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C. S. Lewis

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Clive Staples Lewis (November 29, 1898November 22, 1963), commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis, was an author and scholar. He was born in Belfast (which is in the northern part of Ireland). He adopted the name "Jack", which is how he was known to his friends and acquaintances. He is known for his work on medieval literature and for his Christian apologetics and fiction, especially The Chronicles of Narnia.

Contents

Career as a scholar

He taught as a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford for nearly thirty years, and later was the first Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Using this position, he argued that there was no such thing as an English Renaissance. Much of his scholarly work concentrated on the later Middle Ages, especially its use of allegory. His The Allegory of Love (1936) helped reinvigorate the serious study of late medieval narratives like the Roman de la Rose. Lewis wrote a preface to John Milton's poem Paradise Lost which is still one of the most important criticisms of that work. His last academic work, The Discarded Image, an Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1964), is a summary of the medieval world view, the "discarded image" of the cosmos in his title.

Lewis was a prolific writer and a member of the literary discussion society The Inklings with his close friends J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield.

Career as a writer of fiction

In addition to his scholarly work, Lewis wrote a number of popular novels, including his science-fiction "Space Trilogy," his fantasy Narnia books, and various other novels, most containing allegories on Christian themes such as sin, the Fall, and redemption.

The Pilgrim's Regress

His first novel after becoming a Christian was The Pilgrim's Regress, his take on John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress that depicted his own experience with Christianity. In the novel, a young lad leaves the land of Puritania (and the odd sort of respect it holds towards its Landlord) in search of other adventures. The allegory was meant to represent how Lewis did not discover Christianity in his childhood; that what he experienced was a mockery that he could not follow, and consequently had to discover it another way. The book was panned, at the time; most people had not had Lewis's experience and couldn't relate.

The Space Trilogy

His "Space Trilogy" or "Cosmic Trilogy" novels dealt with the then-current dehumanizing trends in modern science.

In Out of the Silent Planet Lewis's character is a philologist named Ransom who is forced to travel to Mars (called by the natives Malacandra). His abductors are Devine, who only wishes to exploit Mars's natural resources; and Weston, who wishes to colonize Mars once Earth is no longer habitable, on behalf of whatever species humanity may someday become. (It is pointed out how odd it is that Weston has no regard for humans, or humanity as it currently is; but he is quite interested in whatever hypothetical future humanity may have.) In the end, the humans are thwarted by a hyper-physical intelligence called an eldil, the Oyarsa (or ruler) of Mars; who wants to know from Ransom about the "bent" eldil who was meant to be the Oyarsa of Earth. (Though never identified as such in the novel, it is clear that eldils are meant to be angels and that our ruling angel became Satan, prompting the Fall, Earth's isolation from the rest of heaven, and the "silence" of our homeworld.)

In Perelandra (also called "Voyage to Venus") Ransom is summoned by the eildils to Venus, where he encounters an Eve-figure—and Weston, who has allowed himself to become possessed by an evil eldil so that the Eve-figure may be tempted. She successfully resists the temptation; and Ransom realizes his purpose is to remove the possessed Weston (the "un-Man") once the trial period is over. Ransom initially objects—he never expected spiritual warfare to become physical—but comes to realize that this is simply a modern worldview, and kills Weston. (In the process, his heel is injured, recalling a prophecy from the book of Genesis.)

In That Hideous Strength scientists in Britain take over a small college and attempt to combine science and magic. Ransom, who has become a superhuman figure because of his trips into space, helps a resurrected Merlin (the last of humanity who could "properly" combine science and magic) defeat them.

Other Christian fiction

The Great Divorce is a short novel about imagined conversations in the foothills of Heaven between the saved and the potentially 'damned'. Its conceit is that the 'damned' apparently damn themselves by their own choice, in the sense that nothing prevents them from going to heaven and staying there if they so choose. But some find the radical changes of attitude required to remain there to be threatening or uncomfortable, and so decide to return to Hell. This work deliberately echoes two other more famous works with a similar theme: Dante's Divine Comedy of Dante Aligheri, and John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. For example it echoes Dante in having Lewis guided in his journey by his intellectual mentor the Scottish writer George MacDonald, just as Dante was guided in his imaginary journey by his mentor Virgil; and it echoes Bunyan in its conclusion, wherein its vision of Heaven turns out in the end to have been a common, if ununsually vivid, dream.

