The Life and Legacy of C.S. Lewis - further up and further in

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Life and Legacy of C.S. Lewis

Originally posted on my HSB blog, June 12, 2008, at 2:29 PM


The Life and Legacy of C.S. Lewis
~ A biographical report ~

Written by Kylie aka Narniagirl, Grade 7, Age 12.
© 2008. No material may be copied without permission from the author.
C.S. Lewis Creator blend by Cauldron Pool Graphics


C.S. Lewis was a famous, well-known author and apologist whose insight and wisdom still impacts the world today. He was most known for writing The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and Mere Christianity. He was born as Clive Staples Lewis on November 29, 1898, in Strandtown, which is a suburb of the city of Belfast in Ireland. He lived with his father Albert, his mother Flora, his brother Warren, or “Warnie”, and five servants.
C.S. Lewis detested his birth name, and when he was four he nicknamed himself Jack, or “Jacksie”. It is unknown why he chose his name, except for the fact that he owned a dog, Jack, who was run over by a car. He refused to be called anything else. He also nicknamed his brother Warren “Warnie”, and they both went by those names for the rest of their lives.
Jack spent most of his time indoors, mostly because his parents wanted to shield him from diseases & sicknesses. Jack did not mind though—he spent much of his time reading and writing stories. Jack’s parents were avid readers and would spend their evenings reading for hours. They passed on their love of reading to Jack. Jack especially enjoyed E. Nesbit’s books, which were about normal children getting into magical situations, and Beatrix Potter’s books about talking animals. He also enjoyed tales of adventure and chivalry.
In his life Jack had several experiences that parallel to events in his series The Chronicles of Narnia, and quite a few of them occurred in his childhood. Jack was 7 years old when his family moved to a large house they nicknamed “Little Lea”. Little Lea had lots of nooks, crannies, passageways, and rooms. Jack had a very active imagination, so he had lots of fun exploring with Warnie. Later, in his book The Magician’s Nephew, Jack wrote about two children who had rather the same experience.
Jack had a nurse called Lizzie, who told him and Warnie tales and lore about leprechauns and ancient gods. Jack loved the stories, and his fascination with mythology and other mystical beings stayed with him the rest of his life. It played a prominent part when he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, since the series features many mythological creatures.
Jack and Warnie used to sit together telling stories in the dark of a hand-carved wardrobe made by their grandfather. When he wrote his book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, four children entered a magical world through a wardrobe door.
Jack’s mother died when he was only 10 years old, in 1908. After this, Jack’s relationship with his father became distant and was never fully re-established. Because of this, Jack decided to leave home and join his brother Warnie at boarding school during his elementary years. Jack faced many changes during these years. As he grew older, he got into the bad habit of smoking, which he never quite stopped. He also became, in his own words, a “prig” (a stuck-up person) ¹. Eventually, he lost that mind-set, though it took time. Most of all, his atheism and overall dislike for God began to develop.
Although he enjoyed one or two of the boarding schools, his experiences at most of the other schools he attended were not good ones. At one particular school, he had a very cruel, brutal headmaster. Afterward, he developed a strong disliking for schools, and his wounds from those bad experiences never quite healed.
Believe it or not, Jack threatened to commit suicide if his father did not remove him from one particular boarding school. His father finally relented, and so Jack was homeschooled by his father’s former tutor during the rest of his high school years. His tutor was named William T. Kirkpatrick, but Jack called him “the Great Knock”. Jack lived and studied with Kirkpatrick in his village. It was a great atmosphere for him to study in. Jack received a fair amount of freedom in his studies, and Kirkpatrick only offered occasional assistance. Jack loved to read classical literature and learned the Greek, French, and Italian languages, just so he could read books in their original forms.
One unfortunate thing about Kirkpatrick was that he was an atheist, and Jack picked up on his beliefs. Otherwise, he was quite an advantage to Jack because of his intelligent, logical way of thinking. The years that Jack spent being tutored by Kirkpatrick influenced much of his future calling.


Jack’s weaknesses in his studies were math and science, and he had difficulty progressing in these areas. These struggles almost kept Jack from having academic and writing careers. His future would have been much duller if it hadn’t been for World War I.
Since Jack was Irish, he did not have to serve in WWI, and could have instead pursued his further education. But he felt obligated to enlist in the war. Before he did, though, he tried to be accepted into Oxford College. If he was accepted, he would be able to join the Officer’s Training Corps, and he’d be given a commission.
Jack took Oxford’s entrance exam in December of 1916 and received a scholarship from University College. To get into the school, however, he had to pass one more test called “Responsions.” Although Jack was very good in other subjects, he failed the Math part of the test two separate times.
Even though Jack didn’t pass Responsions, he was allowed to live on the Oxford campus and continue studying during his training at the O.T.C. He prepared to join the army and entered a cadet battalion in training to receive a commission. While all this was happening, Jack managed to form a close relationship with his roommate Edward Francis Courtnay “Paddy” Moore. They both promised that, if anything happened to either of them, the survivor of the two would take care of the other’s family.
Jack traveled to France in November, 1917, to serve in the war with the rank of second lieutenant. He stayed there during the winter, and dealt with trench fever, a disease transmitted by lice. In the spring of 1918, Jack’s good friend, Paddy Moore, was killed in action, and Jack also was seriously injured with shrapnel wounds. He was put in the hospital, and then transferred back to London. Before he completely recovered, the war ended and Jack was released from the army.
Now that the war was over, Jack decided to pursue his studies at Oxford once more. Jack’s service in the army opened a new doorway for his future and direction in life. Because Jack had been a soldier, he was excluded from taking Responsions, and therefore was now accepted into Oxford. If Jack hadn’t served in the army, he wouldn’t have received the education he needed to become such a great influence today.
Besides studying at Oxford, Jack kept his promise to his friend Paddy Moore, and began to care for Paddy’s mother, Jane Moore, and Paddy’s sister, Maureen. Mrs. Moore already had a close friendship with Jack. She had been there for him when Jack was recovering from his wounds from war, and acted as the mother Jack never really had.
Jack really thrived in the area of classical philosophy, and graduated with honors in that subject. He thought about getting a job as a schoolmaster, but instead decided to return to Oxford to get a Master’s degree in English Language and Literature, which he attained.


