The British novelist and essayist Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) was an established literary figure whose impact is increasingly recognized by scholars and teachers.
On November 29, 1898, Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland. He was the son of A. J. Lewis, a solicitor, and Flora August Hamilton Lewis, whose father was a clergyman. The death of his mother occurred when he was a child. After spending a year in studies at Malvern College, he continued his education privately under the tutelage of W. T. Kirkpatrick, formerly headmaster of Lurgan College.
During World War I he served as a second lieutenant in the infantry, interrupting his career as scholar begun in 1918 at University College, Oxford. Wounded in the war, he returned to Oxford, where in 1924 he was appointed lecturer at University College. In 1925 he was appointed fellow and tutor at Magdalen College, England, where he lectured on English literature.
Lewis early grew disillusioned with religion and only later "converted" to Christianity, joining the Anglican Church. Taciturn about the details of his early life, his autobiography, Surprised by joy: The Shape of My Early Life, fails to provide enlightenment and leaves the Lewis scholar to speculations about his childhood and early disenchantment with emotional Christianity. Perhaps his headmaster, a clergyman who urged him to "think" by application of the rod, contributed to his dissuasion.
His autobiography does reveal, however, that he had little interest in sports as a boy and that he was a voracious reader. Among his early favorite authors was G. K. Chesterton who was himself a paradoxical and religious writer.
Widely read as an adult, his knowledge of literature was prodigious and made of him a superb conversationalist much sought after for his company. Lewis thoroughly enjoyed sitting up into the wee hours in college rooms" … talking nonsense, poetry, theology, and metaphysics over beer, tea, and pipes."
His subjects at Oxford were medieval and Renaissance English literature, in which he became a scholar, lecturer, and tutor of renown. His 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.
In 1926 his first publication, Dymer, a narrative versification in Rime Royal, appeared under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton. Dymer revealed something of his satirical gift. The Pilgrims' Regress, an allegory 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 received acclaim by winning the coveted Hawthornden prize.
His Pilgrims' Regress is a work of allegorical science fiction, in which a philologist is kidnapped by evil scientists. The Screwtape Letters (1942), 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 titled Chronicles of Narnia (1955) he commented that, "stories of this kind could steal past … inhibitions which had dissuaded him from his own religion." … "An obligation to feel can freeze feeling." His later rejoining of Christianity was philosophical, not emotional.
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 belonged to 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, Williams Gresham, left the Communist Party, and married Lewis. Her death proceeded her husband's by some three years. C. S. Lewis died, at his home in Headington, Oxford, on November 24, 1963. A major collection of his works is held by Wheaton College in Illinois.
Further Reading on Clive Staples Lewis
Lewis's autobiography Surprised by Joy (1955) was written at age 57. Later biographical information is contained in Letters of C. S. Lewis (1966) as edited by W. H. Lewis. Further insights to the artist's life are provided in C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and other Reminiscences (1979), edited by James T. Como. C. S. Lewis's works include: "Out of the Silent Planet" (1938); "Rehabilitations" (1939); "The Personal Heresy" with E. M. W. Tillyard (1939); "A Preface to Paradise Lost" (1942); "The Case for Christianity" (1942); "Perelandra" (1943); "Christian Behavior" (1943); "Abolition of Man" (1943); "Beyond Personality" (1944); "That Hideous Strength" (1945); "Miracles" (1947); "Weight of Glory" (1949); "Mere Christianity" (1952); and "Studies in Words" (1960).