C S Lewis

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Clive Staples Lewis (November 29, 1898November 22, 1963), commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis, was an author and scholar, born into a Protestant family in Belfast, though mostly resident in England. Lewis is known for his work on medieval literature and for his Christian apologetics and fiction, especially the children's series entitled The Chronicles of Narnia.

Early life

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland (now Northern Ireland), to Albert James Lewis and Flora Augusta Hamilton Lewis. He had a brother, Warren Hamilton Lewis (Warnie), three years his elder. He adopted the name "Jack" as a boy, simply because he liked the sound of it. From that point on, he was known by this nickname by close friends and family. Lewis' mother died in 1908, and he was sent to a number of different schools in England. Around 1913 he abandoned his childhood Christian faith. In 1929, he became a theist: "In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed..." Ultimately, in 1931, he returned to Christianity.

Lewis had a passion for "dressed animals" as a boy, falling in love with Beatrix Potter's stories and often writing and illustrating his own animal stories. He and his brother, Warnie, together created the world of Boxen, which was inhabited and run by animals. Lewis loved to read, and as his father's house was filled with books, he often felt that finding a book he hadn't read was as easy as finding a blade of grass. He also had a mortal fear of spiders and insects as a child, for they often haunted his dreams.

As a teenager, he was wonderstruck by Richard Wagner and the songs and legends of the North. They intensified a longing he had within him, a deep desire he would later call "joy." He also grew to love nature-- the beautiful scenes in nature reminded him of the stories of the north, and the stories of the north reminded him of the beauties of nature. In his teenage years, his writing moved away from the tales of Boxen, and he began to use new literary forms (poetry and opera) to try and capture his newfound interest in Norse myth and in the natural world.

In 1916, Lewis won a scholarship to University College, Oxford. However in 1917 he enlisted in the British Army, and was commissioned an officer in the third Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. He arrived at the front line in the Somme Valley in France on his nineteenth birthday. He was wounded during the Battle of Arras, and on his recovery assigned duty in England. He was discharged in December 1918, and returned to his studies. He received a First in Honour Moderations (Greek and Latin Literature) in 1920, a First in Greats (Philosophy and Ancient History) in 1922, and a First in English in 1923.

Career as a scholar

Lewis taught as a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford for nearly thirty years, from 1925 to 1954, 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 most important criticisms of that work. His last academic work, The Discarded Image, an Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1964), is a 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 friends J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield.

Career as a writer of fiction

In addition to his scholarly work, Lewis wrote a number of popular novels, including his science-fiction "Space Trilogy," his fantasy Narnia books, and various other novels, most containing allegories on Christian themes such as sin, the Fall, and redemption. For more information about those works, see their individual Wikipedia articles.

The Pilgrim's Regress. His first novel after becoming a Christian was The Pilgrim's Regress, his take on John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress which depicted his own experience with Christianity. The book was panned at the time. Most people had not had Lewis's experience and couldn't relate.

Space Trilogy. His "Space Trilogy" or "Ransom Trilogy" novels dealt with what Lewis saw as the then-current dehumanizing trends in modern science fiction. The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, was apparently written following a conversation with his friend J. R. R. Tolkien about these trends. Lewis agreed to write a "space travel" story and Tolkien a "time travel" one. Tolkien's story, The Lost Road, a tale connecting his Middle-earth mythology and the modern world, was never completed. Lewis's character of Ransom is generally agreed to be based, in part on Tolkien. The minor character "Jules," from That Hideous Strength is an obvious caricature of H. G. Wells. Many of the ideas presented in the books, particularly in That Hideous Strength are dramatizations of arguments made more formally in Lewis's The Abolition of Man.

Works on heaven and hell. The Great Divorce is a short novel about imagined conversations in the foothills of Heaven between the saved and the potentially damned. The title is a reference to William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. This work deliberately echoes two other more famous works with a similar theme: the Divine Comedy of Dante Aligheri, and John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Another short novel, The Screwtape Letters, consists of 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 tempt a particular human and secure his damnation.

The Chronicles of Narnia. This is a series of seven fantasy novels for children that is by far the most popular of Lewis's works. The books have Christian themes 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 as well as 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. The books were published in an order different from that they take place in. In chronological order, the seven books are: The Magician's Nephew, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle. Many people feel that the books should be read in order of publication. Lewis himself was not particular.

Non-Christian works. 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.

Before Lewis's 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 an author of novels, Lewis also wrote a number of books about Christianity — perhaps most famously, Mere Christianity, which is considered a classic work in the area of Christian apologetics. After some years as an atheist, he converted to Christianity and joined the Church of England. Although he became an Anglican, he stated that he was influenced by his Roman Catholic 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 he was converted by the evidence. Consequently, his books on Christianity examine common difficulties in accepting Christianity, such as "How could a good God allow pain to exist in the world?", which he examined in detail in The Problem of Pain.

Lewis also 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 works, the Chronicles of Narnia, contain many strong Christian messages. These are often mistaken for allegory, but, as Lewis himself said, are certainly not allegory. Lewis is said to have stated that he wrote the novels when he wondered what it would be like if Jesus Christ was incarnated on another world or planet to save the souls of those inhabitants.

