The Man who Led us “Through the Wardrobe.”by Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Mere Christianity. The Screwtape Letters. The Great Divorce. Surprised by Joy. The Chronicles of Narnia. Till We have Faces. When Clive Staples Lewis was born on 29 November 1898, did his parents have any idea that “Jack,” as they called him, would grow into a literary mastermind? Growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the Lewis home always had books everywhere, and Jack and his older brother Warren spent many hours reading. When Jack turned 10, his mother tragically died of cancer, shattering Jack’s tiny world. His way of “coping” and “forgetting” involved excelling in his schoolwork, and beginning to write short stories. During his highschool years, he became fascinated with “ultimate questions,” such as “What is truth?” Lewis slowly distanced himself from his childhood Christian faith. While he studied at Cherbourg school in England, during 1911-1913, Lewis abandoned his Christianity. Who would have guessed that years later Lewis would be known as one of the most prolific writers of Christian apologetics?
After attending University College, Oxford, Lewis enlisted in the army during the first world war. His first published piece appeared in a newspaper during the war. Called “Death in Battle,” this piece started Lewis on his march towards fame. After the war had ended, Lewis returned to University College, Oxford, where he excelled in all of his studies. In 1926, Lewis published his first book length manuscript, a poem called Dymer, which he published under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton.
However, Lewis still shunned his childhood Christian faith. In 1929, he became a theist, saying "In. . .1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed..." But Lewis would not become a Christian until a few years later. In 1931, Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Hugo Dyson had a long, deep conversation about Christianity. The next day Lewis accepted Christ. In Mere Christianity he said, "When we set out [by motorcycle to the Whipsnade Zoo] I did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did."
A new Christian, Lewis began to write more and more. In 1936 he published The Allegory of Love, for which he received the Gollancz Memorial Prize for Literature. As he became more and more well known, Lewis’ life seemed to split and he took on three different “lives.” First, he was an author of children’s and adult fiction, second, a renowned Oxford critic of literature, and thirdly, as a writer and speaker on Christian apologetics.
Lewis’ first “life,” that of an author of Christian fiction, developed over many years. He began by writing a parody of Pilgrim’s Progress in 1933. In 1936, he began a science fiction trilogy. The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, introduced readers to the hero of the series, who Lewis had loosely modeled after his close friend, J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis published Perelandra in 1943 and finished the trilogy with That Hideous Strength in 1945. Lewis now had established himself as not only a literary critic, but one who had the ability to create literature. In 1950, Lewis began to write his most famous fiction work, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. So began the Chronicles of Narnia, and by 1956, Lewis had written seven chronicles, detailing the adventures of children in the other world of Narnia, from the very creation of Narnia to the ending of that world. Children, and many adults, all around the world fell in love with Narnia and Narnia’s creator, C.S. Lewis.
Fulfilling his second role—that of a literary critic, Lewis wrote many books talking about great works. In 1936, Lewis published The Allegory of Love, a work which established him as a critical literary scholar. Lewis would eventually be offered a fellowship at Oxford, where he would remain for twenty-nine years. Later Lewis would write A Preface to Paradise Lost, as well as publishing multiple collections of essays on many different literary works.
Lewis’ Christian apologetics became his real passion, however. Perhaps best known for Mere Christianity, Lewis wanted everyone to know the love of God, and the truth that could be found in God’s word. The Problem of Pain addressed pain in our lives today, and how we have to deal with pain in a fallen world. The Screwtape Letters were fictional letters between Screwtape and his apprentice, Wormwood, on how to sabotage a young Christian’s Christian walk. Through these letters, Lewis communicated Biblical truth through the reverse, allowing people to look at sin from a different angle. C.S. Lewis also appeared on BBC radio several times, having a series of lectures on Christianity and important parts of the Christian walk.
Never having any children of his own, Lewis married Joy Gresham in 1956. Her two sons from a previous marriage lived with Lewis, and they lived as a happy family for four years until Joy’s tragic death from cancer in 1960. Today, Douglas Gresham, Lewis’ step son, controls the Lewis estate and has narrated radio adaptations of some of the Chronicles of Narnia.
After Joy’s death, Lewis continued to write, publishing four books before his death on November 22, 1963. In his lifetime of only 65 years, Lewis had given the world excellent fiction tales told with biblical truth laced into them, and wonderful writings that have brought many people today to the Lord. C.S. Lewis truly can be called, a Knight of the Faith.