Wednesday, November 19, 2014

BIRTH | Nov. 29–C. S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)
C[live] S[taples] Lewis was born this day in Belfast in 1898, the son of Albert Lewis, a lawyer, and Flora Hamilton Lewis. He had a brother, Warren Hamilton Lewis ("Warnie"), three years older.

C.S. Lewis was known as Jack in his personal life because when he was four, his dog Jacksie was run over by a car. Young Lewis announced he was changing his name to "Jacksie" and from then on, he was known as "Jack" to family and friends.

The two boys, Jack and Warnie, created a special world of adventure called "Boxen," in which animals talked.

Jack was home-schooled in Belfast by private tutors until he was ten. But his mother died of cancer and a month later Jack was sent to join his brother at boarding school in England – the Wynard School in Watford, Herts.

The school's attendance was dwindling under its  methodically mad headmaster, Robert "Oldie" Capron, who kept telling his students to "think!". While Lewis was there, Capron was removed to a mental institution and the school was closed. Jack was sent for a year to Malvern College, where he had a better experience. After that he studied privately with William T. Kirkpatrick, his father's one-time tutor and former headmaster of Lurgan College.

Two favorite books of young Jack Lewis were Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, whose birthday is also this month (that author and book also a favorite of my mother, Hilda van Stockum). His happy early childhood followed the Burnett pattern of paradise lost and regained.

Lewis obtained a scholarship to University College, Oxford in 1916. He was conscripted into World War I and was sent home after being wounded in the back by friendly fire. He continued his studies and won first-class honors in Greats (1922) and then in English (1923) followed by a distinguished academic career at Oxford and Cambridge. For one year he was a tutor in philosophy at University College, then won a post at Magdalen College, where he was an English tutor from 1925 to 1954. From there he went on to another academic post at Cambridge (Magdalene College, 1954-63).

Raised in the Church of Ireland, he became an atheist in his teens but returned to the church after long theological arguments with his friend and Oxford English faculty colleague (and a fellow member of the "Inklings", who met in Lewis' home every week for tea and literary discussion for 16 years) J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis said:
I gave up Christianity at about 14. Came back to it when getting on for 30. Not an emotional conversion; almost purely philosophical. I didn't want to. I'm not in the least a religious type. I want to be let alone, to feel I'm my own master; but since the facts seemed to be just the opposite, I had to give in.
Lewis is probably best known for the Chronicles of Narnia series, seven volumes of stories about young children who go to another world through an old wardrobe meet a lion named Aslan who asks for help to fight evil. Aslan says, "I never tell anyone any story except his own."

Lewis also once said:
I am the product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles.
For more on C. S. Lewis, read our remembrance of his death one week ago or check out a timeline of his life.

More Oxford bios.

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