C.S. Lewis was a novelist and born on November 29, 1898 in Belfast, Ireland. The C stood for Clive and the S for Staples. His middle name was appropriate for the prolific writer that produced numerous pages of content (over thirty books). He was best known for his series The Chronicles of Narnia. C. Staples and J. R. R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) were great friends. They were both members of the Inklings (literary discussion group) and teachers at Oxford University.
Clive’s parents were Florence Augusta Hamilton Lewis and Albert James Lewis. His older brother Warren (Warnie) Lewis was an officer in the British Army and an Irish historian. The Lewis brothers created their own fictional world called Boxen. It was a fantasy environment flooded with animals. They both loved to read and C.S.’s favorite childhood author was Beatrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabbit). He was schooled at home by tutors until his mother’s death (cancer) in 1908. Clive was nine. Albert sent him to Wynyard School (Watford, Hertfordshire) soon after.
Wynyard closed and Lewis went to Campbell College (Belfast). He developed health problems and moved to Malvern, Worcestershire to recover. Lewis became an atheist and attended Malvern College in 1913. William T. Kirkpatrick was his private teacher after he let Malvern in 1914. University College, Oxford granted young Staples a scholarship in 1916.
C.S. Lewis began studying at University College in 1917 and signed up for the Officers’ Training Corps. The Cadet Battalion drafted him soon after. He was added to the Third Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry as a Second Lieutenant for the British Army. He fought on the front lines in the Somme Valley (France) at the end of 1917. The horrors of the trenches had a lasting impact on Lewis. He was injured and two of his friends were killed in April, 1918. The army demobilized in December and his schooling resumed. He finished with a First in Honour of Moderations (1920), in Greats ( 1922) and in English (1923). Clive was a philosophy tutor at Oxford (1924) before becoming a Fellow and Tutor in English in 1925. He held the position until 1954 when Magdalene College (University of Cambridge) hired him as the chair of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature. He stayed at Cambridge for the rest of his career.
J.R.R. Tolkien linked up with Lewis in 1926. Their discussions and friendship converted Lewis to theism (belief in the reality of a supreme being) by 1929 and back to Christianity in 1931. They continued to influence each other throughout their careers. In 1933 he completed The Pilgrim’s Regress. It detailed his experience with faith and was not a critical success. Clive received encouragement from his Oxford Colleges. He wrote the Space Trilogy (i.e., Ransom Trilogy or Cosmic Trilogy) next. It was a science fiction series for adults.
Out of the Silent Planet (1938) was the first book in the trilogy. The plot dealt with the exploration of Mars and the realization that Earth was exiled from the rest of the Solar System. The second in the series was Perelandra (1943). The protagonist voyaged to Venus and discovered an alternate human reality. That Hideous Strength (1945) took the hero back to Earth to deal with an evil think tank called the N.I.C.E. (The National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments) and rounded out the adventure.
The Screwtape Letters was completed between the Space Trilogy in 1942 and was dedicated to Tolkien. The plot is a satirical take on theological issues. Marvel Comics adapted the story in 1994. The Great Divorce was published in 1945. Clive’s opus was written between 1949 and 1954. The pages were stapled together into seven parts known as The Chronicles of Narnia (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), 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). Science fiction was traded in for fantasy and the subject matter was targeted at children. Pauline Diana Baynes was the illustrator and over one hundred million copies have been sold today. The epic has been translated into 41 languages and adapted into all forms of media (film, television, radio and stage).
In the middle of 1961, C.S. Lewis suffered from nephritis (kidney inflammation) due to blood poisoning. The diagnosis sidelined him from his Cambridge teachings. His health improved and he returned to the classroom in 1962. Everything was normal in 1963, but he fell ill that July and slipped into a temporary coma after a heart attack. He was discharged from the hospital and was too sick to return to Cambridge. He resigned in August. Kidney failure metastasized in November and he passed away on 11/22/1963. He was buried at Holy Trinity Church. John F. Kennedy was assassinated on the same day and the event overshadowed Clive’s death. The writer Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) died as well. The coincidence was the impetus for Peter Kreeft’s book Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley (1982). Several biographies have been written about Lewis’s legacy and his generational prose is loved and shared today.
List of Works
|Spirits in Bondage||1919|
|The Collected Poems of C. S. Lewis||1994|
|C.S. Lewis’s Lost Aeneid: Arms and Exile||2011|
|The Collected Poems of C. S. Lewis: A Critical Edition||2015|
|The Pilgrim’s Regress||1933|
|Out of the Silent Planet||1938|
|The Screwtape Letters||1942|
|Perelandra (Voyage to Venus)||1943|
|That Hideous Strength||1945|
|The Great Divorce||1945|
|The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe||1950|
|The Voyage of the Dawn Treader||1952|
|The Silver Chair||1953|
|The Horse and His Boy||1954|
|The Magician’s Nephew||1955|
|The Last Battle||1956|
|Till We Have Faces||1956|
|The Shoddy Lands||1956|
|Screwtape Proposes a Toast||1961|
|The Dark Towe||1977|
|Boxen: The Imaginary World of the Young C. S. Lewis||1985|
“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”-C.S. Lewis