Clive Staples Lewis (November 29 1898–November 22 1963), commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis, was an author and scholar. He was born in Belfast, Ireland. He adopted the name "Jack", which is how he was known to his friends and acquaintances. He is known for his work on medieval literature and for his Christian apologetics and fiction, especially The Chronicles of Narnia.
Career as a scholar
He taught as a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford for nearly thirty years, and later was the first Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Using this position, he argued that there was no such thing as an English Renaissance. Much of his scholarly work concentrated on the later Middle Ages, especially its use of allegory. His The Allegory of Love (1936) helped reinvigorate the serious study of late medieval narratives like the Roman de la Rose. Lewis wrote a preface to John Milton's poem Paradise Lost which is still one of the more important critical responses to that work. His last academic publication, The Discarded Image, an Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1964), is an excellent summary of the medieval world view, the "discarded image" of the cosmos in his title.
Lewis was a prolific writer and a member of the literary discussion society The Inklings with his close friends J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield.
Career as a writer of fiction
In addition to his scholarly work he wrote a number of popular novels, including the "Space Trilogy" of science fiction books: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra (also known by the pulpish title Voyage to Venus), and That Hideous Strength. The trilogy blends traditional science fiction elements with exploration of the Christian themes of sin, fall, and redemption.
The Great Divorce is a short novel about imagined conversations in Heaven between the saved and the damned. In the novel, those who are 'damned' apparently damn themselves, in the sense that nothing prevents them from going to heaven and staying there if they choose. But some find the changes heaven induces threatening or uncomfortable, and so decide to leave. The narrator is chaperoned by the Scottish writer George MacDonald.
Another short novel, The Screwtape Letters, comprises letters of advice from an elderly demon to his nephew. In the letters, Screwtape, the elder demon, instructs his nephew, Wormwood, on the best ways to secure the damnation of a particular human.
The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven fantasy novels for children that is by far the most popular of his works. The books have a Christian allegorical theme and describe the adventures of a group of children who visit a magical land called Narnia. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which was the first published and the most popular book of the series, has been adapted for both stage and screen. The Chronicles of Narnia borrow from Greek and Roman mythology, and traditional English and Irish fairy tales. Lewis reportedly based his depiction of Narnia in the novels on the geography and scenery of the Mourne Mountains in County Down, Northern Ireland. Lewis cited MacDonald as an influence in writing the series.
Lewis' last novel was Till We Have Faces. Many believe (as he did) that it is his most mature and masterful work of fiction, but it was never a popular success. It is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche from the unusual perspective of Psyche's sister. It is deeply concerned with religious ideas, but the setting is entirely pagan, and the connections with specific Christian beliefs are left implicit.
Prior to Lewis' conversion to Christianity, he published two books: Spirits in Bondage, a collection of poems, and Dymer , a single narrative poem. Both were published under the pen name of Clive Hamilton.
Career as a writer on Christianity
In addition to his career as an English Professor, and his novels, Lewis also wrote a number of books about Christianity -- perhaps most famously, Mere Christianity. As an adult convert to the Anglican church (he stated that he was influenced by his friend Tolkien) he was very much interested in presenting a reasonable case for the truth of Christianity. Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Miracles were all concerned, to one degree or another, with refuting popular objections to Christianity.
He has become popularly known as The Apostle to the Sceptics, because he originally approached religious belief as a sceptic, and felt that he was converted by the evidence. Consequently, his books on Christianity have major themes of dealing with perceived problems in accepting Christianity, such as "How could a good God allow pain to exist in the world", which he examined in detail in his work The Problem of Pain.
Lewis wrote an autobiography entitled Surprised by Joy, which describes his conversion (it was written before he met his wife, Joy Gresham). His essays and public speeches on Christian belief, many of which were collected in God in the Dock and The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses , remain popular today for their insights into faith.
His most famous work, the Chronicles of Narnia, contains much strongly Christian allegory.
One of his best known arguments is the Trilemma: Liar, Lunatic or Lord. The basis is, assuming that Jesus really made the divine claims the Gospels attribute to him, He left us with three options:
- He was telling falsehoods and knew he was, so he was a liar
- He was telling falsehoods but thought he was telling the truth, so he was a lunatic
- He was telling the truth.
One option He just does not logically allow is "Jesus was just a very great teacher." Rather, if a man claimed to be divine and was not, then he is hardly a great teacher but on the level of a man claiming to be a baked potato.
Users of the Trilemma argument also sometimes defend the accuracy of the reports of the claim. They also point out that there is a trilemma involved here as well—the Gospel writers were:
- Telling the truth, and they knew it;
- Telling a lie, and they knew it; or,
- Telling a lie, and they didn't know it because they misunderstood.
Portrayals of Lewis' life
Recently there has been some interest in biographical material concerning Lewis. This has resulted in several biographies (including books written by close friends of Lewis, among them Roger Lancelyn Green and George Sayer ), at least one play about his life, and a 1993 movie, titled Shadowlands, based on an original stage and television play. The movie fictionalizes his relationship with an American writer, Joy Gresham, whom he met and married in London, only to watch her die slowly from bone cancer. Lewis' book A Grief Observed describes his experience of bereavement, and describes it in such a raw and personal fashion that Lewis originally released it under the pseudonym "N. W. Clerk" to keep readers from associating the book with him (ultimately too many friends recommended the book to Lewis as a method for dealing with his own grief, and he made his authorship public).
Lewis' death and legacy
Lewis died on November 22, 1963, at the Oxford home he shared with his brother, Warren. He is buried in the Headington Quarry Churchyard, Oxford, England. Media coverage of his death was overshadowed by news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on the same day, as did the death of author Aldous Huxley.
Many books have been inspired by Lewis, including A Severe Mercy by his correspondent Sheldon Vanauken, and numerous Narnia-inspired novels by various hands.
Books about C.S. Lewis
- John Beversluis, C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion (1985: Wm B. Eerdmans) ISBN 0-8028-0046-7
- George Sayer, Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis, Crossway Books, 1994 reprint, ISBN 0891077618
- Kathryn Lindskoog, Light in the Shadowlands: Protecting the Real C.S. Lewis, Multnomah Pub., 1994, ISBN 0880706953
- Joseph Pearce, C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, Ignatius Press, 2003, ISBN 0898709792
- A.N. Wilson, C.S. Lewis A Biography, W.W.Norton, 1990, ISBN 0-393-32340-4
Last updated: 06-02-2005 03:17:15