Lewis, C.S.

views updated May 18 2018

C.S. Lewis

BORN: 1898, Belfast, Northern Ireland, U.K.

DIED: 1963, Oxford, England


GENRE: Fiction, nonfiction

The Pilgrim's Regress (1933)
The Allegory of Love (1936)
The Screwtape Letters (1942)
The Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956)


The British novelist and essayist C.S. Lewis (1898–1963) was an established literary figure whose impact is increasingly recognized by scholars and teachers. He is known and respected for both his allegorical fantasy, particularly the classic children's series The Chronicles of Narnia (1965), as well as his accessible and persuasive works on Christian belief and theology such as The Screwtape Letters (1941) and Mere Christianity (1952).

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on November 29, 1898, the son of Albert J. and Flora Hamilton Lewis. His mother died when he was still a boy. Little Lea, the family home, had long corridors, empty rooms, and secret nooks in which Lewis and his brother, Warren, played. In the attic, the boys spent many rainy days writing and illustrating stories about imaginary worlds. Sometimes, when their cousin came to visit, the three of them would climb into a black oak wardrobe, hand-carved by Lewis and Warren's grandfather, and sit in the dark while Lewis told stories. These boyhood playtimes would be famously fictionalized years later in the children's fantasy classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950), the first in the seven-book The Chronicles of Narnia series. In the series, four brothers and sisters travel to another world called Narnia by various means, first finding it through the back of a large wardrobe.

Lewis's early education was by private tutoring, at various public schools, and at Malvern College. In 1917 he entered University College, Oxford, but left to serve as a soldier in World War I. World War I was a devastating conflict that claimed the lives of many of Lewis's contemporaries—indeed, nearly 900,000 British service members died between 1914 and 1918. Lewis was one of the lucky soldiers who returned from the war. After returning to Oxford and completing his studies, Lewis taught English literature there (at Magdalen College) until 1954, the year he accepted the chairmanship of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge.

Becoming a Christian As an Oxford student and eventual fellow of Magdalen College, Lewis became close friends with writers and scholars who altered his world-view and encouraged him to write. This circle of friends, later dubbed the “Inklings,” included J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Neville Coghill, and Owen Barfield. Like many writers who had survived the horrors of World War I, Lewis was eager to find meaning and comfort in a world that seemed to him so clearly flawed. Though he had been skeptical of the value of religion in his youth, Lewis was eventually able to find what he was looking for in Christianity. Each of his influential friends was instrumental in convincing Lewis of the reasonableness of Christianity, but it was Tolkien's views on the relevance of myth to the Christian faith that most moved him. Lewis became a Christian at the age of thirty-two.

Quiet about the details of his youth, his autobiography, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1955), fails to provide enlightenment and leaves the Lewis scholar to speculations about his early disenchantment with emotional Christianity. His autobiography does reveal, however, that he had little interest in sports as a boy and that he was an enthusiastic reader. Among his early favorite authors was G.K. Chesterton, who was himself a paradoxical and religious writer.

Superb Conversationalist, Renowned Scholar Widely read as an adult, his knowledge of literature was impressive and made him a superb conversationalist. Lewis thoroughly enjoyed sitting up into the early hours in college rooms “talking nonsense, poetry, theology, and metaphysics.”

His subjects at Oxford were medieval and Renaissance English literature, in which he became a scholar, lecturer, and tutor of renown. His academic reputation was made secure by his English Literature in the 16th Century (1954) and Experiment in Criticism (1961). Aside from scholarly writings, his output included science fiction, children's stories, and religious apology, a genre of argumentative writing that takes the position of defending a scrutinized or often-attacked position such as religion.

The Christian Apologist: Explaining Christianity Lewis's The Pilgrim's Regress (1933) is an allegory presented as an apology—in this use of the term, apology means “defense” or “explanation”—for Christianity. It was not until the appearance of his second allegorical work, The Allegory of Love (1936), however, that Lewis received acclaim by winning the coveted Hawthornden prize. This book, which addresses in easily understandable terms the theological problem of evil and related moral and ethical issues, had met with widespread success; Lewis's invitation to do a series of radio talks for the BBC was prompted no doubt by the book's popularity but also in response to its demonstration of Lewis's ability to write engagingly on complex theological issues for a nonspecialist audience.

