Biography of C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)
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, Ireland. His father, Albert Lewis, was a successful lawyer. Albert and Flora Lewis brought up their two sons in a Protestant household. Warren 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's 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 became an atheist. 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, and in 1917 he volunteered for active combat in France. He returned to his studies in 1919.
Lewis ultimately graduated 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, and in 1931 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. He converted to Christianity, and 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 story, 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.