December 1999 English 101 Research Paper

The Life of C.S. Lewis

When authors write their books, they can bring life into a story by making one's imagination come alive, as colors, thoughts, sounds, smells, feelings, and touchable objects dance across the page. The person who is reading these books seems to be drawn into a new world while observing these new sensations, and, all the while, is simply viewing symbols on paper. Some authors are able to bring highly intelligent, new thoughts into the lives of these readers. There have been many types of authors in the past, and there will be many more to come in the future, yet there are certain authors that one wishes they could keep forever. This is the author that brings more answers into life, understands the deepest conflicts and thoughts of a person, explains those thoughts, and then, making absolutely perfect sense to the reader, will bring a flood of inspiration, hope, and excitement into that reader's life. Unfortunately, as readers are reading these books, they hardly seem to wonder about the life of the author himself. Many authors have had lives full of stories, experiences, and learning; however, people rarely wonder about these things. Clive Staples Lewis, well-known as C.S Lewis, was an author that had amazing things to say in life, and his books are still adding variety, and added meaning into his reader's life through the media of allegories, life stories, or just common sense. There are many things that one can learn about C.S. Lewis; from these, one can learn about C.S. Lewis' life history and about his belief in the things that he loved to write about. The history of Clive Staples Lewis is fascinating, and it is filled with sadness and happiness. C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, in November 1898. Even before he could write at the age of three, C.S. Lewis was already making up stories; and, when he finally could write, he started to make up verses. C.S. Lewis had a brother named Warren who was three years older than he was, and they cherished each other's friendship. Warren and Clive were very close brothers to the very end of their lives, and they lived together in their last years. They both were raised in a home that had a foundation of Christianity; yet when C.S. Lewis was only ten years old, their mother died, making C.S. Lewis want the God, to Whom he had prayed to keep his mother alive, to go away. After his mother died so early in his life, C.S. Lewis moved to England in 1908 with his brother to go to a certain school. This school had given to him genuine Christian training, and he became sincere in 'practicing' Christianity. As an avid learner, who wanted to learn all there was to be learned, Lewis began to seriously read the Bible and pray during this time. These very dramatic changes in C.S. Lewis' life became only a small part of his history (Kilby 9). After certain transitions in the life of C.S. Lewis, many things transpired. A new college he attended changed many of his ideas, and he ceased in the attempts to be a "Christian". He began to love England, dress in fancier clothes, and practice immorality -which dredged up his old desire for romance- and he began to write again. He became highly interested in books, especially the ones dealing with Greek mythology. He was also fascinated with the author George MacDonald. From all the books that he enjoyed, C.S. Lewis made progress in the languages of Greek, Latin, French, German, and Italian. One could never say that he never lived life, or that he never learned from it. At the age of fifteen years old, Lewis, being tutored by an atheist tutor, emphatically declared himself an atheist. Soon, after abandoning his belief in God, Lewis began to write of his opposition to the idea of God. Transitions in his life history continued on as he searched for the joy that he said he had desired from his childhood (9). At nineteen years of age, even though he had just begun his studies at the Oxnard University, C.S. Lewis was recruited into the army for the Great War. In the next year, 1918, Lewis suffered from trench fever and was hospitalized. He was glad to be away from the battlefront but was soon back fighting in his battalion. Still, his time there did not last long as he was then wounded in action after shrapnel hit him in his chest. C.S. Lewis was once again hospitalized. During this time he made light of the fact that he had brought in about sixty German soldiers as prisoners. In this time of recovery from his injuries from the war, C.S. Lewis took the opportunity to study more and more books, increasing his knowledge further (10). The following year, after he was able to leave the hospital, C.S. Lewis published his first book called the Spirits in Bondage, a volume of lyric poems. The main theme, he said later, was that "nature is wholly diabolical and malevolent and that God, if he exists, is