The first four successful fifteen-minute talks— “Right and Wrong: A Clue to the Meaning of the Universe?”—were broadcast in August 1941 and later published in Broadcast Talks (1942) and were followed in short order by three more series: “What Christians Believe,” “Christian Behaviour,” and “Beyond Personality,” the last two separately published in 1943 and 1944. Lewis's status as a radio celebrity and as a writer and speaker in great demand was assured by the end of 1942. Throughout the remainder of World War II he pursued an exhausting schedule of speaking engagements arranged by the chaplain-in-chief of the Royal Air Force, and he lectured at numerous churches, theological societies, and religious retreats from then until the end of his life.

Allegorical Fiction Out of the Silent Planet (1938), the first of the so-called Space Trilogy, is a work of allegorical science fiction, in which a scholar is kidnapped by evil scientists. Lewis was a master of allegory, or using a story symbolically to teach a broader moral or philosophical lesson. The Screwtape Letters (1941), for which he is perhaps best known, is a satire in which the Devil, here known as Screwtape, writes letters instructing his young nephew, Wormwood, how to tempt souls to damnation. Of his seven religious allegories for children collectively titled The Complete Chronicles of Narnia (1965) he commented that, “stories of this kind could steal past … inhibitions which had dissuaded him from his own religion.”

Lewis's deft handling of allegory likely derives from G.K. Chesterton, whose Everlasting Man (1925) was instrumental in Lewis's conversion. While in the hospital during 1918 after being wounded in World War I, Lewis had read a volume of Chesterton's essays and later wrote of the experience: “I had never heard of him and had no idea of what he stood for; nor can I quite understand why he made such an immediate conquest of me. …His humor was of the kind which I like best—not ‘jokes’; embedded in the page like currants in a cake, still less (what I cannot endure), a general tone of flippancy and jocularity, but the humor which is not in any way separable from the argument but is rather … the bloom on dialectic itself.”

Later Years Lewis was married, rather late in life, in 1956, to Joy Davidman Gresham, the daughter of a New York Jewish couple. She was a graduate of Hunter College and for a time was a member of the Communist Party. She had previously been married twice. When her first husband suffered a heart attack, she turned to prayer. Reading the writings of Lewis, she began to attend Presbyterian services. Later, led by his writings to Lewis himself, she divorced her second husband, William Gresham, left the Communist Party, and married Lewis. Her death preceded her husband's by some three years. C.S. Lewis died at his home in Headington, Oxford, on November 22, 1963, on the same day that writer Aldous Huxley died and U.S. president John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Works in Literary Context

Though Lewis reportedly read parts of John Milton's challenging Paradise Lost at the age of ten, his early literary influences were more ordinary: adventure novels and the Sherlock Holmes mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle. Later, however, Lewis blossomed intellectually and became an avid scholar of ancient Greek drama and philosophy, Greek and Roman mythology, Irish mythology (an interest he shared with his contemporary W.B. Yeats), Norse mythology (an interest he shared with his friend J.R.R. Tolkien), fairy tales, and the classics of English literature. Literary influences that led Lewis toward Christianity included books by John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), the works of the German mystic Jacob Boehme, Thomas Traheren's Centuries of Meditations (1908), and G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man (1925).

Fantasy and Allegory Allegory is a kind of writing in which objects and characters are used as symbols of concepts. Lewis made memorable use of allegory, a device likely derived from his knowledge of Christian philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas. Lewis knew the allegorical mode quite well: his first autobiography, The Pilgrim's Regress (1933), employs the genre, and one of his outstanding pieces of academic scholarship is The Allegory of Love (1936).

