Who was C. S. Lewis?
Have you ever read or watched The Chronicles of Narnia? Have you ever wondered about who wrote it? A few weeks ago, after watching the movie C. S. Lewis: The Most Reluctant Convert, a movie about C. S Lewis’s life and how he became a Christian, I decided to do a little research regarding who Clive Staples Lewis was and why he is such an important figure in literature. In this article I will explore key events of his life and explain why the fact that such a famous western literary scholar published several books on his religion.
“At this point he lost not only his mother, but also, in effect, his father. Albert Lewis, perhaps out of grief, withdrew and decided to send both sons to a boarding school.”
C. S. Lewis had a quite remarkable spiritual journey through his life, and it’s no wonder they made two movies about it. Lewis’s life was a constant war between his faithful side and his atheistic side. The first battle of this war was in the year of 1908, when Lewis lost his beloved mother, Florence Augusta Lewis, who died of cancer when Lewis was only nine years old. Grief and the lack of the security his mother used to provide him, engulfed the poor boy. Lewis was not the only one in his family to be traumatized. In fact, according to what Art Lindsley wrote in an article for the C.S. Lewis Institute, “At this point he lost not only his mother, but also, in effect, his father. Albert Lewis, perhaps out of grief, withdrew and decided to send both sons to a boarding school.”
Now, as if losing his mother was not enough, Lewis and his brother had to leave the house in which they were raised, to go to a boarding school while his father slowly went insane with grief. Through the course of his time at that boarding school, Lewis frequently attended church and thoroughly invested time and effort in his beliefs. He would pray every night, but he started to develop a common problem among Christians, which he described as “false conscience.” According to the same article, “he [Lewis] had been told that it was not enough to say your prayers but also to think about what you were saying. As soon as he had finished his prayers each night, he would ask himself, ‘Are you sure you were really thinking about what you were saying?’ The answer was inevitably ‘No.’"
Like most Christians, Lewis felt an urge to talk to God on a daily basis. However, when talking to God, he wouldn’t profoundly reflect upon what he was saying and would simply repeat the words he had learned in church. In time, various factors such as doubts, the existence of evil and sexual temptations gradually moved Lewis away from Christianity.
“much of the clarity of his writing, his careful choice of words, his considered arguments for the faith, and his later tutorial style were shaped during this period.”
During this time, Lewis, who by then was 16, was sent away again, this time, to be tutored by W.T. Kirkpatrick, or as he was often called "Great Knock." Great Knock taught young Lewis to think critically and to embrace his opinions. In Lindsley’s words, “much of the clarity of his writing, his careful choice of words, his considered arguments for the faith, and his later tutorial style were shaped during this period.”
During his years being tutored, Lewis would read an innumerable amount of books and learn languages such as Latin and German. A few years later, when working on the English faculty at Oxford University, Lewis met a man who he would later owe his faith to. This man was J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien and Lewis were close friends who would meet each other on a daily basis. As a matter of fact, Lewis was a member of Tolkien’s Inklings, an informal literary discussion group. Tolkien was a devout Christian man, while Lewis, at the time, who adhered to a materialistic (as opposed to spiritual) view of the universe. As any good materialist, Lewis would argue that life is limited to what is perceivable by human senses. Tolkien would constantly challenge Lewis’s beliefs asking questions such as the reason behind existence. Tolkien was one of the greatest influences in Lewis’s faith. After years of battling against his own faith and under numerous influences, Clive Staples Lewis was reluctantly converted from atheism to Christianity, leading to the movie title C. S. Lewis: The Most Reluctant Convert.
Now converted, Lewis would write a number of books regarding his faith. According to Lindsley, “over the next thirty years Lewis produced a stream of books. He wrote capably in a number of types of literature: philosophical and apologetic works about faith in Christ such as Miracles, The Problem of Pain, Abolition of Man, and Mere Christianity; more imaginative books on the faith such as Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce; fictional children's books, The Narnia Chronicles[...].” This enormous list provided by Lindsley demonstrates only a part of Lewis's great contributions to literature.
Literature is reflecting what is going on during the time periods that it is written in.
You might be wondering, “Ok, this old man, C. S. Lewis was a Christian who wrote a lot of books, so what? Why should I care?” As I said at the beginning of this article, C. S. Lewis is a renowned writer who wrote about his religion, which is something crucial to literature because literature is a home for culture. According to what Ms. O’Connor said in an after-class interview, “It [literature] is a recording of what people thought about their lives since people could write. [...] Literature is reflecting what is going on during the time periods that it is written in.” In other words, literature reflects the society in which it is written and their view of the world. C. S. Lewis is an extremely important figure because he reflects through his works an important fragment of our society, which is religion.
“The word religion comes from a Latin root, which means ‘to tie fast’ or ‘to be connected to.’ If you think about it, that’s what religions do."
Religion plays a key role not only in culture but also in the concept of society itself. According to what Mr. Wuttke said in an interview, “The word religion comes from a Latin root, which means ‘to tie fast’ or ‘to be connected to.’ If you think about it, that’s what religions do. Religions form a sense of community amongst the people who are practicing it. So, it is a set of beliefs that creates unity amongst people and often provides necessities in life, what proper behavior looks like, what morals people should have and in some cases it provides people with a hope for the future [...] You will not find a culture anywhere in the world that doesn’t have some sort of religious practice or idea associated with it [...] It’s absolutely a crucial part of culture.”
In his remarks, Mr. Wuttke stressed the importance of religion by providing numerous great examples of how religion binds groups of people and what it provides them with in a philosophical sense. Religion influences a society’s ideologies, which are in simple terms, the non-material branch of culture.
C. S. Lewis was an esteemed writer who through the course of his life endured a continuous conflict between his religious and his atheistic side. Due to several influences such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis converted to Christianity. The fact that such an accomplished practitioner of prose who penned one of the most famous childrens’ book series wrote about religion, a subject generally untouched by modern fiction writers, makes him an incredibly important author.