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Lewis, C. S.


LEWIS, C. S. (18981963), was an Anglican scholar, novelist, and theologian. Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast on November 29, 1898. As a boy he read omnivorously and wrote remarkably imaginative stories about a world he called Boxen. He was educated at Malvern College, and then privately. Soon after discovering Celtic and Norse mythology, in 1913, he became convinced that Christianity was one of the inferior mythologies of the world and that God, if he existed, was a cosmic sadist. After one term at University College, Oxford, in 1917, he went to France with the Somerset Light Infantry, and on April 15, 1918, he was wounded in the Battle of Arras. Upon his return to Oxford in 1919 he took first-class degrees in classics, philosophy, and English. Between 1925 and 1954 he was the fellow of English language and literature at Magdalen College, Oxford, and he won acclaim as a medievalist for The Allegory of Love (1936).

Lewis's efforts to keep God at bay gave way slowly as he began to find his own arguments philosophically untenable. His friend and colleague J. R. R. Tolkien (18921973) did much to unsettle his atheism when he convinced Lewis that the Christian myth differed from all others in that it ended in the Word made flesh. After his conversion in 1931, Lewis published the partly autobiographical The Pilgrim's Regress (1933), whose main theme is that everyone's experiences of inconsolable longing (which he was later to call "joy") are longings for and pointers to God. Another theme of the bookafterward developed in his Miracles (1947)is that, while all mythologies contain hints of divine truth, Jewish mythology was chosen by God and culminates in myth becoming fact. A clearer account of Lewis's almost purely philosophical conversion is his autobiography, Surprised by Joy (1955).

Lewis was happiest with a few male friends, and especially at the weekly meetings of the "Inklings," a group that included his brother Warren (18951973), Tolkien, Merton College English scholar Hugo Dyson (18961975), the novelist Charles Williams (18861945), the philosopher Owen Barfield (18981997), and a few others. The influence of these men on Lewis was important, as they read and criticized one another's writings.

Lewis relished "rational opposition," and in debate his inexorable logic was unanswerable. His Abolition of Man (1943) is considered one of the most carefully reasoned defenses of natural law ever formulated. Able to adapt to any audience, Lewis became well known in Britain from his talks over the BBC from 1941 to 1944, which were expanded into the book Mere Christianity (1952). One of his most popular works, The Screwtape Letters (1942), was rapturously received in America. These and many other books established him as a brilliant and lucid defender of orthodox, supernatural Christianity, and through them he won a wide hearing for Christianity. A great many people have been introduced to Christian ideas through Lewis's three science fiction novels, of which the first is Out of the Silent Planet (1938), and his seven fairy tales of the mythical land of Narnia, beginning with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950). A brilliant popularizer of the faith and an apologist acceptable to an exceptionally wide spectrum of Christians, Lewis, through his books, sheds light from unexpected angles on the faults and foibles of men and women. Lewis was made professor of medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge University in 1955. In 1956 he married Joy Davidman Gresham, who died in 1960. Lewis died at Oxford on November 22, 1963.


For a complete list of C. S. Lewis's writings, see my "Bibliography of the Writings of C. S. Lewis," in C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table, and Other Reminiscences, edited by James T. Como (New York, 1979), pp. 250276. Miracles: A Preliminary Study, rev. ed. (New York, 1960), is Lewis's most solid work of theology, and Mere Christianity (London, 1952) is his most popular. For information about Lewis, see his Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (London, 1955) and C. S. Lewis: A Biography, by Roger Lancelyn Green and myself (London, 1974).

Walter Hooper (1987)

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