Born in Belfast in 1898, the son of Albert Lewis, a successful lawyer, and Flora Hamilton Lewis, a writer and mathematician, Clive Staples Lewis spent his early childhood in an atmosphere of learning and imagination. His mother tutored him in French and Latin before he was seven; his nurse, Lizzie Endicott, taught him the folktales of Ireland. Clive and his brother, Warren, devoted long, often rainy afternoons to exploring the book-lined corridors of Little Lea, their home. As small children, the brothers invented their own country, Boxen, for which they wrote a four-hundred-year chronicle and which they peopled with animal characters who became subjects of individual stories. These early-childhood adventures were of incalculable influence on Lewis’s long fiction, written almost half a century later.
With his mother’s death from cancer in 1908, Lewis’s life changed drastically and irrevocably. A disconsolate, bewildered Albert Lewis sent his sons to boarding school in England, the first of several cruel experiences before age sixteen that nurtured in Lewis a hatred for public school education. At last persuading his father to place him with the demanding but kind tutor W. T. Kirkpatrick in 1914, Lewis developed his great scholarly talents and won a scholarship to University College, Oxford, two years later. Before taking his entrance exams, however, Lewis was recruited into the army and served as a second lieutenant on the front lines in France during World War I....
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C. S. Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland (now in Northern Ireland), on November 29, 1898, the younger son of Albert and Flora Hamilton Lewis. His pleasant childhood with his brother Warren ended at age ten when his mother died. Already Lewis had begun to compose stories of imaginary worlds, featuring talking animals. After their mother’s death, both boys were sent to English boarding schools, a separation that permanently estranged Lewis emotionally from his father. The next six years were the worst of his life, as Lewis makes clear in Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1955). Finally, in 1914, Albert sent him to a tutor, W. T. Kirkpatrick, who had instructed Albert himself, to prepare for college. Kirkpatrick strengthened Lewis’s atheism and his skills in language and debate.
In 1916, Lewis won a scholarship to University College, Oxford; he failed the university entrance examination, however, because of weakness in mathematics. He was permitted to attend in 1917 so that he could join the army through enlistment in the University Officers’ Training Corps. He left for France in November, 1917, was wounded in April, 1918, and returned to England.
While he convalesced, Lewis maintained a friendship with the mother of an Oxford companion, Paddy Moore. Both had promised to care for the other’s family should his friend be killed, and Moore’s death led Lewis to fulfill his promise. He supported Mrs. Moore and her daughter Maureen until Maureen reached adulthood; Mrs. Moore lived in his home until her death in 1951. Lewis’s relationship with Mrs. Moore is unclear; he may have found a mother figure in her that replaced the loss of his own mother. She was not apparently sympathetic either to his academic work or to his later conversion to Christianity. During his convalescence, Spirits in Bondage (1919), a book of poems, was published.
Lewis returned to Oxford in 1919, graduating in 1922 with a B.A. while earning highest honors in classics and philosophy. Unable to find work, he continued his studies in English literature, completing the standard two-year program in less than a year with highest honors. A temporary teaching position led in 1925 to a post as tutor in English at Magdalen College, which he held until his election to...
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C. S. Lewis’s fantasies center on the discovery of the reality of the supernatural. In an age when the “theology” of most fantasies is confused or dualistic, he employs the tools of fiction to awaken audiences to Christianity. One may fairly argue that Lewis never varies his essential plot—the story of individuals whose moral choices move them either toward themselves or toward God. He might have responded that all stories can, finally, be reduced to this. His real strength lies in the creation of fantasy worlds that are “desirable,” in which audiences can sense the otherness that leads to a new perception of human life.
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