I was a teenager sitting in a high school English class on November 22, 1963, when we heard through the PA system of the assassination of President Kennedy. Most people over the age of sixty remember exactly where they were when they learned of this horrific event.
What has sadly been overlooked is that on that same day, a gifted man and devout Christian evangelist, with an incredible resume, and Irish roots, also passed away. The vast work of Clive Staples Lewis, better known to the world as C. S. Lewis, and to his friends and family as “Jack”, has entertained and influenced many generations. He was a renowned scholar, poet, novelist, academic, essayist, and Christian apologist.
C. S. Lewis was born November 29, 1898 near Belfast, Ireland. His father was a solicitor and his mother was the daughter of a Church of Ireland (Anglican) priest. He was brought up in the Christian church, but abandoned his faith as a teenager and became an atheist. His mother died when he was a young child and his relationship with his father was distant. Lewis was educated at boarding schools and by tutors. After serving in the British Army, he completed his university education at Oxford with a focus on literature and philosophy.
In 1925 Lewis was elected as a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he spent nearly thirty years on the staff. He left Oxford in 1954 to accept the position of chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University.
It was while he was at Oxford that he joined fellow faculty members, his brother, Warren Lewis, and a group of writers, in a guild known as the “Inklings”. His close friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien and other members of the group, as well as his interest in the works of George MacDonald, made him discard atheism, return to the Anglican Communion, and embrace a relationship with Jesus Christ.
During World War II, he gave very popular wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity, and his talks brought many listeners into a living faith with Christ. These broadcast speeches would later make up one of his most famous works, Mere Christianity.
Lewis, a long time bachelor, struck up a relationship through correspondence with Joy Davidman Gresham, an author and American educator. She was an intellectual of Jewish background, and a former Communist, whose troubled marriage finally ended when she converted to Christianity. She and Lewis renewed their friendship when she traveled to England with her two sons. In 1956 they learned Joy’s visa could not be renewed, so to insure she could remain in Great Britain, they chose to have a civil marriage even though they continued to live apart. However when Joy was diagnosed with bone cancer, they realized the depth of their affection. Joy and Jack wanted to be married in the church, but as a divorcee that was not possible. However an Anglican priest, and close personal friend, performed the ceremony at Joy’s hospital bedside on March 21, 1957. Her cancer went into remission and they enjoyed three happy years together until she died in July of 1960. Lewis’s book, A Grief Observed, originally published under a pseudonym, describes his struggles with his faith and his intense grief after her death. C. S. Lewis developed a heart condition and passed away three years later.
His scholarly work has perhaps been overshadowed by his many Christian non-fiction and fiction books that have continued to be reprinted and enjoyed by people throughout the world. Here are just a few:
The Pilgrim’s Regress
The Screwtape Letters
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Space Trilogy
Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (autobiography)
The Problem of Pain
The Abolition of Man
A Grief Observed (1961; first published under the pseudonym N. W. Clerk)
On the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s death, he will be honored with a memorial in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-20426778