At times, Lewis blended allegory and pure fantasy into a kind of modern myth. In Till We Have Faces (1956), a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, the reader is clearly in the world of mythic narrative, but the book also has allegorical features. Lewis's famous The Chronicles of Narnia is widely accepted as a Christian allegory, though countless young readers have enjoyed it purely as a fantasy story.

Apologetics Lewis's importance as an essayist is identifiable with, and to a great extent owing to, his role as a popular apologist (in this context, apologist means “defender”) for the Christian faith. Christian apology is a long tradition of scholarly explication and defense of the tenets of the faith. Lewis distinguished himself as an apologist by making complex theological concepts approachable and understandable to lay people without pandering or oversimplifying.

Lewis styled himself as a common man addressing concerns faced by all, including both the naive but honest skeptic and the unsophisticated Christian in an intellectually complex world; the title Mere Christianity, a phrase used by the seventeenth-century clergyman Richard Baxter, was meant to evoke the core of Christian belief system and, as well, the common intellectual issues faced by everyday believers or inquirers into the Christian faith.

Works in Critical Context

Lewis's essays have been described by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper, his biographers, as characteristically manifesting a “love of clarity,” with “striking metaphors” and “inexorable logic,” demonstrating the “ability to incapsulate a great many facts into a few words.” Nevill Coghill points to a “weight and clarity of argument, sudden turns of generalization and general paradox, the telling short sentence to sum a complex paragraph, and unexpected touches of personal approach to the reader.”

On the subject of his novels, Corbin Scott Carell writes, “Only an anti-religious bias can deny Lewis a place in the canon of worthwhile minor writers of twentieth century British fiction. He is not one of the giants (as a novelist—he is a giant as a thinker). He is not a Joyce or a Lawrence. But neither is Huxley or Orwell and they continue to be taught.”

The Chronicles of Narnia The seven Narnia books are fantasies written for children but intended to be appreciated by adults. The first book in the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, has achieved fame apart from the rest, winning the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1962. The Narnia books have been both praised and criticized for intermingling mythologies, including not only classical fauns and talking animals but also Father Christmas and a Christ-like lion named Aslan (Turkish for “lion”). Despite mixed critical response, the books have gained popularity over the decades, and a set published in paperback by Puffin between 1977 and 1979 was a best seller.


Lewis's famous contemporaries include:

Joseph Stalin (1879–1953): Supreme dictator of the Soviet Union for a quarter of a century, from the late 1920s until his death.

H.L. Mencken (1880–1956): A journalist, editor, and essayist from Baltimore, Maryland, Mencken was one of the most influential literary figures of the first half of the twentieth century.

Ayn Rand (1905–1982): Russian-born American writer and philosopher who developed the philosophical system known as Objectivism that celebrated individualism and capitalism and rejected organized religion. Her novels The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) were international best sellers.

W.H. Auden (1907–1973): Controversial and influential English poet and author and ardent supporter of Lewis's friend Tolkien's fantasy writings.

Amanda McKittrick Ros (1860–1939): Regarded by many as “the worst writer of all time,” her works were often read during meetings of the Inklings, an Oxford literary club that included Lewis and Tolkien. The object was to see how far the reader could get before he started laughing.

Responses to Literature

  1. An allegory is a composition, whether pictorial or literary, in which immaterial or spiritual realities are directly represented by material objects. Write a short story that is an allegory. Take an abstract concept or a virtue, such as honesty or patience or courage, and write a story in which the main character in human or animal form conveys the characteristics of your chosen abstract concept.
  2. An apologist—from the Greek word meaning speaking in defense—chooses to speak in favor of an unpopular or widely scrutinized position. Choose a position you feel has been unfairly singled out for criticism and write a defense of it. Research the terms “straw man,” “red herring,” and “syllogism” and apply the techniques to your argument.
  3. Watch the 2005 film adaptation The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or the 2008 film adaptation The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, noting where the film follows Lewis's book and where it differs. Consider elements such as theme, plot, dialogue, and characterization. Why do you think the filmmakers decided to make these changes? Prepare a class presentation in which you discuss the differences, but be sure to highlight some similarities as well. Use clips (DVD or VHS) from the movie to support your conclusions.
  4. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (published between 1995 and 2000) is, like Lewis's Narnia series, a saga of children battling dark forces in an alternate world—but Pullman's books take a distinctly anti-church position.compare the “good” and “bad” characters in both series. What qualities make the heroes and heroines admirable? Are the qualities different in the two series? What makes the villains dangerous or evil in the two series?


