Youth and Education
Clive Staples Lewis was born on 29 November 1898, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His father Albert was a lawyer; his mother Florence Hamilton was the daughter of an Anglican reverend and mathematician. Lewis didn’t like his name Clive Staples and preferred to be called “Jacksie,” the name of his dog, which died when Lewis was four. By 1903 everyone called him Jacksie, later changed to Jack. Lewis’s parents, who were literary, frequently read to their sons. As a result, Lewis and his older brother Warren “Warnie” Hamilton read many books as children. Together they wrote stories with drawings. In 1911, the brothers created “Boxen,” a fantasy world of talking animals with maps, a history, and an encyclopedia. Lewis later wrote books about the political history of Boxen. This was the beginning of his life as an author. The brothers were educated by their mother and a governess until Lewis was ten.
In 1905, the family moved to “Little Lea,” their new house at the edge of Belfast, while Warnie was sent to boarding school. Three years later, Lewis’s grandfather, uncle and mother died of cancer. His father then separated himself from his two sons. So Lewis was sent to Wynyard School in Watford but he didn’t perform well. His father removed him from the school after he heard Lewis wanted to commit suicide. From 1910 to 1913, Lewis attended colleges in Belfast and Malvern, near Wales. During this time, he became an atheist because of his interests in mythology and the occult. Lewis was also angry at God for not existing and for creating a terrible world. In 1914, he met Arthur Greeves, who was also interested in Norwegian mythology. Their correspondence was later compiled and published as They Stand Together (1979). In September 1914, Lewis moved in with private tutor William Kirkpatrick, who helped him prepare for his exams.
After graduation in 1916, Lewis was awarded a scholarship to Oxford University, but World War I interrupted his studies. He entered the war as a volunteer and was later commissioned as an army officer, where he met Paddy Moore. In 1918, the friends were sent to the front in France, promising one another to take care of the other’s relatives in case of death. That spring, Lewis was injured in battle and during his recovery he heard of Paddy’s death. In 1919, after the war, Lewis moved in with Paddy’s mother and sister. That year he wrote his first book Spirits in Bondage, a collection of poems, under the pseudonym “Clive Hamilton.” Lewis also returned to Oxford University, receiving degrees in Greek and Latin literature, philosophy and ancient history, and English in 1920, 1922, and 1923, respectively. His 1922-1927 diary was posthumously published as All My Roads Before Me (1991).
Lewis met J.R.R. Tolkien, who shared his interest in myths and fairytales, at Oxford University. As a result of conversations with Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, and G. K. Chesterton, and after reading some of Chesterton’s books, Lewis began thinking about atheism and Christianity but he did not want to become a Christian. He wrote of his struggles in his autobiography Surprised by Joy (1955). One morning in 1929, Lewis became a theist as he kneeled and prayed to God. In September 1931, Lewis recognized Jesus as the Son of God and became a Christian, a few months after his brother Warnie. He and Warnie then joined the Church of England. During this time, Lewis sold his parents’ house and together with Warnie and Jane Moore bought The Kilns near Oxford.
Scholar and Author
In 1924, Lewis taught philosophy at University College, Oxford. From 1925 to 1954, he taught English language and literature at Magdalen College. He later became the first Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge University. In 1946, Lewis received an honorary doctorate of theology from St. Andrews University in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In 1931, Lewis, his brother Warnie, Tolkien, and other literary friends began “The Inklings.” During their meetings at Lewis’s rooms in Magdalen College and at local pubs, they read and criticized one another’s stories. The meetings ended in 1949. During this time, Lewis published books in many genres: Dymer (1926), another collection of poems; The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933), a Christian allegory and the first published work after his conversion; The Allegory of Love (1936), a study of medieval romances; the science fiction trilogy Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), and That Hideous Strength (1945); The Screwtape Letters (1942), Lewis’s first popular work; and the Christian fantasy The Great Divorce (1946). Lewis debated literary scholar E. M. Tillyard in The Personal Heresy (1939). He also wrote many theological treatises: Rehabilitations (1939), The Problem of Pain (1940), Christian Behavior (1943), The Abolition of Man (1943), Miracles (1947), and Transposition and other Addresses (1949). And Lewis was a popular radio broadcaster. Many of his talks on Christianity, given between 1941 and 1944, were later published as The Case for Christianity (1942), Christian Behaviour (1942), and Beyond Personality (1944). These three books were then published as Mere Christianity in 1952.
World War II began in September 1939. During the war, Lewis used The Kilns as a hiding place for children evacuated from London, while his brother Warnie fought at the front in France. Lewis was annoyed at the lack of good fantasy literature for children. So he decided to create a new fantasy world for them. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first book in the new series The Chronicles of Narnia, was published in 1950. It increased Lewis’s popularity. Each year thereafter, Lewis published a new part in the series. The Last Battle, the seventh and final book, was published in 1956.