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Monday, November 25, 2013

C. S. Lewis

                In recent days I have been immersed in remembering President John F. Kennedy who was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas.  Yes, I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news.  My day had been an ordinary day until the news flash came over the television that President Kennedy had been shot – and then another flash saying that he had died.  I did not know until this week that two other famous people had also died on November 22, 1963, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley.  I do not know much about Huxley, but I have read books written by C.S. Lewis and decided to make him my VIP for this week.

                The man who is known to the world as C. S. Lewis was born Clive Staples Lewis on November 29, 1898, in Belfast, Ireland.  His parents were Albert James Lewis (1863-1929) and Florence Augusta Hamilton Lewis (1862-1908).  His father was a solicitor, and his mother was the daughter of a Church of Ireland (Anglican) priest.  His paternal grandfather was Richard Lewis who had immigrated to Ireland from Wales during the mid-19th century.  His brother was Warren Hamilton Lewis, who was nicknamed Warnie.  Lewis’s mother died when he was a boy, and his father was “distant, demanding and eccentric.”

                When C.S. Lewis was four years old, his dog Jacksie was killed by a car; soon afterwards, the boy announced that his name was Jacksie and he would answer to no other name.  He later shortened his name to Jack, the name by which he was known to family and friends for the rest of his life.  He was seven years old when his family moved into his childhood home, “Little Lea”, in the Strandtown area of East Belfast.

                 Lewis learned to love reading as a child and was blessed to live in a home filled with books.  He “had a fascination with anthropomorphic animals” and fell “in love with Beatrix Potter’s stories; he “often” wrote and illustrated “his own animal stories.”  Together with his brother Warnie, Lewis “created the world of Boxen, inhabited and run by animals.”

                The Lewis boys received their first education from private tutors and then were sent to the Wynyard School, in Watford, Hertfordshire.  Warnie had been attending Wynyard for three years when Lewis was first enrolled in 1908, shortly after their mother died from cancer.  From Wynyard, Lewis went to Campbell College, which was located about a mile from his home, for a few months before leaving due to respiratory problems.  He then attended a preparatory school in the health-resort town of Malvern, Worcestershire.  The school was named Cherbourg House but called “Chartres” in his autobiography in the health-resort.

                While Lewis was attending Cherbourg, he abandoned his childhood faith and became an atheist interested in mythology and the occult.  He later enrolled at Malvern College for a few months before studying privately with William T. Kirkpatrick, his father’s old tutor and former headmaster of Lurgan College.  He received a scholarship at University College, Oxford, but he was conscripted into World War I before he ever attended classes but returned to his studies after the war was over.  His war experiences confirmed his atheism.

                During his army training, Lewis shared a room with another cadet named Edward Courtnay Francis “Paddy” Moore (1898-1918).  The two young men, according to Paddy’s sister Maureen, “made a mutual pact that if either died during the war, the survivor would take care of both their families.  Paddy was killed in action in 1918 and Lewis kept his promise.”  Introduced by Paddy, Lewis (age 18) and Jane King Moore (age 45) became good friends after Paddy’s death.  This friendship “was particularly important to Lewis while he was recovering from his wounds in hospital.”  Lewis lived with and cared for Moore until the late 1940s when she was hospitalized.  He referred to Moore as his “mother” in letters and introduced her to friends and associates as his “mother.”  Some people believe there was more than a mother-son relationship between the two of them.  In her later years, Moore suffered from dementia and was eventually put into a nursing home, where she died in 1951.  Lewis visited her there every day until she died.

                Lewis, Warnie, Mrs. Moore, and her daughter Maureen moved into a house together in 1930, and “they all contributed financially to the purchase of the house.”  When Warren died in 1973, the house passed to Maureen, who by then was Dame Maureen Dunbar.

                C.S. Lewis was a novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, and Christian apologist.  He held academic positions at both Oxford University (Magdalen College) (1925-1954) and Cambridge University (Magdalene College) (1954-1963).  He is famous for his fictional work and his non-fiction Christian apologetics.  His most famous fictional works are The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, and his most well-known non-fiction Christian apologetics include Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain.  His works have been translated into more than thirty languages and have sold millions of copies.  The Chronicles of Narnia books are the most sought after and have entertained on television, radio, and cinema.

                Lewis was close friends with novelist J. R. R. Tolkien.  “Both authors served on the English faculty at Oxford University, and both were active in the informal Oxford literary group known as the “Inklings”.  When he was 32 years old, Tolkien and other friends apparently influenced Lewis to return to the Anglican Communion, where he became “a very ordinary layman of the Church of England.  His faith had a profound effect on his work and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity brought him wide acclaim.”

                Lewis married American poet and writer Joy Davidman Gresham (born April 18, 1915, in New York City, NY) in 1956.  She was seventeen years younger than he and was a divorced mother of two sons.  Joy was referred to as a child prodigy and earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in English literature in 1935 (age 20).  She was of Jewish background, a former Communist, and a convert from atheism to Christianity.  When she met Lewis, she was separated from her alcoholic and abusive husband, the novelist William L. Gresham, and moved to England with her two sons, David and Douglas. 

                Gresham was “an agreeable intellectual companion and personal friend” when Lewis agreed to “enter into a civil marriage contract with her so that she could continue to live in the UK.”  The marriage took place on April 23, 1956 at the register office.  Warren described his brother’s relationship with Gresham thusly:  “For Jack the attraction was at first undoubtedly intellectual.  Joy was the only woman whom he had met… who had a brain which matched his own in suppleness, in width of interest, and in analytical grasp, and above all in humour and a sense of fun.”

                Three years after the marriage, Gresham complained of a painful hip and was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer.  By this time the relationship had reached the point where they decided to have a Christian marriage.  Even though she was divorced and the Church of England frowned on divorces, the ceremony was performed at her bed in the Churchill Hospital on March 21, 1957, by the Rev. Peter Bide, a friend.

                Gresham’s cancer went into remission, and the family (including Warren Lewis) lived together until her death on July 13, 1960, in Oxford, UK.  Prior to her death, the couple traveled to Greece and the Aegean, Lewis’s only crossing of the English Channel after 1918.

                Lewis reared Gresham’s two sons after her death.  Douglas is a Christian, and David became Orthodox Jewish in his beliefs.  The brothers are apparently not close but have email contact.  Douglas is involved in the affairs of the Lewis estate.

                C. S. Lewis died of renal failure in Oxford, UK, on November 22, 1963, one week before his 65th birthday and three years after the death of his wife.  On the fiftieth anniversary of his death, November 22, 1963, Lewis was honored with a memorial in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey.

                A Huffington Post article about Lewis states:  “Many Christians are first introduced to Lewis, a philosopher, theologian, professor and author, at an early age with `The Chronicles of Narnia,’ a place where it is `always winter, but never Christmas.’  For adults, his most influential work was `Mere Christianity,’ where he argued that Jesus was either a lunatic, liar or Lord.  
                Lewis’ writings still retain cultural currency – perhaps more so in death than they ever had in life....”

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