Lewis focused on explaining or celebrating the Christian faith in many of his works. Other famous works of Christian apologetics include:

City of God (c. 410), a religious treatise by St. Augustine. Augustine wrote City of God to explain the benefits of Christianity and differentiate it from competing religions of the time.

Summa Theologica (c. 1274), a religious treatise by St. Thomas Aquinas. This unfinished work was a summary of the Christian teachings of the time.

The Everlasting Man (1925), a religious treatise by G.K. Chesterton. Lewis was greatly influenced by this history of Christianity.



Caughey, Shanna, ed. Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth and Religion in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles. Dallas, Tex.: BenBella Books, 2005.

Hooper, Walter. C.S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

Ryken, Leland, and Marjorie Lamp Mead. A Reader's Guide through the Wardrobe: Exploring C.S. Lewis's Classic Story. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

Schakel, Peter J. Imagination and the Arts in C.S. Lewis: Journeying to Narnia and Other Worlds. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002.


Moorman, Charles. “Space Ship and Grail: The Myths of C.S. Lewis.” College English (May 1957): vol. 18.8: 401–405.

Niedbala, Amanda M. “From Hades to Heaven: Greek Mythological Influences in C.S. Lewis's The Silver Chair.” Mythlore (Winter-Spring 2006): vol.24.3–4: 71.

Lewis, C. S.

views updated May 18 2018


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)

Lewis, C. S.

views updated May 11 2018


Novelist, critic, poet, essayist, and Christian apologist Clive Staples Lewis (1898–1963) was born in Belfast on November 29, served in France, and was wounded during World War I. He completed his undergraduate studies at University College, Oxford, in 1922, and from 1925 until 1954 was a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and tutor in English. From 1954 until just before his death he was Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge.

Lewis once wrote that although he was a rationalist who had scientific impulses, he could have never been a scientist. He considered the role and direction of science for nearly three decades and mentioned and alluded to it in many of his works. He was aware of its limitations and methodology, and was respectful of its status as a type of knowledge that could be used for the benefit of humanity. Lewis praised genuine scientific accomplishment and said that scientific reason, if accurate, was valid, although it was not the only kind of reasoning. Truth, value, meaning, and other ideals were necessary presuppositions to the scientific method but were not themselves scientific phenomena.

Lewis was sometimes accused of being unscientific and discrediting, or even attacking, scientific thinking. In realityhecriticizedwhathecalled scientism, a reductionist outlook on the world that popularized the sciences. Scientism (science deified) occurred when a naturalistic worldview was linked to the empirical method of experimentation. Scientism as radical empiricism rejected the truth of a nonquantifiable reality such as God.

Lewis saw the Genesis creation accounts as non-literal folk tales or myths. In The Problem of Pain (1940), he presented a modified view of creation and the Fall because scientific evidence that "carnivorousness was older than humanity" had led him to believe that evil had manifested itself long before Adam (Lewis 1940, p. 121). He had a theistic view of evolution but resisted attempts to draw broad philosophical implications from various scientific theories of it. He was never directly opposed to science, but believed many scientific theories were tentative and dependent on changing presuppositions and climates of opinion. Early evidence from his letters indicate that he denied that biological evolution was incompatible with Christianity; in later letters he became increasingly pessimistic about evolutionism as a progressive philosophy. Earlier he felt that the theory of evolution was often held because of dogmatic, not scientific reasons, but he never gave up his long-held view that biological evolution was compatible with Christian accounts of creation. He opposed evolutionism as a philosophical theory, not evolution as a biological theory.

