Meet the Creator of Narnia,
By Christin Ditchfield
CBN.com Time magazine called him “the young atheist poet who became one of the 20th century’s most imaginative theologians.” Clive Staples Lewis was born on November 29, 1898, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. When he was just four years old, the precocious young lad announced to the family that his name was “Jacksie” – and he refused to answer to anything else.
Jack’s older brother Warren (“Warnie”) was his constant companion and closest friend. They spent countless hours exploring the gardens and forests and fields around their country home. On rainy days, they climbed up into an old wardrobe and told each other stories about talking animals, magic kingdoms, and the knights and dragons that inhabited faraway lands.
Albert Lewis, their father, was a kind, but distant man – consumed with the pressures of work, the demands of his career. Jack was only nine when their beloved mother, Flora, was diagnosed with cancer. The frightened child fervently prayed for a miracle, pleading with God to heal her. When Flora subsequently died, Jack later reflected that “all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life.” Albert fell into a deep depression. His two young sons felt abandoned and alone. Believing he had been betrayed, Jack turned his back on God completely.
Both boys were soon sent off to boarding school. Jack’s teachers discovered that he was a brilliant student, with a special gift for language and literature. Now in his teens and still bitter over his mother’s death, Jack dismissed God and religion and the teachings of the church as foolishness and stupidity. At the same time, he was desperately searching for something to fill the emptiness -- the longing -- deep within him.
“I was at this time living, like so many atheists and anti-theists in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing.”
At the age of 18, Lewis received a scholarship to the prestigious University College, Oxford. He was not long in the classroom, however, before duty called him to enlist in the armed forces. World War I had begun and Jack was sent to the front lines in France. Wounded in battle, he returned home less than a year later. But, the horrors of war would stay with him all of his life.
Eventually Lewis completed his education and became a professor, teaching Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Oxford. He published several volumes of poetry and was well on his way to being recognized as a distinguished scholar and literary critic. Yet his intellectual and academic accomplishments did little to quell the turmoil within. In the stimulating environment of the University, surrounded by some of the greatest minds in world, Lewis couldn’t help but recognize the contradictory and illogical nature of his unbelief.
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”
Lewis fought hard to hold on to his atheistic worldview. He engaged in heated intellectual debates with other professors who were devout Christians, most notably fellow author J.R.R. Tolkien. Over time, in spite of himself, Lewis began to see that there were answers – logical, intelligent answers – to his most critical questions. In the language he could relate to, using mythological, philosophical, and theological illustrations he was familiar with, these friends and coworkers challenged Lewis to rethink his beliefs. They helped him to grasp the reality of the faith that had confounded him.
Finally, at the age of 31, Jack could not hide behind his flawed and empty arguments any more.
“I gave in and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
His conversion from avowed atheist to committed Christian was not an overnight occurrence. In fact, it was a lengthy process that took place in steps and stages, as he came to terms with divine truth on a profoundly intellectual level. But in the end, it dawned on him as quietly, as gently, as surely as a sunrise.
“I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken,” Lewis once said. “I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion.”
As simply as that, the battle for Jack’s heart and mind was over. He surrendered himself completely to the Lordship of Christ. Much later, Lewis would write a spiritual autobiography that detailed his journey to faith. He called it “Surprised By Joy.” For as a Christian, he did find the joy and peace and hope that had eluded him in his youth. And he went on to become the greatest Christian apologist of the century. With his genius, Lewis could convincingly articulate the case for Christianity like no one ever had -- ably defending the faith and refuting the arguments of the most clever atheists and agnostics. With crystal clarity, he explained some of the most complicated concepts in Scripture, those that had baffled and befuddled theologians for ages.
When books such as Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and The Screwtape Letters were published, Lewis garnered worldwide fame. He was featured in all kinds of magazine and newspaper articles. During World War II, the popular speaker addressed matters of faith in series of radio programs broadcast all over England. He participated in numerous lectures and debates on university campuses. Lewis’s approach was so effective – he led so many members of the intellectual and academic community to faith in Christ – that the media dubbed him “the apostle to the skeptics.”
While teaching at Oxford and later Cambridge, Lewis continued to write books on literary criticism. He experimented with a science fiction trilogy. And he completed a series of seven books for children he called The Chronicles of Narnia. The fairy-tale adventures begin when four children stumble through a magical wardrobe into a fantastic world of talking beasts, fauns, dwarfs, and giants. Today, The Chronicles of Narnia are widely regarded as “classic literature” – literary critics consistently rank them among the greatest children’s books ever written.
According to a recent estimate, Lewis’ Narnia books have sold more than 100 million copies, all told. They have been translated into 30 languages. Lewis’s work is routinely quoted by preachers and professors, presidents and prime ministers. Many of the most prominent leaders of the Christian faith today readily acknowledge having been profoundly influenced by Lewis and his writings. Believers all over the world have benefited from his insights and observations. And thousands upon thousands of children have recognized what Lewis called the “stories within the stories” of The Chronicles of Narnia. They have correctly identified the central character – the great Lion Aslan -- as a beautiful representation of Jesus Christ. Thus Jack’s fairy tales have helped these children to understand Biblical truth in ways they never did before.
Lewis never had any children of his own. He remained a bachelor until the age of 58, when he was once again “surprised by Joy.” That is, he met and married American writer Joy Davidman. Sadly, Joy died of cancer only four years later. Lewis raised her teenage sons, Douglas and David. He kept a journal vividly describing the pain and suffering he endured at his wife’s passing (A Grief Observed). Though he felt the same hurt and anger and bitterness had experienced after the loss of his mother, this time Lewis did not turn away from God. Instead, he turned to Him and found the strength to carry on. His faith grew even stronger, as he experienced God’s mercy and grace in a whole new way.
On November 22, 1963, the world was reeling over the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. That same day, after a long illness, C.S. Lewis slipped away unnoticed. He found himself in the presence of the God he had once tried so hard to escape, the God whose love finally overwhelmed him and completely conquered his resistance, the God who humbled him and surprised him with joy.
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Christin Ditchfield is the author of A Family Guide To Narnia: Biblical Truths In C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. (Crossway Books, 2003)
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