a prolific career as a fantasy writer, novelist, poet, lecturer, and radio commentator, and died on November 22, 1963.


Study Guides on Works by C. S. Lewis

Relesed in 1954, The Horse and His Boy is the fifth novel of seven published in the The Chronicles of Narnia. Written before the first book was even out and for the first and only time featuring native Narnian children, The Horse and His Boy tells...

The Last Battle (1956) is the seventh and final novel in the high-fantasy classic Chronicles of Narnia series by author C.S. Lewis. Illustrated by Pauline Baynes, The Last Battle is set almost entirely in Narnia and from the middle of the novel...

Mere Christianity is a theological book written by C.S. Lewis and published in 1952. The book talks about Christianity, explaining the religion and dispelling any controversies. C.S. Lewis narrates the book and spends most of the story defending...

After conjuring a unique fantasy world in 1950's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis released Prince Caspian, 1951's followup to the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia series.

Prince Caspian directly continues the story started...

The Silver Chair is the sixth novel in the Chronicles of Narnia series, penned in the early 1950s by acclaimed British author and literary scholar C.S. Lewis. Despite the fact that these chronicles are some of the most popular and enduring stories...

Clive Staples Lewis (better known as C.S. Lewis) wrote Till We Have Faces in 1956. This was his last novel and was cowritten by his wife, Joy Davidman. It is the retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche. Lewis developed the idea for this novel...