Clive Staples Lewis (November 29, 1898 - November 22, 1963), commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis, was an author and scholar. He was born in Belfast, Ireland. He adopted the name "Jack", which is how he was known to his friends and acquaintances. He is known for his work on medieval literature and for his Christian apologetics and fiction, especially The Chronicles of Narnia.
History and Background
Career as a scholar
He taught as a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford for nearly thirty years, and later was the first Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University and a fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Using this position, he argued that there was no such thing as an English renaissance. Much of his scholarly work concentrated on the later Middle Ages, especially its use of allegory. His The Allegory of Love (1936) helped reinvigorate the serious study of late medieval narratives like the Roman de la Rose. Lewis wrote a preface to John Milton's poem Paradise Lost which is still one of the more important critical responses to that work. His last academic publication, The Discarded Image, an Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1964), is an excellent summary of the medieval world view, the "discarded image" of the cosmos in his title.
Lewis was a prolific writer and a member of the literary discussion society The Inklings with his close friends J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield.
Career as a writer of fiction
In addition to his scholarly work he wrote a number of popular novels, including the Space Trilogy of science fiction books: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra (also known by the pulpish title Voyage to Venus), and That Hideous Strength. The trilogy blends traditional science fiction elements with exploration of the Christian themes of sin, fall, and redemption.
The Great Divorce is a short novel about imagined conversations in Heaven between the saved and the damned. In the novel, those who are 'damned' apparently damn themselves, in the sense that nothing prevents them from going to heaven and staying there if they choose. But some find the changes heaven induces threatening or uncomfortable, and so decide to leave. The narrator is chaperoned by the Scottish writer George MacDonald.
Another short novel, The Screwtape Letters, comprises letters of advice from an elderly demon to his nephew. In the letters, Screwtape, the elder demon, instructs his nephew, Wormwood, on the best ways to secure the damnation of a particular human.
The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven fantasy novels for children that is by far the most popular of his works. The books have a Christian allegorical theme and describe the adventures of a group of children who visit a magical land called Narnia. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which was the first published and the most popular book of the series, has been adapted for both stage and screen. The Chronicles of Narnia borrow from Greek and Roman mythology, and traditional English and Irish fairy tales. Lewis cited MacDonald as an influence in writing the series.
Lewis' last novel was Till We Have Faces. Many believe (as he did) that it is his most mature and masterful work of fiction, but it was never a popular success. It is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche from the unusual perspective of Psyche's sister. It is deeply concerned with religious ideas, but the setting is entirely pagan, and the connections with specific Christian beliefs are left implicit.
Prior to Lewis' conversion to Christianity, he published two books: Spirits in Bondage, a collection of poems, and Dymer, a single narrative poem. Both were published under the pen name of Clive Hamilton.
Career as a writer on Christianity
In addition to his career as an English Professor, and his novels, Lewis also wrote a number of books about Christianity—perhaps most famously, Mere Christianity. As an adult convert to the Church of England,he was very much interested in presenting a reasonable case for the truth of Christianity. Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Miracles were all concerned, to one degree or another, with refuting popular objections to Christianity.
He has become popularly known as The Apostle to the Sceptics, because he originally approached religious belief as a sceptic, and felt that he was converted by the evidence. His books on Christianity, therefore have major themes of dealing with perceived problems in accepting Christianity, such as "How could a good God allow pain to exist in the world", which he examined in detail in his work The Problem of Pain.
He wrote an autobiography entitled Surprised by Joy, which describes his conversion (it was written before he met his wife, Joy Gresham). His essays and public speeches on Christian belief, many of which were collected in God in the Dock and The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, remain popular today for their insights into faith.
His most famous work, the Chronicles of Narnia, strongly allegorizes to Christianity.
Portrayals of Lewis' life
Recently there has been some interest in biographical material concerning Lewis. This has resulted in several biographies (including books written by close friends of Lewis, among them Roger Lancelyn Green and George Sayer), at least one play about his life, and a 1993 movie, titled Shadowlands, based on an original stage and television play. The movie fictionalizes his relationship with an American writer, Joy Gresham, whom he met and married in London, only to watch her die slowly from bone cancer. Lewis' book A Grief Observed describes his experience of bereavement, and describes it in such a raw and personal fashion that Lewis originally released it under the pseudonym "N. W. Clerk" to keep readers from associating the book with him (ultimately too many friends recommended the book to Lewis as a method for dealing with his own grief, and he made his authorship public).
Lewis' death and legacy
Lewis died on November 22, 1963, at the Oxford home he shared with his brother, Warren ("Warnie"). He is buried in the Headington Quarry Churchyard, Oxford, England. Media coverage of his death was overshadowed by news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on the same day.
Many books have been inspired by Lewis, including A Severe Mercy by his correspondent Sheldon Vanauken, and numerous Narnia-inspired novels by various hands.
An Anonymous Orthodox?
C.S. Lewis is much loved by many Orthodox Christians who often raise the question, "Was C.S. Lewis an anonymous Orthodox?" Lewis's Atonement Theology and Soteriology, as well as his understandings of heaven and hell, are very similar to that of the Orthodox and stand opposed to traditional Roman Catholic and Protestant understandings of these matters.
