CS Lewis: Biography, Books & Poems

Instructor: Francesca Marinaro

Francesca M. Marinaro has a PhD in English from the University of Florida and has been teaching English composition and Literature since 2007.

CS Lewis's career spanned the genre's of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction; his famous Narnia series has never been out of print since its publication, and he is considered one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. This lesson will introduce you to the author's life, discuss his contributions to literature and Christian theology, and finish with a quiz to test your knowledge.

CS Lewis: Biography

Best known for books like The Screwtape Letters and the enduringly popular Chronicles of Narnia series, CS Lewis is one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, with work spanning fantasy and science fiction, poetry, literary criticism, and theology. Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast in 1898 and raised in a Christian home; he and his brother Warren were both educated primarily in England. Though Lewis abandoned any religious practice during his school years, he remained drawn to the writing of authors like John Milton and Victorian Author/Christian minister George MacDonald, whose work, along with Lewis's later friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien, influenced his own heavily-Christian writing and philosophy.

CS Lewis, 1898 to 1963
CS Lewis, 1898 to 1963

In 1916, Lewis briefly attended University College at Oxford on a scholarship until World War I interrupted his studies the following year. After serving in the British Infantry and being wounded in 1918, he returned to Oxford and earned three firsts in classical moderations, Literae Humaniores (the 'greats'), and English Language and Literature, completing his education in 1923. In 1919, he had published his first book of poetry, Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics. In 1925, Lewis took up a position as fellow and tutor at Magdalen College at Oxford, where he remained for the next 29 years.

During his first few years at Magdalen, Lewis struggled with the fact that the writers he so admired--principally MacDonald, Milton, and G. K. Chesterton, wrote works largely informed by Christianity, which Lewis had rejected. His friendship with Tolkien, a Magdalen colleague and fellow author (famous for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), largely influenced his eventual turn to Christianity and his Christian-infused writings. He officially converted to Christianity in 1931 after an all-night conversation with Tolkien about both the joys and the historical accuracies of the faith and the Christian tradition.

During the 1930s and 40s, Lewis established himself as a writer and philosopher with works like The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition, Out of the Silent Planet, and The Screwtape Letters. During this period, he also formed a circle of writers including his brother Warren, Tolkien, poet/playwright Charles Williams, and a host of others. Referred to as the Oxford Christians, the group met in Lewis's rooms at Magdalen to discuss literature and philosophy and to share their works in progress with one another.

Between terms at Magdalen, Lewis lived with his brother Warren just outside Oxford, and during World War II, the brothers opened their home to children evacuated from London during Nazi bombings, an experience that served as the inspiration for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first volume in the Narnia series.

The Narnia Coat of Arms, as described in the series
The Narnia Coat of Arms, as described in the series

In 1954, Lewis accepted the position of Professor of Medieval Language and Literature at Magdalene Cambridge. In 1956, he married American Joy Davidman, who suffered from cancer and died four years later. During the 1960s his own health deteriorated. After resigning his professorship in 1963, he died on November 22 at the home he shared with his brother. His literary and philosophical writings remain popular to this day. His fantasy literature spans a readership of children and adults alike, and his non-fiction writings on Christian theology are still celebrated for their accessibility and resonance among Christian scholars.

Lewis's Narnia Series

CS Lewis is perhaps best known for his fantasy children's series The Chronicles of Narnia, a collection of seven books written between 1950 and 1956 featuring the magical land of Narnia and a cast of children who enter the world through a magical wardrobe that forms a portal between Narnia and the real world. The series includes The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950), Prince Caspian (1951), The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952), The Silver Chair (1953), The Horse and his Boy (1954), The Magician's Nephew (1955), and The Last Battle (1956). Like much of Lewis's work, the Narnia stories deal with the battle between good and evil and contain Christian themes and symbolism. Most notably, scholars frequently interpret Aslan, the great, gentle lion who rules over Narnia, as a representation of Jesus.

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