Trilemma

The term "trilemma" actually comes from Christian apologist Josh McDowell, who based it on one of Lewis's best-known arguments in favor of Christianity from his book Mere Christianity.

According to the argument, most people are willing to accept Jesus Christ as a great moral teacher, but the Gospels record that Jesus made many claims to divinity, either explicitly ("I and the father are one." -- John 10:30*) or implicitly, by assuming authority only God could have ("...the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins..." -- Matthew 9:6*). Assuming that the Gospels are accurate, Lewis said there are three options:

  1. Jesus was telling falsehoods and knew it, and so he was a liar.
  2. Jesus was telling falsehoods but believed he was telling the truth, and so he was insane.
  3. Jesus was telling the truth, and so he was divine.

Thus, Lewis maintained that one cannot argue Jesus was merely a great moral teacher because his moral teachings would be invalidated by virtue of either his lying or his insanity. On the other hand, if he was divine, he must clearly be more than merely a great moral teacher.

* Quotes are from the New International Version.

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's book A Grief Observed describes his experience of bereavement 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. (This coincidence was the inspiration for Peter Kreeft’s book Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley. In this philosophical work, the three men meet in a limbo before the afterlife, and debate the divinity of Jesus Christ, contrasting the differences in their personalities and world views – humanism, Christianity, and pantheism.)

A bronze statue of Lewis looking into a wardrobe stands in Belfast's Holywood Arches.

Many books have been inspired by Lewis, including A Severe Mercy by his correspondent Sheldon Vanauken. The Chronicles Of Narnia has been particularly influential. Modern children's authors like Daniel Handler (A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl) have been influenced more or less by Lewis' series. Authors of adult fantasy literature such as Tim Powers have also testified to being influenced by Lewis's work.

Most of Lewis's posthumous work has been edited by his literary executor Walter Hooper. An independent Lewis scholar, the late Kathryn Lindskoog, argued in several books that Hooper's scholarship is not reliable and that he has made false statements and attributed forged works to Lewis. (See The Dark Tower.) Scholars in the field of Lewis studies are divided over whether these charges have been settled at all, and if so in whose favor.

Bibliography

Nonfiction

Fiction

Poetry

Books about C. S. Lewis

  • Chad Walsh, C. S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics. Macmillan, 1949.
  • Clyde S. Kilby, The Christian World of C. S. Lewis. Eerdmans, 1964.
  • Jocelyn Gibb (ed.), Light on C. S. Lewis. Geoffrey Bles, 1965.
  • Joe R. Christopher & Joan K. Ostling, C. S. Lewis: An Annotated Checklist of Writings about him and his Works. Kent State University Press, n.d. (1972). ISBN 0873381386
  • Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and their friends. George Allen & Unwin, 1978. ISBN 0048090115
  • Chad Walsh, The Literary Legacy of C. S. Lewis. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979. ISBN 0156527855.
  • Walter Hooper, Through Joy and Beyond: A Pictorial Biography of C. S. Lewis. Macmillan, 1982. ISBN 0025536702
  • John Beversluis, C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. Eerdmans, 1985. ISBN 0802800467
  • George Sayer, Jack: C. S. Lewis and His Times. Macmillan, 1988. ISBN 0333433629
  • G. B. Tennyson (ed.), Owen Barfield on C.S. Lewis. Wesleyan University Press, 1989. ISBN 081955233X.
  • A. N. Wilson, C. S. Lewis: A Biography. W. W. Norton, 1990. ISBN 0393323404
  • James T. Como, C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences. New edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992. ISBN 0156232073
  • George Watson (ed.), Critical Essays on C. S. Lewis. Scolar Press, 1992. ISBN 085957853
  • Susan Lowenberg, C. S. Lewis: A Reference Guide 1972-1988. Hall & Co., 1993. ISBN 0816118469
  • Kathryn Lindskoog, Light in the Shadowlands: Protecting the Real C. S. Lewis. Multnomah Pub., 1994. ISBN 0880706953
  • Michael Coren, The Man Who Created Narnia: The Story of C.S. Lewis. Eerdmans Pub Co, Reprint edition 1996. ISBN 0802838227
  • Walter Hooper, C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide. HarperCollins, 1996. ISBN 0006278000
  • Jeffrey D. Schultz and John G. West, Jr. (eds.), The C.S. Lewis Readers' Encyclopedia. Zondervan Publishing House, 1998. ISBN 0310215382
  • Roger Lancelyn Green & Walter Hooper, C. S. Lewis: A Biography. Fully revised & expanded edition. HarperCollins, 2002. ISBN 0006281648
  • Joseph Pearce, C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church. Ignatius Press, 2003. ISBN 0898709792
  • Bruce L. Edwards, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual World of Narnia. Tyndale. 2005.
  • Bruce L. Edwards, Further Up and Further In: Understanding C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Broadman and Holman, 2005.

See also

External links

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