Introduction to C.S. Lewis

Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis is one of the most successful and influential writers of the 20th century. He wrote the high fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia between 1949 and 1954; its film adaptation would become a worldwide success. He also wrote science fiction (such as The Space Trilogy), essays, books on Christian faith and theology; he was, in fact, one of the most influential lay theologians during his time.

Lewis was born on November 29, 1898, in Belfast, Ireland. He received his first education at home by private tutors. His mother died when he was ten — soon after her death, he would be sent to boarding schools in Britain. He had also become close to his brother, the future military officer and historian Warren Hamilton Lewis.

Besides Christianity, Lewis was devoted to ancient Scandinavian literature particularly the Icelandic sagas and Norse mythology, as well as Greek mythology, combined with a love for nature. These elements would play a significant influence in his later works.

Lewis then moved to Oxford University’s University College, where he was awarded a scholarship. He had also started his literary career while studying English there. In 1917 he volunteered for the British Army during World War I, temporarily stopping his studies. He returned to Oxford, eventually graduating with honors.

Once an atheist since when he was a teenager, Lewis converted to theism in 1929 and Christianity in 1931, eventually joining the Church of England. His conversion might have been influenced by G.K. Chesterton’s apologetic book The Everlasting Man and his constant debates with Oxford mate and friend J. R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien would later be disappointed when Lewis affiliated with the Church of England and not with the Catholic Church as Tolkien had hoped.

Later in his life, Lewis took on professorship of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, although he remained loyal to Oxford in his heart.

After converting to being a theist, Lewis became a Christian apologist. He became a staunch defender of Christianity in the midst of secularism and sectarianism in his native Ireland, which he was seeking to avoid. He presented Christianity in plainer, more rational approach, which was evident in his works Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Miracles.

In 1949 Lewis finished his fantasy novel The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe which would become the first novel of The Chronicles of Narnia series. The story revolves around children who are transported into the magical world of Narnia, encountering the great lion Aslan who appeals to them to fight with the antagonists to restore the kingdom to its rightful ruler. These stories are injected with Christian ideas along with mythological elements.

Until 1956, Lewis finished followed The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle. The Narnia series became an astounding success.

He also wrote some science fiction, the best known is his Space Trilogy series. It centers around the protagonist Elwin Ransom, a philology professor at Cambridge — which many people assume as based on Lewis’ friend Tolkien who was himself a devout Christian and a philologist. It conveys the message that what happens in the Bible can happen in real life. Lewis introduced this genre as “theological/Christian science fiction”.

Lewis also wrote other Christianity-related works such as The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933) and The Great Divorce (1945). He continued his mythologically-inspired works with titles such as Till We Have Faces(1956).

Lewis died on November 22, 1963, just a week before his 65th birthday; his wife, the American writer Joy Davidman, died three years earlier from cancer. His death coincided with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the passing of another author Aldous Huxley, thus Lewis’ own death was greatly overshadowed in terms of coverage.

The Chronicles of Narnia remains Lewis’ most popular work, having sold over 100 million copies and translated into more than 40 languages. It also influenced the works of other writers like Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Greg Egan, Lev Grossman, and J.K. Rowling.

The film adaptations of the Narnia series: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2008), Prince Caspian (2008) and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) have all become high-grossing films with more films to come.

Lewis’ influence in popular culture remains strong and relevant, his books have been selling more and his readership increasing, even many years after his death.

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