Another short novel, The Screwtape Letters, comprises letters of advice from an elderly demon to his nephew. In the letters, Screwtape, the elder demon, instructs his nephew, Wormwood, on the best ways to secure the damnation of a particular human.

The Chronicles of Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven fantasy novels for children that is by far the most popular of his works. The books have Christian themes and describe the adventures of a group of children who visit a magical land called Narnia. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which was the first published and the most popular book of the series, has been adapted for both stage and screen. The Chronicles of Narnia borrow from Greek and Roman mythology, and traditional English and Irish fairy tales. Lewis reportedly based his depiction of Narnia in the novels on the geography and scenery of the Mourne Mountains in County Down, Northern Ireland. Lewis cited MacDonald as an influence in writing the series. The books were published in an order different from that they take place in. In chronological order, the seven books are: The Magician's Nephew, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle.

Non-Christian fiction

Lewis' last novel was Till We Have Faces. Many believe (as he did) that it is his most mature and masterful work of fiction, but it was never a popular success. It is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche from the unusual perspective of Psyche's sister. It is deeply concerned with religious ideas, but the setting is entirely pagan, and the connections with specific Christian beliefs are left implicit.

Before Lewis's conversion to Christianity, he published two books: Spirits in Bondage, a collection of poems, and Dymer, a single narrative poem. Both were published under the pen name of Clive Hamilton.

Career as a writer on Christianity

In addition to his career as an English Professor, and his novels, Lewis also wrote a number of books about Christianity -- perhaps most famously, Mere Christianity. As an adult convert to the Anglican church (he stated that he was influenced by his friend Tolkien) he was very much interested in presenting a reasonable case for the truth of Christianity. Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Miracles were all concerned, to one degree or another, with refuting popular objections to Christianity.

He has become popularly known as The Apostle to the Sceptics, because he originally approached religious belief as a sceptic, and he was converted by the evidence. Consequently, his books on Christianity examine common difficulties in accepting Christianity, such as "How could a good God allow pain to exist in the world", which he examined in detail in his work The Problem of Pain.

Lewis wrote an autobiography entitled Surprised by Joy, which describes his conversion (it was written before he met his wife, Joy Gresham). His essays and public speeches on Christian belief, many of which were collected in God in the Dock and The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, remain popular today for their insights into faith.

His most famous works, the Chronicles of Narnia, contain many strong Christian messages. These are often mistaken for allegory, but, as Lewis himself said, are certainly not allegory.

Trilemma

The term "trilemma" actually comes from Christian apologist Josh McDowell, who based it on one of Lewis's best-known arguments in favor of Christianity from his book Mere Christianity.

The trilemma argument is as follows:

Most people are willing to accept Jesus Christ as a great moral teacher. However, the Gospels record that Jesus made many claims to divinity, either explicitly ("I and the Father are one") or implicitly, by assuming authority only God had ("The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins"). Assuming that the Gospels are accurate, we are thus left with three options.

  1. Jesus was telling falsehoods and knew it; so He was a liar.
  2. Jesus was telling falsehoods, but believed he was telling the truth; so He was insane.
  3. Jesus was telling the truth; so He is divine.

Thus one cannot argue Jesus is only a great moral teacher. If He was a liar or insane, this would invalidate His moral teachings. If He was divine, He is more than just a great moral teacher.

The trilemma argument presumes there are only three options. In logic, dilemmas are countered by proving that it is a false dilemma – that there are more options than the two presented. Skeptics can easily argue that there are several other options available:

  1. Jesus's divinity was exaggerated by his disciples.
  2. Jesus was misunderstood by His disciples and improperly recorded.
  3. Jesus was divine; but as the Hindus point out, there have been many incarnations of God.
  4. Jesus was made divine by the developing theology of the Church.
  5. Jesus never literally said He was divine; we are misinterpreting those proof-texts.
  6. Jesus was a great moral teacher, despite being partly insane.
  7. Jesus never existed: the gospels are simply fictions.