outside and in opposition to the cosmic arrangement." The few years that followed this book were filled with prizes won, such as the Chancellor's Prize; poetry and story writing; jobs, like working at the university as a tutor; and being elected to a Fellowship in English Language and Literature at Magdalene College in Oxford (where he stayed until 1954). C.S. Lewis became friends with many people during this time, including well-known authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien and George MacDonald. Tolkien and MacDonald became very influential in C.S. Lewis' later decisions and in his later publications (10). In 1929, after not having found what he had been searching for all his life, C.S. Lewis finally found the joy that he had desired. His arguments against God were dramatically changed as his concepts of life, right and wrong, and knowledge were expanded by his studies and reason. C.S. Lewis finally ended his fight with the God that he once denounced by saying, " "You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalene, night after night feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England" (Lewis4 1)." In the fall of 1933, Lewis and his friends began a group named "The Inklings." This group continued to meet for the next sixteen years on Mondays and Thursdays; included in this group were such men as J. R. R. Tolkien, Dr. Robert Havard, Owen Barfield, Hugo Dysen, and many others. These meetings were always filled with discussions of ideas and beliefs, and the strengthening of each other's thoughts and foundations. These friends always sparked each other's interests in so many ways, making each other think of new questions to ask about life, and then try to answer them. C.S. Lewis' brother, Warren Lewis, had fond memories of these times and, in the past, has described what these meetings were like: " "When half a dozen or so had arrived, tea would be produced, and then when pipes were well alight Jack (C.S. Lewis) would say, 'Well, has nobody got anything to read to us?'. Out would come a manuscript, and we would settle down to sit in judgement upon it - real unbiased judgement, too, since we were no mutual admiration society: praise for good work was unstinted, but censor for bad work - or even not-so-good work - was often brutally frank….sometimes, though not often, it would happen that no one would have anything to read to us. On these occasions the fun would be riotous, with Jack at the top of his form, and enjoying every minute…an outpouring of wit, nonsense, whimsy, dialectical swordplay, and pungent judgement such as I had rarely heard equalled….(Lewis1 197)." Throughout these thought-provoking years, C.S. Lewis produced books such as Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, Abolition of man, The Great Divorce, and Beyond Personality. He also gave live radio talks with subjects such as, What Christians Believe, Christian Behavior, and Right and Wrong. Lewis was once argued against by a Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge about the idea that "Naturalism is Self-refuting", causing Lewis to revise Chapter three of his book Miracles when it was reprinted. Two years later, Lewis was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and declined election to the Order of the British Empire. C.S. Lewis' books, including his Chronicles of Narnia, became highly known and sought as readers everywhere read these books and discovered the treasure that these books held (Proquest). In 1952, Lewis met, for the first time in person, a woman who had been writing to him for a long time. This woman's name was Joy Davidman. Joy was married and had two sons from this marriage. Joy was a very smart woman who had many questions and thoughts that she wanted to share with C.S. Lewis. Joy and her husband had been staunch atheists and had been very active in the Communist party in the United States. Joy had changed and became a Christian after a night when she felt God's presence in the room with her during a difficult experience with her husband. This change was confirmed and nourished through the reading of Lewis' books. Throughout the following years, Lewis and Davidman began to write back and forth, and their discussions brought more life into their own lives. After Joy's husband fell in love with another woman, and wanted a divorce, Joy and her two boys began to visit Lewis in England more often. Not long after this, C.S. Lewis decided to legally marry Joy only for the convenience of letting Joy and her sons retain a British citizenship in England. In the beginning, Lewis and Davidman had no feelings for each other because they were only friends who enjoyed each other's company; however, Joy and C.S. Lewis began to look at each other in a new light. Slowly, Lewis and Davidman fell in love with one another (Kilby 15). At first, C.S. Lewis did not want to get married in the sense of "husband and wife" because he thought that he would not know how to go about "being a husband". He was scared, considering that he had never been married before. Even after they were legally married, Joy and C.S. Lewis did not live in the same home. Soon after their "marriage", Joy became seriously ill with cancer, leaving C.S. Lewis realizing what a fool he had become because it had taken Joy's illness to make him realize that he really loved her. C.S. Lewis asked Joy to marry him because of love this time, and she said yes. Though C.S. and Joy desired to marry each other in the true sense, they could not find a pastor who would marry them because Joy had been married before, and her husband was still alive. Trying hard to find one who would marry them, Lewis and Davidman finally found a pastor-friend who had changed his mind. With gratefulness, C.S. Lewis and Joy married each other with her hospital bed as the alter; Lewis wrote friends that he might become both husband and widower at the same time. Thankfully, Joy was pronounced well enough to go home not long after their marriage, and the newly married couple later had a belated honeymoon. Since the time that he lost his mother, Lewis finally trusted his love to another woman in his lifetime, and he was now happily married (Ackland). C.S. Lewis and Joy's time with each other was spent in fun, in love, yet, in fear. Joy's cancer was in remission for a short time, but soon the cancer returned full force. In April of 1960, C.S. Lewis and Joy decided to travel to Greece to have a few exciting moments and memories together. Soon, however, Joy's health slowly deteriorated, and two months after they returned from the trip to Greece that Joy had set her heart on, she passed away. C.S. Lewis stayed by Joy's side until the end, praying that God would take her pain away, and He did. C.S. Lewis said that, "The night before she died we had a long, quiet, nourishing, and tranquil talk." Their time together was short; yet the love they had for each other was worth a lifetime (Kilby 15). During the next couple of years, after C.S. Lewis broke through the grief of losing his wife, C.S. Lewis was able to build a relationship with Joy's sons through the bond of their love for Joy. C.S. Lewis also published three or four more pieces of his work in these years, including A Grief Observed and They Asked for Paper. C.S. Lewis also resigned his position at Cambridge during the summer, and was elected an Honorary Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Throughout this time, he was fighting through certain illnesses, and in July of 1963 he went into a coma. Because of this, Lewis was expected to die, yet he recovered; Lewis said that he was "disappointed not to have been able to enter a door that he saw before him (15)." C.S. Lewis continued to look forward to the day that he would be able to see Joy again. Clive Staples Lewis did not have to wait long before he could be welcomed through the door that he saw during his coma. On the same day of the assassination of President Kennedy, on November 22, 1963, C.S. Lewis died from a combination of his different ailments. He died only one week prior to his sixty-fifth birthday. C.S. Lewis was buried in his parish church's churchyard with few people present. Warren Lewis (who died ten years after C.S.) left the inscription 'Men must endure their going hence' on his brother's headstone (Proquest). C.S. Lewis' books throughout most of his life declared to the world what he believed. His faith and beliefs grew stronger in God the more he went through trials in his life, and he overcame many arguments against what others would call the lack of logic. After the many years of C.S. Lewis' unbelief, after the many long talks with Christian friends who were captivating authors, and after he realized what his life was missing, C.S. Lewis stated, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else (Lewis3 1)." C.S. Lewis was one who did not just say what he believed, but he projected what he believed through his walk in life. He proudly declared his belief in God the Father, the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. A good friend of C.S. Lewis, Clyde S. Kilby, once said, "For at least twenty-three years, God patiently let His light fall on the child, the boy, the young atheist, the sinner, until finally in his rooms at Magdalene he acknowledged that God was God. Thereafter, like Saint Paul, Lewis grew to hate many of the things that he once loved and to love some he had hated. The conception of Jesus, Yeshua, as a man-created myth was dropped. Gone, too, was the sophistication that had once assured Arthur [his boyhood friend that he once argued against] that "educated and thinking people" reject the idea of Christ as Savior. These ideas were not only abandoned, they were reversed; and Lewis became their brilliant opponent (Kilby 22)." Lewis had