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A Biography of CS Lewis (1898 ~ 1963)

The Early Years

The young C.S. Lewis On November 29th, 1898 Clive Staples "Jack" Lewis was born to Albert and Flora Lewis in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

He grew up with his older brother Warren, three years his senior, in the family home of Little Lea and enjoyed a comfortable life playing in the large garden with his brother and exploring the families vast library until 1908 when his mother died of cancer on her husband's birthday. In the same year Albert Lewis also lost both his father and brother, and within a month he had enrolled his youngest son in Wynyard School, Herefordshire, where he remained a pupil until the school closed in 1910. Whereupon he returned to Ireland and was enrolled in September as a boarding student at Campbell College, Belfast; close to his family home.

In November, he developed respiratory problems and was sent to Malvern, England for the good air to help his lungs. There he enrolled as a student at Cherbourg House close to his brother who attended Malvern College at the time. In 1913 he himself enrolled in Malvern College.

In September 1914 he moved to Great Bookham, Surrey where he commenced private study under W.T. Kirkpatrick as his brother had before him and two years later Lewis traveled to Oxford for the first time to take a scholarship examination.

April 26, 1917, Lewis became a student at Oxfords oldest College; University College.

Badge of the Somerset Light InfantrySince he had left school in 1914, World War 1 was being fought on the continent and in September 1917, he volunteered for service in the British Army. On September 25th he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant to the 3rd Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert's) and went to the front line at the Valley of the Somme.

Wounded during the Second Battle of Arras (1918), he convalesced and returned to duty in October only to be discharged in December following the signing of the armistace on November 11th, 1918.

Oxford

In January 1919, he returned to his studies at University College and remained there as a student until 1924. There he received in 1920 a First Honours Degree in Moderations (Greek and Latin Literature), in 1922 a First Degree in Greats (Philosophy and Ancient History) and finally in 1923 a First in English language and literature.

In May 1924 he took a Philosophy tutoring position at University College and the next year was elected as a Fellow of English at Magdalen College, Oxford.

With two published poems (Spirits in Bondage, 1919 and Dymer, 1926) under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton, in 1933 Lewis drew upon his rediscovered Theism and belief in Christ with his first Theological publication entitled The Pilgrim's Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason, and Romanticism, showing his own voyage from skepticism to belief.

The Eagle and Child (aka The Bird and the Baby)1933 was also an especially important year because it saw the founding of The Inklings, a group of like minded scholars which included (among others) J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Hugo Dysen. This talented group of writers have been acknowledged as changing modern literature. The group met twice a week for nearly 16 years, and it is from these meetings that such works as The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien) and The Space Trilogy (Lewis) came to life.

Lewis began to publish works on Medieval Literature after the success of his volume on 16th century English Literature for the Oxford History of English Literature series and in 1936, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition was published.

In 1938, Out of the Silent Planet, the first installment of The Space Trilogy was published as a result of Lewis' own frustration at the available works of science fiction of the day.

The final installment, That Hideous Strength was published in 1945.

During his time at Magdalen College, Lewis also began to explore and publish works on religion. Starting with The Problem of Pain in 1940 he went on to gain critical acclaim with The Screwtape Letters, which were published, in weekly installments, by The Guardian. With the success of these, he broadcast many talks on BBC Radio on the topic of religion and faith which he continued throughout the rest of his life.

Lewis at his deskIn 1950, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was published and quickly the series of seven books, collectively called The Chronicles of Narnia, were published the rate of one a year. The series was an attempt to bring the lessons of Christianity and The Bible to a young audience, while still keeping them entertained by the narrative. Although not immediately popular, word of mouth increased the demand and they were taken into the hearts of both young and old readers alike.

Love

Lewis met his future wife, Joy Davidson, in 1954. In 1956, the year after he accepted the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Magdalene College, Cambridge, they were civilly married.

In December of the same year a Church of England wedding was held at bedside in Wingfield Hospital when it was thought that Joy's death from cancer, the same disease that had claimed the life of Lewis' mother, was nigh. Ironically, it was in 1955 that Lewis autobiography, Surprised by Joy, was published, although it was written before he met his wife.

After a miraculous recovery, Joy once again became troubled with cancer and she died on July 13th, 1960. In 1961 Lewis published A Grief Observed, his account of his suffering after his wife's death, under the pseudonym N.W. Clerk.

Finally after struggling with his health and a heart attack in July 1963 (so severe that last rights were administered), C.S. Lewis died in the house that he shared with his brother on November 22nd 1963. His death was largely ignored as on the same day both Aldous Huxley and President Kennedy both died.

Warren Lewis died ten years later on April 9th. They were both buried at Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry, Oxford.

There, a single stone bearing both their names lies and the inscription reads:
"Men must endure their going hence"

Accolades

1st Hon. Moderates: University College, Oxford
1st Hon. Greats: University College, Oxford
1st Hon. English: University College, Oxford
1921 Chancellors English Essay Prize: Optimism
Fellow: Magdalen College, Oxford
1937 Gollancz Memorial Prize for Literature: The Allegory of Love
Honorary Doctor of Divinity: University of St. Andrews
Fellow: Royal Society of Literature
COBE :Declined
Honorary Doctor of Letters: Laval University, Quebec
Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature: Magdalene College, Cambridge
Honorary Fellow: Magdalen College, Oxford
Fellow: British Acadamy
1956 Carnegie Medal: The Last Battle
Honorary Fellow: University College, Oxford
Honorary Doctor of Literature: University of Manchester
Honorary Fellow: Magdalene College, Cambridge

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