I was recently a guest on two episodes of The Counsel of Trent podcast to talk about C.S. Lewis. We spent the first episode simply talking about his life. Lewis was a man who left an indelible mark on the Twentieth Century. However, despite being such an influential figure, today many people only know him for his Chronicles of Narnia, and almost next to nothing about the man himself.
Therefore, in this article I would like to introduce you more fully to the man behind the Lion, and the author behind works which have deeply shaped modern Christianity and apologetics.
1. He wasn’t English
Often I have found people assume that C.S. Lewis was English, particularly if they have listened to one of the few remaining audio recordings of him. Lewis was, in fact, born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1898. He was, however, educated in England and lived in Oxford for most of his adult life.
2. He had several names…
He was baptised Clive Staples Lewis, but that wasn’t what his friends called him. When Lewis was about four, his dog, Jacksie, died. From then onwards, he stubbornly refused to respond to any other name, although it was eventually shortened to “Jack”. This is why the name of my podcast is Pints with Jack, the “Jack” in question being C.S. Lewis himself.
3. Jack experienced tragedy as a child
Lewis’ mother died of cancer when he was ten. He writes about it movingly in his spiritual autobiography, Surprised By Joy, describing it as follows:
“…all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life” - C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy
The young Jack was soon afterwards sent to boarding school in England. He disliked England immediately and hated most of his schooling, so much so that in his autobiography, he names one of the schools he attended after one of the most notorious World War Two concentration camps, Belsen. Fittingly enough, the headmaster at that school would later be committed to an asylum.
4. Lewis wasn’t always a Christian
Most people who have heard of Lewis will know that he was a famous Christian of his generation. However, he was not a Christian all of his life. He was raised in the Church of Ireland, but became an Atheist as a teenager. There were several reasons for this…
Lewis loved the old Pagan myths, particularly those of the Norse. As he received his education in classics, he was told that Paganism was all false, whereas Christianity was entirely true. Not only did this assessment seem wrong to the young Lewis, but since he saw clear parallels between the two, he assumed that both Paganism and Christianity were simply fanciful stories.
Like many who embraced Atheism, the problem of pain and suffering also loomed large in Jack’s mind. He couldn’t reconcile a good God with the world he saw around him or with the pain he himself had endured in his life. He would often quote the Epicurean poet Lucretius who wrote:
Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see - Lucretius (Epicurean Poet)
5. He was a war veteran
Jack fought in World War One. In fact, he arrived at the front line on his nineteenth birthday. After being wounded in combat about a year later, he returned home.
During his training he had met a young man named Paddy Moore. The two had agreed that if one of them died, that the other would look after his family. Unfortunately, Paddy did not return from the trenches. Lewis was true to his word, living with and taking care of both Paddy’s mother, Janie, and Paddy’s sister, Maureen, for the rest of his life.