Of course, Lewis remained an Anglican throughout his life; however, it is significant to note that for more than a century, and all through Lewis' life, the Anglican and Orthodox churches were studying union. The Orthodox gave up the quest for union in the late 1960s when it became apparent that liberalism, not orthodox theology, would prevail in the Church of England.
It is very fair to describe Lewis as an "Anonymous Orthodox"—his official allegiance lay with the Church of England, but his sympathies lay with the Orthodox. The most thoughtful study of Lewis' relationship to Orthodoxy was written by Bishop Kallistos Ware of Diokleia, who also teaches at Oxford. In an article published in Sobornost (an Anglican-Orthodox Ecumenical magazine) entitled "C.S. Lewis: an 'Anonymous Orthodox'?" he explores this fascinating question. He humbly relates that Lewis has a tendency to "idealize us Orthodox," and affirms that "even though C.S. Lewis' personal contacts with the Orthodox Church were not extensive at the same time his thinking is often profoundly in harmony with the Orthodox standpoint."
Although he can't be looked upon as an Orthodox writer, his consistent sympathy for Orthodoxy has to be considered. As one of his biographers recalls (in "C.S. Lewis and His Times," by George Sayer), after a holiday spent in Greece together with Lewis and his wife, Lewis told him that of all the liturgies he'd ever attended, he preferred the Greek Orthodox liturgy to anything that he had seen in the West, Protestant or Roman Catholic. Then he went on to say that of all the priests and monks that he had ever had the opportunity to meet, the Orthodox priests that he ran across in his sojourn in Greece were the holiest, most spiritual men he had ever met. C.S. Lewis referred to a certain look they had, a sense. Lewis himself, in one of his letters, speaks of having been at an Orthodox liturgy and he said he loved it. He said "some stood, some sat, some knelt and one old man crawled around the floor like a caterpillar." He "absolutely loved it." We only know for sure that C.S. Lewis loved the Orthodox Church, though he never joined it and remained in the Anglican Church.
Till We Have Faces
- "Nothing is yet in its true form."
From On Stories
- "...one of the main things the author wants to say is that the real life of men is of that mythical and heroic quality."
- - p. 89 in "Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings."
- "...the imagined beings have their insides on the outside; they are visible souls." - ibid. (?)
- "The Value of myth is that it takes all the things you know and restores to them the rich significane which has been hidden by the veil of familiarity." - p. 90
- "...we do not retreat from reality, we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves... By dipping them in myth we see them more clearly." - ibid. (?)
Letters to Malcolm
- "What pleased me most about a Greek Orthodox Mass I once attended was that there seemed to be no prescribed behavior for the congregation. Some stood, some knelt, some sat, some walked; one crawled about the floor like a caterpillar. And the beauty of it was that nobody took the slightest notice of what anyone else was doing. I wish we Anglicans would follow their example. One meets people who are perturbed because someone in the next pew does, or does not, cross himself. They oughn’t even to have seen, let alone censured. “Who art thou that judgest Another’s Servant?” – p. 10
More quotes at: Wikiquote:C. S. Lewis
- The Pilgrim's Regress
- Out of the Silent Planet (1938)
- The Screwtape Letters (1942)
- Perelandra (1943)
- The Great Divorce (1945)
- That Hideous Strength (1946)
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)
- Prince Caspian (1951)
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
- The Silver Chair (1953)
- The Horse and His Boy (1954)
- The Magician's Nephew (1955)
- Till We Have Faces (1956)
- The Last Battle (1956)
- Prayer: Letters to Malcolm (1963)
- The Allegory of Love (1936)
- The Problem of Pain (1940)
- The Abolition of Man (1943)
- Mere Christianity (1952, based on radio broadcasts of [943)
- English Literature In the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (1954)
- Reflections on the Psalms (1958)
- Studies in Words (1960)
- The Four Loves (1960)
- A Grief Observed (initially published under the pseudonym "N. W. Clerk") (1961)
- Surprised by Joy (Autobiography)
- The Discarded Image
- The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses
- They Asked for a Paper
Books about C. S. Lewis
- Joseph Pearce, C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, Ignatius Press, 2003 (ISBN 0898709792)
- Clyde Kilby, Jack
- Kathryn Lindskoog, Light in the Shadowlands
- Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia. “C. S. Lewis: An ‘Anonymous Orthodox’?” Sobornost (incorporating Eastern Churches Review) , new series 17.2 (1995) , 9-27.
- Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia. “God of the Fathers: C. S. Lewis and Eastern Christianity.” In David Mills (ed.), The Pilgrim’s Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 53-69.
- Shadowlands (A television movie made for BBC Wales, 1985)
- Shadowlands (A British theatrical movie remake, 1993)
- Into the Wardrobe: a Web site devoted to C. S. Lewis
- In Lenten Lands
- PBS | The Question of God A look at the lives of C.S. Lewis and of Sigmund Freud, analyzing the "question of God"
- C.S. Lewis: 20th-Century Christian Knight
- C.S. Lewis Chronicles A Compendium of Information about Lewis
- The alt.books.cs-lewis FAQ
- C.S. Lewis Classics a website by HarperCollins Publishers
- C.S. Lewis on ISFDB