Since many of these counter-options deal with the validity of the Gospels, apologists then turn to a defense of Scripture, which Lewis never personally got into. But Lewis's writings indicate that he rejected all the options listed above.

Portrayals of Lewis' life

Recently there has been some interest in biographical material concerning Lewis. This has resulted in several biographies (including books written by close friends of Lewis, among them Roger Lancelyn Green and George Sayer), at least one play about his life, and a 1993 movie, titled Shadowlands, based on an original stage and television play. The movie fictionalizes his relationship with an American writer, Joy Gresham, whom he met and married in London, only to watch her die slowly from bone cancer. Lewis' book A Grief Observed describes his experience of bereavement, and describes it in such a raw and personal fashion that Lewis originally released it under the pseudonym "N. W. Clerk" to keep readers from associating the book with him (ultimately too many friends recommended the book to Lewis as a method for dealing with his own grief, and he made his authorship public).

Lewis' death and legacy

Lewis died on November 22, 1963, at the Oxford home he shared with his brother, Warren. He is buried in the Headington Quarry Churchyard, Oxford, England. Media coverage of his death was overshadowed by news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on the same day, as did the death of author Aldous Huxley. A bronze statue of Lewis looking into a wardrobe stands in Belfast's Holywood Arches.

Many books have been inspired by Lewis, including A Severe Mercy by his correspondent Sheldon Vanauken. The Chronicles Of Narnia has been particularly influential, including on the incredibly popular Harry Potter, whose author J.K. Rowling would point them as major influence on her novels. Other modern children authors like Daniel Handler (A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl) have been influenced more or less by Lewis' series.

Bibliography

The Chronicles of Narnia

Other Fiction


Poetry


Nonfiction

      * Not included in Essay Collection (2000)
     ** With two essays not included in Essay Collection
    *** With one essay not included in Essay Collection
   **** All included in Essay Collection

Books about C. S. Lewis

  • Chad Walsh, C. S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics. Macmillan, 1949.
  • Clyde S. Kilby, The Christian World of C. S. Lewis. Eerdmans, 1964.
  • Jocelyn Gibb (ed.), Light on C. S. Lewis. Geoffrey Bles, 1965.
  • Joe R. Christopher & Joan K. Ostling, C. S. Lewis: An Annotated Checklist of Writings about him and his Works. Kent State University Press, n.d. (1972). ISBN 0873381386
  • Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and their friends. George Allen & Unwin, 1978. ISBN 0048090115
  • Chad Walsh, The Literary Legacy of C. S. Lewis. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979. ISBN 0156527855.
  • Walter Hooper, Through Joy and Beyond: A Pictorial Biography of C. S. Lewis. Macmillan, 1982. ISBN 0025536702
  • John Beversluis, C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. Eerdmans, 1985. ISBN 0802800467
  • George Sayer, Jack: C. S. Lewis and His Times. Macmillan, 1988. ISBN 0333433629
  • G.B. Tennyson (ed.), Owen Barfield on C.S. Lewis. Wesleyan University Press, 1989. ISBN 081955233X.
  • A. N. Wilson, C. S. Lewis: A Biography. W. W. Norton, 1990. ISBN 0393323404
  • James T. Como, C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences. New edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992. ISBN 0156232073
  • George Watson (ed.), Critical Essays on C. S. Lewis. Scolar Press, 1992. ISBN 085957853
  • Susan Lowenberg, C. S. Lewis: A Reference Guide 1972-1988. Hall & Co., 1993. ISBN 0816118469
  • Kathryn Lindskoog, Light in the Shadowlands: Protecting the Real C. S. Lewis. Multnomah Pub., 1994. ISBN 0880706953
  • Walter Hooper, C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide. HarperCollins, 1996. ISBN 0006278000
  • Roger Lancelyn Green & Walter Hooper, C. S. Lewis: A Biography. Fully revised & expanded edition. HarperCollins, 2002. ISBN 0006281648
  • Joseph Pearce, C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church. Ignatius Press, 2003. ISBN 0898709792

External links

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