In many of his writings Lewis tried to redefine the role of science and its proper role in society. He believed that scientism was in error in that it reduced life to abstractions and denied the possibility that physical events and human experiences had God behind them. He observed that since scientism was only concerned with how things behave, it was not qualified or capable of looking behind things, particularly the power behind the universe.

In his much-praised defense of natural law, The Abolition of Man (1943), Lewis discussed the possibility of a world that no longer believed in objective truth and value. He saw this as possibly leading to a power struggle in which societal elites tried to control and recondition society. "Man's conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions and billions of men ... Each new power won by man is a power over man as well" (Lewis 1955, p. 70).

Many of Lewis's ideas in The Abolition of Man were expressed dramatically in his space novel That Hideous Strength (1945). In the story, the degeneration of humanity nearly occurs as a result of a gross scientific materialism controlled by bureaucrats that is devoid of all idealistic, ethical, and religious values. Lewis satirized materialistic scientists in That Hideous Strength by showing them as ignoring metaphysical reason and refusing to submit their claims to any kind of moral or religious authority.

He wrote his trilogy of space novels (the others being Out of the Silent Planet [1938], and Perelandra [1943]) as a result of reading Olaf Stapledon's (1886–1950) Last and First Men (1930) and the Cambridge biochemist J. B. S. Haldane's (1892–1964) essay "Man's Destiny" (1927), both of which took interplanetary travel seriously but contained an immoral outlook that denied God. He was openly critical of Stapledon's fictional universes, in which science represented the greatest good and Christian ideals played no essential role. After reading Stapledon's Star Maker (1937), Lewis said that the race Stapledon described was concerned primarily for the increase of its own power by technology, a technology that was indifferent to ethics, and a cancer in the universe.


SEE ALSO Anglo-Catholic Cultural Criticism;Christian Perspectives.


Aeschliman, Michael D. (1998). The Restitution of Man: C. S. Lewis and the Case against Scientism. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. A succinct examination of Lewis's role as spokesman for the classical Christian philosophical tradition that has opposed scientific materialism since the seventeenth century.

Lewis, C. S. (1940). The Problem of Pain. London: Geoffrey Bles.

Lewis, C. S. (1955). The Abolition of Man. New York: Collier Books.

Lewis, C. S. (1996). That Hideous Strength. New York: Scribner.

Philmus, Robert M. (1972). "C. S. Lewis and the Fictions of Scientism." Extrapolation 13(2)(May): 92–101.

Sammons, Martha D. (1976). "C. S. Lewis's View of Science." CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society 7(10)(August): 1–6.

Schultz, Jeffrey D., and John G. West Jr., eds. (1998). The C. S. Lewis Readers' Encyclopedia. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. See particularly entries on M. D. Aeschliman, "science," Perry C. Bramlett, "the fall," Thomas Howard, "that hideous strength," Thomas T. Talbott, "the problem of pain," John G. West, Jr., and "the abolition of man."

Lewis, C. S.

views updated May 23 2018

C. S. Lewis

Born: November 29, 1898
Belfast, Ireland
Died: November 24, 1963
Oxford, England

Irish writer, novelist, and essayist

The Irish novelist and essayist C. S. Lewis was best known for his essays on literature and his explanations of Christian teachings.

Early life and education

On November 29, 1898, Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland. He was the son of A. J. Lewis, a lawyer, and Flora August Hamilton Lewis, a mathematician (expert in mathematics), whose father was a minister. At four years old he told his parents that he wanted to be called "Jack" Lewis, and his family and friends referred to him that way for the rest of his life. Jack's best friend as a boy was his older brother Warren. They did everything together and even created their own made-up country, Boxen, going so far as to create many individual characters and a four-hundred-year history of the country.

