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C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)

One of the truly towering intellects of the twentieth century, Clive Staples Lewis was a Christian apologist, moral mythologist, scholar and writer, born in Belfast, N. Ireland. Lewis taught at Magdalene College, Oxford from 1925-54 and from 1954 at Cambridge. His time at Oxford brought him into an association with some of his peers, who gathered regularly in their rooms or at local public houses to recite their personal work to each other. This group, who came to be known as the Inklings, included J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams.

The central event in Lewis' life was his conversion to Christianity, a process which occupied the years 1929-31, and which provided the foundation for all his later work. Lewis documents his spiritual odyssey in the book, "Surprised By Joy" (1955). He came to the attention of the public as a result of a series of radio broadcasts during World War II, in which his ability to present deep Christian truth in a simple and engaging way won him wide popularity with the listening audience. That popularity was not shared, however, by his academic colleagues, who were jealous of his success. "The Screwtape Letters" (1942), a correspondence between two of Hell's demons named Screwtape and Wormwood, is his best-known book.

His first work, the narrative poem, "Dymer", was published in 1926 under the name Clive Hamilton. Other of his works, published under his own name, include, "Pilgrim's Regress" (1933), the science fiction trilogy, "Out of The Silent Planet" (1938), "Perelandra" (1939), and "That Hideous Strength" (1945), and the Chronicles of Narnia, seven separate stories beginning with "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (1950) and ending with "The Last Battle" (1956). Other titles are "The Problem of Pain" (1940), "Beyond Personality" (1944) and the print versions of his WWII radio broadcasts, "Mere Christianity" (1952).

His scholarly work includes "A Preface to Paradise Lost" (1942), English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama" (1954), "Studies in Words" (1960), and "The Discarded Image" (1963).

His 1956 marriage to Joy Davidman and their happy relationship until her tragic death from cancer in 1960 is the subject of the film, "Shadowlands" (of which there were two versions: the BBC production starring Joss Ackland as Lewis, and the Hollywood version starring Anthony Hopkins) Lewis, himself, died three years later on the same day that JFK was shot, November 22, 1963.

Suggested reading:
  • Howard, Thomas, The Achievement of C.S. Lewis, Harold Shaw, Wheaton, 1980
  • Wilson, A.N., C.S. Lewis: A Biography, Fawcett Columbine, New York, 1990
  • Hooper, Walter, C.S. Lewis: A Companion & Guide, Harper Collins, London, 1996
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