"Like his fellow genius Tolkien, CS. Lewis has redefined the
nature of fantasy, adding richness, beauty, and dimension.
His Narnia chronicles are not only breathtaking and heartlifting
adventures for young and old, they are, as well, reflections
of Lewis's most deeply held beliefs in matters of faith and
hope, good and evil, the truly miraculous and the miraculously
true. In our times, every fantasy realm must be measured in
comparison with Narnia."
by Ann-Marie Imbornoni
C. S. Lewis, or Jack Lewis, as he preferred to be called, was born
in Belfast, Ireland (now Northern Ireland) on November 29, 1898.
He was the second son of Albert Lewis, a lawyer, and Flora Hamilton
Lewis. His older brother, Warren Hamilton Lewis, who was known as
Warnie, had been born three years earlier in 1895.
Lewis's early childhood was relatively happy and carefree. In those
days Northern Ireland was not yet plagued by bitter civil strife,
and the Lewises were comfortably off. The family home, called
Little Lea, was a large, gabled house with dark, narrow passages
and an overgrown garden, which Warnie and Jack played in and
explored together. There was also a library that was crammed
with books—two of Jack's favorites were Treasure Island
by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson
A Painful Loss
This somewhat idyllic boyhood came to an end for Lewis when his
mother became ill and died of cancer in 1908. Barely a month
after her death the two boys were sent away from home to go
to boarding school in England.
Lewis hated the school, with its strict rules and hard, unsympathetic
headmaster, and he missed Belfast terribly. Fortunately for
him, the school closed in 1910, and he was able to return
After a year, however, he was sent back to England to study. This
time, the experience proved to be mostly positive. As a teenager,
Lewis learned to love poetry, especially the works of Virgil
and Homer. He also developed an interest in modern languages,
mastering French, German, and Italian.
An Oxford Scholar
In 1916 Lewis was accepted at University College, the oldest
college (founded 1249) at Oxford University. Oxford, along
with Cambridge University, had been a leading center of learning
since the Middle Ages. Soon after he entered the University,
however, Lewis chose to volunteer for active duty in World
War I, to serve in the British Army then fighting in the muddy
trenches of northern France.
Following the end of the war in 1918, Lewis returned to Oxford, where
he took up his studies again with great enthusiasm. In 1925,
after graduating with first-class honors in Greek and Latin
Literature, Philosophy and Ancient History, and English Literature,
Lewis was elected to an important teaching post in English
at Magdalen College, Oxford. He remained at Oxford for 29
years before becoming a professor of medieval and renaissance
literature at Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 1955.
Lewis the Writer
In addition to his teaching duties at the University, Lewis began
to publish books. His first major work, The Pilgrim's Regress
(1933), was about his own spiritual journey to Christian faith.
Other works followed that won him acclaim not only as a writer
of books on religious subjects, but also as a writer of academic
works and popular novels. The Allegory of Love (1936), which
is still considered a masterpiece today, was a history of love
literature from the early Middle Ages to Shakespeare's time;
Out of the Silent Planet (1938) was the first of a trilogy of
science fiction novels, the hero of which is loosely modeled
on Lewis's friend J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the children's classic
Initially when Lewis turned to writing children's books, his publisher
and some of his friends tried to dissuade him; they thought
it would hurt his reputation as writer of serious works. J.R.R.
Tolkien in particular criticized Lewis's first Narnia book,
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He thought that there
were too many elements that clashed—a Father Christmas
and an evil witch, talking animals and children. Thankfully,
Lewis didn't listen to any of them.
Love at Last
Following the publication of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1950,
Lewis quickly wrote 6 more Narnia books, publishing the final
one, The Last Battle, in 1956. Although they were not well received
at first by critics and reviewers, the books gained in popularity
through word of mouth. The Narnia books have since sold more
than 100 million copies and are among the most beloved books
of classic children's literature.
The Final Years
After finishing the Narnia series, Lewis continued to write on autobiographical
and religious subjects, but less prolifically. Mainly he was
preoccupied with the health crises of his wife, Joy Gresham,
whom he married in 1956 and who died of cancer in 1960.
After her death, Lewis's own health deteriorated, and in the summer
of 1963 he resigned his post at Cambridge. His death, which
occurred on November 22, 1963—the same day President
Kennedy was assassinated—was only quietly noted. He
is remembered, however, by readers the world over, whom he
has delighted and inspired for generations.