Lewis's mother, who had tutored him in French and Latin, died when he was ten years old. After spending a year in studies at Malvern College, a boarding school in England, he continued his education privately under a tutor named W. T. Kirkpatrick, former headmaster (principal) of Lurgan College. During World War I (191418), which began as a conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia but eventually involved much of Europe, Lewis served as a second lieutenant in the English army, interrupting his career as a scholar that he had begun in 1918 at University College, Oxford. Wounded in the war, he returned to Oxford, where he was appointed lecturer at University College in 1924. In 1925 he was appointed fellow (performing advanced study or research) and tutor at Magdalen College, England, where he gave lectures on English literature.

Published works

In 1926 Lewis's first publication, Dymer, appeared under the pseudonym (fake writing name) Clive Hamilton. Dymer revealed Lewis's gift for satire (a work of literature that makes fun of human vice or foolishness). The Pilgrims' Regress, an allegory (an expression of truths about human existence using symbols) published in 1933, presented an apology for Christianity. It was not until the appearance of his second allegorical work, The Allegory of Love (1936), however, that Lewis was honored with the coveted Hawthornden prize.

The Screwtape Letters (1942), for which Lewis is perhaps best known, is a satire in which the devil, here known as Screwtape, writes letters teaching his young nephew, Wormwood, how to tempt humans to sin. Lewis published seven religious allegories for children titled Chronicles of Narnia (1955). He also published several scholarly works on literature, including English Literature in the 16th Century (1954) and Experiment in Criticism (1961).

Although Lewis went on to publish several works involving religion, he had lost interest in it early in life and only later "converted" to Christianity, joining the Anglican Church. His autobiography (the story of his own life), Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, fails to explain what happened in his childhood. His headmaster in boarding school, a minister who urged him to "think" by hitting him, may have contributed to this change.

Later years

Lewis went on to become a professor of English at Cambridge University, England, in 1954. Widely read as an adult, his knowledge of literature made him much sought after for his company and conversation. Lewis thoroughly enjoyed sitting up into the late hours in college rooms talking about literature, poetry, and religion.

In 1956, rather late in life, Lewis married Joy Davidman Gresham, the daughter of a New York Jewish couple. She was a graduate of Hunter College and had previously been married twice. When her first husband suffered a heart attack, she turned to prayer. Reading the writings of Lewis, she began attending church. Later, led by his writings to Lewis himself, she divorced her second husband, Williams Gresham, and married Lewis. She died some three years before her husband. C. S. Lewis died at his home in Headington, Oxford, England, on November 24, 1963. A major collection of his works is held by Wheaton College in Illinois.

For More Information

Adey, Lionel. C. S. Lewis: Writer, Dreamer, and Mentor. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 1998.

Como, James T., ed. C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences. New York: Macmillan, 1979.

Glaspey, Terry W. Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C. S. Lewis. Nashville: Cumberland House, 1996.

Lewis, C. S. Surprised by Joy; the Shape of My Early Life. London: G. Bles, 1955.

Walsh, Chad. The Literary Legacy of C. S. Lewis. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979.

Lewis, C. S.

views updated Jun 08 2018

Lewis, C. S. (1898–1963). Lewis was a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, from 1925 to 1954, and then took the chair of medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge until a few months before his death. He was attached to Magdalene College, but his spiritual and literal home remained Oxford and he went there most weekends. Lewis was born in Belfast, the son of a solicitor, was wounded in the First World War, attended University College, Oxford, as a classicist, but made his career in English literature. His most significant scholarly book was English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (1954). His influence with the wider public came from broadcasts during the war, from his Christian apologetics The Problem of Pain (1940) and The Screwtape Letters (1942), and from his heavily allegorical and highly successful Narnia books for children, beginning with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950).

J. A. Cannon

Lewis, C.S.

views updated May 23 2018

Lewis, C.S. ( Clive Staples) (1898–1963) British critic and writer, b Northern Ireland. His scholarly works include The Allegory of Love (1936) and The Discarded Image (1964). He is best known, however, for the books on religious and moral themes written after his conversion to Christianity, particularly The Screwtape Letters (1942) and his autobiography Surprised by Joy (1955). He wrote a number of highly acclaimed children's books, including the seven ‘Narnia’ stories, beginning with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950).