In order for Jack to be able to support his new “family”, he decided to get a job as a don at Oxford College. A “don” is a teacher on a more personal level—like a tutor. Jack lectured and trained his students to defend their beliefs logically. Jack held this occupation for many years until shortly before his death.
Eventually, after living in many rental homes, Jack and the Moores decided to buy a house themselves, and Jack’s brother Warnie moved in with them. They called it “the Kilns”, and that was where Jack lived for the rest of his life.
Jack’s position at Oxford allowed him room for new relationships. He became friends with influential men like J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson. Eventually, these friendships collaborated into an informal literary group called the “Inklings”. Jack, along with several others, got together twice a week to discuss literary matters and read aloud works-in-the-making. Although the Inklings were originally a “literary group”, they also discussed much more. The Eagle and Child pub, where they often met, served as an environment where they could each improve their skills by feeding off each other’s logic and thinking. Friendship was very important to Jack.

The Eagle and Child Pub, aka "Bird and Baby", where the Inklings often met.

The Inklings group was good for Jack in another way, though. As you remember, Jack had lost his faith many years before. He grew up in an average Christian home, but it was “all things dry and legalistic”¹ which Jack hated. When God supposedly didn’t answer his prayers for healing for his mother, he slowly drifted away. Over the years he went away from his original beliefs and became an all-out atheist.
Jack had previous experiences prompting him to become a Christian, but his believing friends and their influence on him gave him the final ‘push’ he needed. Some of the people that influenced him greatly were people he knew well, like J.R.R. Tolkien, and some were those he didn’t know, such as George MacDonald’s writing in his book Phantastes. He realized that nearly all his friends, whom he looked up to, definitely believed in God. At first Jack was reluctant to this change. But nevertheless, Jack felt God’s pull on his heart, and finally he accepted Christ while riding in the sidecar of Warnie’s motorcycle.
Jack began his writing career in the 1930’s. His new outlook on life affected his style of writing, and his books were much more successful than his books of poems published many years earlier. His first Christian novel, called A Pilgrim’s Regress, was published in 1933, and after that, others still followed. Some of his more popular books included: Allegory of Love, The Problem of Pain, Surprised by Joy, The Screwtape Letters, and The Chronicles of Narnia.
His only children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia, consisted of seven books: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle. They chronicle the magical country of Narnia from its beginning to end, and have become very popular across the world. Several experiences from his childhood & early years parallel into the series, as mentioned before. The series also illustrates instances in the Bible and everyday Christian life. Particularly, it reflects good triumphing over evil, and the sacrifices that the Lord makes for us. Many people have been changed by that series alone, and possibly even learned the truth of Christ.
Jack married Joy Davidman Gresham, an American single mother of two sons in 1956. Joy was the only woman Jack knew that was compatible with him and on the same level as he was intellectually. Shortly before they were married, they discovered that Joy had terminal bone cancer. She passed away four years later, and this was very devastating to Jack. As a result, he wrote the book A Grief Observed, which was a way for him to deal with his loss.
Jack lived the rest of his life in relative quiet. In 1961, Jack was diagnosed with inflammation of the kidneys, which became blood poisoning. He gradually became better, but fell ill in mid-July of 1963. He declined quickly and was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure. On November 22, 1963, one week before his 65th birthday, Jack collapsed in his bedroom, and a mere few minutes later, he went to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Jack’s death was on the same day as President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, so it was almost entirely unnoticed by the press, which is the way he probably would have liked it. Jack was buried at Holy Trinity Church, in Headington, Oxford. He was missed by many, and to this day, Jack’s legacy lives on in many homes through his profound views, insightful writings, and overall example.

Bibliography


1. Wagner, Richard. C.S. Lewis and Narnia for Dummies
Indianapolis, IN. Wiley Publishing, Inc. 2005

2. Gresham, Douglas. Jack’s Life
Nashville TN. Broadman & Holman Publishers. 2005.

3. Wikipedia.org
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C.S._Lewis
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joy_Gresham

4. Sibley, Brian. The Land of Narnia
New York, NY. Harper Collins Children’s books, a division of Harper Collins Publishers. 1989.

All citations are marked with the number of the book that the quote was taken from.

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