C. S. Lewis

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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1017

Born: November 29, 1898

Birthplace: Belfast, Ireland (now in Northern Ireland)

Died: November 22, 1963

Place of death: Oxford, England

Principal Works

Children's Literature

The Chronicles of Narnia (1950–56)

Adult Literature

The Pilgrim's Regress (1933)

The Space Trilogy (1938–45)

The Screwtape Letters (1942)

The Great Divorce (1946)

Till We Have Faces (1956)


C. S. Lewis was the author of numerous novels and nonfiction works, many of them dealing with Christianity, mythology, and literature. He is best known for his Chronicles of Narnia, a series of fantasy novels for young readers that encompasses 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).

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, in what is now Northern Ireland, on November 29, 1898, the second of Albert and Florence Lewis's two children. After his brother, Warren, was sent to boarding school, Lewis was educated at home by his parents and governess, and he spent a great deal of time reading. Florence died when Lewis was nine, and soon after, he was sent to the Wynyard School, a boarding school in Watford, England. He went on to study at Campbell College in Belfast and Cherbourg House in Malvern, England, before enrolling in Malvern College in late 1913. He did not remain at the school long, however, and in 1914, he traveled to Great Bookham, England, to study with W. T. Kirkpatrick, the retired headmaster of Lurgan College, Albert Lewis's alma mater. Kirkpatrick's tutelage prepared Lewis well for university, and in April 1917, he began his studies at University College, Oxford.

By the fall of 1917, Great Britain was deeply entrenched in World War I, and Lewis left university to enlist in the army as an officer. With his battalion, Lewis traveled to France, where he was injured in a battle near the Western Front. Following the war he returned to University College, where he studied English, Greek, and Latin literature, philosophy, and ancient history. After completing his studies in 1924, Lewis became a philosophy tutor at University College before taking a position as an English language and literature tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford. He remained in the position for nearly thirty years. While in Oxford Lewis became a member of the Inklings, an informal group of writers and academics that also included Lord of the Rings (1954–55) author J. R. R. Tolkien. It was during this period that Lewis also developed the strong Christian faith that would shape most of his literary works.

Many of Lewis's early published writings were academic in nature, focusing on such topics as religion, education, and literature. He also wrote and published poetry. Lewis published his first novel, The Pilgrim's Regress, in 1933. The novel, the title of which calls to mind the seventeenth-century The Pilgrim's Progress, is an allegorical work that explores the philosophies prevalent in Lewis's world. Lewis went on to write various other novels dealing with religion and philosophy, including The Screwtape Letters (1942) and The Great Divorce (1946). Among many readers, however, Lewis became best known as the author of the Chronicles of Narnia, which began in 1950 with the publication of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and concluded with the 1956 publication of The Last Battle. Intended for young readers, the Narnia books were soon considered classics of British children's literature.

In 1954, Lewis took the position of chair of medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge University. While at Cambridge, he married Joy Davidman, an American writer whom he had first met several years before. Her death in 1960 had a profound effect on Lewis, who wrote the book A Grief Observed (1961) about the experience. Lewis himself died of kidney disease in Oxford on November 22, 1963.

Major Works

As a member of the Inklings, Lewis had access to a host of colleagues with whom to discuss literature and writing. He received extensive feedback from his writer friends, and their input, particularly that of Tolkien, had a great influence on the development of both Lewis's spiritual worldview and his fiction. Many of his novels for adults present religious and philosophical concepts through the form of allegory and take place in either a version of his contemporary world or in his conception of heaven or hell. However, Lewis also notably explored his themes of interest through speculative fiction, creating worlds greatly removed from his own. The novels in his Space Trilogy—which includes Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), That Hideous Strength (1945)—for example, are works of science fiction that draw heavily from Lewis's interest in religion and mythology and take place largely on other planets.

Lewis's series of novels for young readers, the Chronicles of Narnia, builds upon the themes and literary devices used in his adult novels, presenting an allegorical fantasy world that both reflects and contrasts with the real one. In the majority of the novels, children from England are transported into a fantastical land filled with magic, mythological and fairy-tale creatures, and an ongoing struggle between good and evil. The land is under the protection of the lion Aslan, a Christlike figure who, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is betrayed, killed, and resurrected. The Christian allegory becomes clearest in the final book, The Last Battle, in which both the real world and the world of Narnia come to an end, and the characters ultimately deemed good are welcomed into a heavenly plane of which the old Narnia and England were merely a dim reflection. The Chronicles of Narnia ultimately came to encapsulate many of Lewis's chief spiritual and philosophical themes while also drawing from his academic history and broad knowledge of British literary traditions.

Further Reading

  • McGrath, Alister. C. S. Lewis—A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2013. Print.
  • Wilson, A. N. C. S. Lewis: A Biography. New York: Harper, 2005. Print.


  • Caughey, Shanna. Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth and Religion in C. S. Lewis' Chronicles. Dallas: BenBella, 2005. Print.
  • Lewis, C. S. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. 1955. New York: Mariner, 2012. Print.
  • “The Life of C. S. Lewis Timeline.” CSLewis.org. C. S. Lewis Foundation, 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. <http://www.cslewis.org/resource/chronocsl>.

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