an unstoppable fire in his heart that could not be put out by any other person, and he used that flame, that he believed to have been put there by God, to burn down the pessimism and unbelief of many an intelligent and anti-theistic man. He had the ability to argue for the beliefs that he once believed were wrong. It was not a matter of being fickle, it was a matter of finally finding the truth that proved to have filled his life with meaning and with a sense of fullness and joy. He was not a weak man. He was only a man who longed for the fullness that all of man has desired through the centuries. He said that he had tried to fill his life with other things so that he could fill that empty spot in his soul, but the only thing in the end that accomplished this feat was his belief and submission to God. C.S. Lewis insisted that, "Similarly, God understands and shares the wish that is at the root of our evil - the desire for forward movement toward ultimate happiness - and the sinful post around which we have tangled our leads. But by the fact of His sovereign knowledge of what is actually good for us, He must not sympathize or agree with us, but the opposite (Kilby 21)." In later years, Lewis taught over and over that "Aslan is not a tame lion," that is, Christ is loving, but He is not at all weak. He will not indulge us. On the contrary, His very nature makes Him unyielding to anything other than our absolute need of Himself (22). In his book, Mere Christianity, Lewis pointed out: "If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course, if you think some things really bad, and God really good, then you cannot talk like that. You must believe that God is separate from the world, and that some of the things we see are contrary to His will (Lewis2 45)." His argument against God had been that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust; yet, he realized that since he naturally knew and learned that there was a difference between just and unjust, he must have that exact choice to do justly and unjustly. He realized that God meant for others to be good, and, so that they could not claim to be a type of robot, God allowed for them to have a free will. Through all the arguments, Lewis could see that it was the condition of his own heart that mattered, and, when he did something wrong, he could only blame that on himself, not God. The consuming fire in Lewis' heart continued to burn down the ideas of a weak, hateful God, and shared with the world that God is not only a powerful, omnipotent God, but that He is a loving God. The history and beliefs of C.S. Lewis are fascinating for others to learn about; his books are filled with logic, and they make sense to the ones that still continue to read them after his death. After C.S. Lewis died, his friend Walter Hooper (who assisted with arranging Lewis' works) wrote, "Christianity was never for him a separate department of life (Rushman 1)." C.S. Lewis' beliefs were tightly entwined throughout all that he did. In the end, this passionate and courageous author believed deeply in his hope of spending eternity with the God that he now confessed as his Lord, and he wished that others would understand and share his hope. C.S Lewis once said, "What can you really know of other people's souls - of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him. You cannot put Him off with speculations about your next door neighbors, or memories of what you have read in books. What will all that chatter and hearsay count (will you even be able to remember it?) when the anaesthetic fog which we call "nature" or "in the real world" fades away and the Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate, and unavoidable (184)?" Now, as C.S. Lewis' hopes and beliefs are being proven over and over at this very moment, one can almost hear him say, "It does not matter at all." Works Cited Kilby, Clyde S. C.S.Lewis: Images of His World. 3d ed. Michigan: William B. Eerdman Publishing Co. Copyright 1973: 9,10,12,15, 21, 22. Lewis1, Warren H. The Letters of C.S. Lewis. 1st ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and Collins and Sons, and Co. Copyright 1966: 197 Lewis2, Clive S. Mere Christianity. 1st ed. New York: Touchstone, Inc. Copyright 1996: 45, Lewis3, Clive S. Surprised by Joy. 1st ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and Collins and Sons, and Co. Copyright 1955: 1. Lewis4, Clive S. Weight of Glory. 23 Nov. 1999. 1. Proquest. Chronology of the Life and Works of C.S. Lewis. 1 Dec. 1999. 2. Rushman, Dr. "C.S. Lewis." White Stone Journal. 12 Dec. 1999. 1. Shadowlands. Maj. Performer: Joss Ackland. Gateway Films/ Vision Video, 1985. Pennsylvania: Gateway Films/ BBC, 1985.

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C.S. Lewis aged 50


Clive Staples Lewis, 29 November 1898

Belfast, Ireland


22 November 1963 (aged 64) Oxford, England


Novelist, scholar, broadcaster