Who Was C.S. Lewis?
Writer and scholar C.S. Lewis taught at Oxford University and became a renowned Christian apologist writer, using logic and philosophy to support the tenets of his faith. He is also known throughout the world as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia fantasy series, which have been adapted into various films for the big and small screens.
Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, on November 29, 1898, to Flora August Hamilton Lewis and Albert J. Lewis. As a toddler, Clive declared that his name was Jack, which is what he was called by family and friends. He was close to his older brother Warren and the two spent much time together as children.
Lewis was enraptured by fantastic animals and tales of gallantry, and hence the brothers created the imaginary land of Boxen, complete with an intricate history that served them for years. Lewis' mother died when he was 10, and he went on to receive his pre-college education at boarding schools and from a tutor. During WWI, he served with the British army and was sent home after being wounded by shrapnel. He then chose to live as a surrogate son with Janie Moore, the mother of a friend of Lewis' who was killed in the war.
Teaching Career at Oxford and Wartime Broadcasts
Lewis graduated from Oxford University with a focus on literature and classic philosophy, and in 1925 he was awarded a fellowship teaching position at Magdalen College, which was part of the university. There, he also joined the group known as The Inklings, an informal collective of writers and intellectuals who counted among their members Lewis' brother Warren and J.R.R. Tolkien. It was through conversations with group members that Lewis found himself re-embracing Christianity after having become disillusioned with the faith as a youth. He would go on to become renowned for his rich apologist texts, in which he explained his spiritual beliefs via platforms of logic and philosophy.
Lewis began publishing work including Spirits in Bondage in 1919 and the satirical Dymer in 1926. After penning other titles — including The Allegory of Love (1936), for which he won the Hawthornden Prize — he released in 1938 his first sci-fi work, Out of the Silent Planet, the first of a space trilogy which dealt sub-textually with concepts of sin and desire. Later, during WWII, Lewis gave highly popular radio broadcasts on Christianity which won many converts; his speeches were collected in the work Mere Christianity.
Books and Film Legacy
Lewis was a prolific author of fiction and nonfiction who wrote dozens of books over the course of his career. His faith-based arguments as seen in texts like The Great Divorce (1946) and Miracles (1947) are held in high regard by many theologians, scholars and general readers. His satirical fiction novel The Screwtape Letters (1942) is also a beloved classic. Lewis also continued his love affair with classic mythology and narratives during his later years: His book Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold (1956) featured the story of Psyche and Cupid. He also penned an autobiography, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1955).
Lewis' landmark series, The Chronicles of Narnia, has seen a number of on-screen iterations, including a cartoon version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe that was released in 1979 and a 1989 film series. Additionally, in 2005, a big-screen adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe hit movie theaters, starring Tilda Swinton as the witch Jadis and Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan. Two more Narnia films were brought to theaters as well: Prince Caspian (2008) and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010). A movie version of The Silver Chair was slated to hit theaters in the near future, with filming starting in the winter of 2018.
Lewis' relationship with his wife, Joy, has also been depicted in Shadowlands, presented as a play and two films; one of the film versions was directed by Richard Attenborough and starred Anthony Hopkins as Lewis.
'The Chronicles of Narnia'
During the 1940s, Lewis began writing the seven books that would comprise The Chronicles of Narnia children's series, with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) being the first release. The story focused on four siblings who, during wartime, walk through an armoire to enter the magical world of Narnia, a land resplendent with mythical creatures and talking animals. Throughout the series, a variety of Biblical themes are presented; one prominent character is Aslan, a lion and the ruler of Narnia, who has been interpreted as a Jesus Christ figure. (Lewis would assert that his Narnia stories weren't a direct allegory to the real world.)
Though the book received some negative reviews, it was generally well-received by readers, and the series retained its international popularity over the following decades.
In 1954, Lewis joined the faculty of Cambridge University as a literature professor, and in 1956 he married an American English teacher, Joy Gresham, with whom he had been in correspondence. Lewis was full of happiness during the years of their marriage, though Gresham died of cancer in 1960. Lewis grieved deeply for his wife and shared his thoughts in the book A Grief Observed, using a pen name.
In 1963, Lewis resigned from his Cambridge position after experiencing heart trouble. He died on November 22, 1963, in Headington, Oxford.
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