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From Oxford to Narnia: The Literary World of C.S. Lewis

Family and Personal Life

C.S. Lewis Early Life

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, November, 29, 1898, C.S. “Jack” Lewis fondly remembered his early life as one of many hours spent with older brother Warren drawing, writing and enjoying the outdoors. Their mother, Flora, died when Lewis was 9; the Lewis brothers did not have a very good relationship with their father, Albert, a solicitor. The brothers went to English boarding schools, which Jack for the most part hated. In 1914, his father let him leave boarding school to be tutored individually by William T. Kirkpatrick to prepare him for university. Here Lewis thrived, being able to pursue scholarly activities without the disagreeable aspects of boarding school. He was awarded a scholarship at University College at Oxford in 1916, in 1917 he was drafted into the British Army and served in France in the trenches during World War I. In 1918 he was wounded and sent back to England and continued his studies at Oxford where he eventually won Firsts in classics, philosophy and English literature. In 1925 he received a fellowship at Magdalen College, Oxford University.

Walter Hooper, editor.

Boxen The Imaginary World of the Young C.S. Lewis. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985.

As a child, Lewis displayed early story telling abilities and love of animals.

George Sayer.

Jack C.S. Lewis and His Times. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

This is considered by Douglas Gresham to be the best available biography of Lewis, Sayer was tutored by Lewis at Magdalen College, and the two became close friends.

Warren Hamilton.

Brothers and Friends The Diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, c1982.

This volume gives valuable insight into the brothers’ lives together who were also each others’ closest friends. Warren’s entry for August 2, 1964, reveals Jack’s appreciation for Warren’s acceptance of Jack’s marriage to Joy.

David Bleakely.

C.S. Lewis At Home in Ireland. Bangor, Co. Down [Northern Ireland]: Strandtown Press, 1998.

This valuable biography considers Lewis’s connection to his homeland through reminiscences of Irish who knew him. The author was a fellow Belfast native who was tutored by Lewis. He reveals once Lewis said, “Heaven is Oxford lifted and placed in the middle of County Down.”

C.S. Lewis

Surprised by Joy The Shape of My Early Life. New York, Harcourt, Bruce [1956, c1955].

Lewis’s autobiography covers his childhood until his Christian conversion in 1931. While emphasizing his spiritual journey from atheism to Christianity, it’s also a revealing look at his family, school and early career. Lewis writes that he knelt down “and admitted God was God, the most reluctant convert in all of England.”

C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman

Joy Davidman was born in 1915 to immigrant Jewish parents in New York City. She went to Hunter College and in the 1930s joined the communist party for a time. A published poet and novelist and an atheist, she turned to Christianity during a crisis in her marriage to writer William Gresham. After reading Lewis’s books she began corresponding with him. When her marriage collapsed, she moved to England with sons David and Douglas where she met Lewis, and eventually moved to Oxford where their friendship grew into love. Married in a civil ceremony in 1956, the two celebrated Christian marriage in March 1957 in the hospital when Joy was thought to be dying of cancer. She went into remission for over two years, only for the cancer to return, and she died in July 1960. Jack was devastated by the loss of Joy, which may have contributed to his own declining health, and he died three years later on November 22, 1963, the same day President John F. Kennedy was shot.

C.S. Lewis.

A Grief Observed. New York: Harper Collins, 1994.

Struggling with his overwhelming grief after Joy’s death, he decided to write as a way to cope. Originally published under the pseudonym of N.W. Clerk, it was issued under Lewis’s own name after his death. Douglas Gresham remarks of the unvarnished account of Lewis’s state: “This book is a man emotionally naked in his own Gesthsemane.”

C.S. Lewis.

Lenten Lands. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.

Lewis’s stepson movingly recounts his mother’s marriage to Lewis and her illness, death and aftermath. Gresham writes of their marriage, “It grew from the more conventional love … until it became something indescribable in human terms, a great and holy glorification of God’s gift to mankind.”

Shadowlands. New York: HBO Video, 1998.

This Motion picture version of the BBC TV film, starring Anthony Hopkins as Jack and Debra Winger as Joy, is a dramatization of their marriage.

Lyle Dorsett.

And God Came In. New York : Macmillan, c1983.

This biography of Joy Davidman traces her fascinating life from childhood, involvement in communism, marriage to William Gresham and then to Jack, and her illness and death. Her epitaph was written by Lewis.

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