C.S. Lewis: His Contribution to the World
C.S. Lewis - A Brief Bio
Clive Staples Lewis, known to the world as C.S. Lewis (or Jack to his friends) was one of the most influential Christian scholars and writers to grace the 20th century. The impact of his life and work continue today with ever-increasing renown. He was so many things - atheist turned Christian, Oxford scholar, Cambridge professor, prolific fiction and non-fiction writer, essayist, Christian apologist, theologian, literary critic, broadcaster, poet, husband, stepfather, brother, and friend,
C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland on November 29, 1898. His childhood was quite happy. He lived with his father Albert and mother Florence, and older brother Warren (Warnie) in Belfast. As a small boy, he named himself Jack, after his beloved dog, Jacksie, died. The name stuck. When he was seven they moved to east Belfast in a home they called "Little Lea." From a young age, he was quite taken with stories where animals were portrayed with human characteristics and behavior. He was particularly taken with the stories by Beatrix Potter. This would later be a dominant theme in his fantasy novels. Jack was a voracious reader from an early age and wrote and illustrated his own stories with his brother. He was a passionate lover of nature, also artistically seen in his fantasy work later on.
His later childhood was difficult, much of it full of sadness and pain. Tragedy struck when his beloved mother, Florence, died when he was ten years old, left with his father Albert and brother Warren (Warnie). Her death by cancer was a portent of his future wife. Though his father loved his two sons dearly, he did not know how to cope with his wife's death and care for his boys, thus young Jack was sent off to boarding school (his brother had already been attending) and schooled by a headmaster that struggled with mental illness. Thus began several years of changing schools. At one point he went through prep school at Malvern and began taking great interest in mythology. Jack was desperately lonely and unhappy leading up to and during his time in Malvern and decided God did not exist. He would hold to his atheist convictions until much later in life.
Lewis continued to study at various schools and with various teachers and mentors. As a teenager, he began writing poetry, and also learned the fine art of debate. This skill would later show up in works such as his Mere Christianity, a classic apologetic work.
Jack Lewis enlisted in WWl in 1917 in the British army and was wounded. After several months of recovery, he went back on the field. His best friend Paddy Moore, a former roommate and now fellow soldier, was killed in battle. All this served to strengthen his atheist convictions. As he'd made a vow to Paddy that he would care for his mother and sister should something happen to him, Lewis supported and helped Mrs. Moore and her daughter Maureen for many years.
After discharge Lewis began writing essays and published them, winning awards and earning the respect of other scholars and writers. He studied at Oxford between 1919 and 1924 studying Greek and Latin literature, English, as well as philosophy and history. He also tutored other students in philosophy, English, and literature for 29 years. He became a Fellow of Magdalen College, and chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature.
George McDonald's writings and G.K. Chesterton's book The Everlasting Man, and his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien all served to lead Lewis back to Christianity. His writings soon began to have Christian themes.
Jack's brother, Warnie, lived with Jack for most of their adult lives. He remained a bachelor and had a problem with alcohol that concerned Jack. They were very close friends as well as brothers.
In the 1940s Lewis was asked if he would be willing to do a series broadcast talks on BBC. His masterful apologetic book Mere Christianity was born out of the first set of broadcast messages. He went on to do three more broadcast series.
Jack Takes a Wife
In the 1950s, an American poet and writer named Joy Davidman Gresham began writing him as a fan of his work. She had quite a checkered past, once a communist and an atheist, but finally found Christ and converted to Christianity. She was separated and was eventually divorced from an alcoholic abusive husband. She moved to England with her two sons and she and Lewis became very close friends. He married her in 1958 in a civil union to prevent her deportation back to the states. She was found shortly after to have cancer. Lewis realized his love for her and married her at her bedside in a religious ceremony. She later recovered and they spent the next two years in wedded bliss, traveling and loving one another. Sadly, however, cancer returned and she passed away in July 1960. Lewis was devastated. Out of his grief, he penned the book, A Grief Observed, relating with raw candor the pain of losing his wife. He was so concerned about his association with it that he penned it under the name NW Clerk; however, it was placed under his name after his death. It is a very powerful read.
C.S. Lewis wrote in many genres. Which did you prefer?
The Best of C.S. Lewis Literature
As a writer, C.S. Lewis' brilliance was evidenced in his ability to write in a wide variety of genres with equal mastery. Here is an author who wrote the children's classic fantasy novel series, The Chronicles of Narnia (enjoyed equally by adults), with extraordinary imagination and creativity, and the brilliantly shrewd, apologetic work, Mere Christianity.
Following are a few of my favorite works of C.S. Lewis and why:
Mere Christianity - A theological classic. In my humble opinion, and many others, this book is the best apologetic work ever (besides the Bible of course). He used reason to make a case for Christianity with both artistic and intellectual flair - artistic in the sense of how with a beautiful synergy of creativity, intellect, and sound reason, he weaves a theological tapestry and defense for the faith. This work is easy to read and understand. Mere Christianity was in the top 3 of Christianity Today's list of most influential books among Evangelicals in the 20th century.
The Screwtape Letters - A must for every Christian library. A satirical, provocative tale of a senior demon, Uncle Screwtape, mentoring his demon nephew, Wormwood, in the fine art of tempting Christians. There are 31 letters addressed to dear Wormwood, giving him detailed instructions, methods, and tactics to lure Christians to sin. It's a comical, yet eye-opening revelation of the devil's bag of tricks. Christian's will see their own weaknesses and how the devil uses them in an attempt to destroy them. But they will also find ways to stop the devil and his cohorts and send them packing.
The Chronicles of Narnia - Lewis' most well known and top-selling book series, which has sold over 100 million copies. The series tells of the beautiful land of Narnia, a magical world ruled and protected by the great lion Aslan (a type of Christ). Narnia is filled with endearing, mythical beasts, kings and queens, princes and princesses, and a great enemy, the White Witch. Narnia is discovered by four children who stumbled in through their uncle Digory's Wardrobe. The books in order are:
The Magician's Nephew
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Horse and His Boy
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Last Battle
A Grief Observed - After the death of his beloved wife, Joy, Lewis' wrote of his struggles while in the throes of grief. It's a raw, vividly honest outpouring of grief. With vulnerability, he asked the question, "Where is God?" An honest, human question we all ask during a tragedy. His confessions and doubts boldly fill the pages. His insights are sobering. This is the human side of Lewis, not the great intellect, or creator. Just a broken man. But perhaps this makes it one of his better works because it's life and faith and the struggle therein up close and personal. Testimony and personal story are more likely to impact than knowledge based works. It is a book worth reading if only for the fact that he dares to ask the questions and express the thoughts that we, as "good Christian's," often are afraid to speak out loud. But the book is filled with profound truths.
Everyone has their own favorite C.S. Lewis books. He left us with so much.
Death of C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis died November 22, 1963. Lewis' death was eclipsed by the murder of John F. Kennedy on the same day. Both left a legacy of enduring wisdom and knowledge. C.S. Lewis' immense contribution to the world through his writings will continue for decades to come.
© 2013 Lori Colbo