You Don't Know Jack (2/4)

6. Jack was really, really clever…

Upon returning to Oxford after the war, Lewis excelled in his studies, earning multiple degrees. He got a First in Greek and Latin literature (“Moderations”), Philosophy and Ancient History (“Greats”), and finally in English.

It’s clear that Lewis was very intelligent, particularly when it came to language. He was, unfortunately, terrible at mathematics. In fact, his inability with numbers nearly barred his entrance to Oxford. Fortunately, upon returning from war, his military service granted him a dispensation from those exams.

7. He became a theist before becoming a Christian

Over time, Lewis started to become discontented with the imaginative and explanatory power of Atheism. He had originally embraced Atheism, in part, because of the cruel and unjust nature of the universe. However, as he would later argue in Mere Christianity:

…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. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Jack moved through a number of philosophical evolutions before he finally accepted the inevitable. In his autobiography he writes:

You must picture me alone in [my] room…, night after night, feeling… the steady, unrelenting approach, of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. [I eventually]…gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England”. - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

He was not yet a Christian, but the seeds had already been sown…

8. He really loved his friends

Contrary to some depictions of Lewis, he was not an isolated stoic academic. He loved good beer and good conversation. He really loved his friends and they would play a huge role in his life, particularly J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In fact, Tolkien fans owe a great debt of gratitude to Lewis, as he was for a long time the only audience for these works and he did much to encourage Tolkien to finish them and get them published. Unfortunately, Tolkien disliked much of Lewis’ work, even The Screwtape Letters, a book which Lewis dedicated to him! 

Many other names could be added to the list of Lewis’ close friends, such as Hugo Dyson, Charles Williams and Owen Barfield. All of these men shared a love of literature. In The Four Loves, Lewis would write:

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!’ - C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Later these men would come together to form The Inklings, a literary discussion group where they would debate ideas and where they would read their work to each other. They would meet on Tuesday mornings in their favourite pub, The Eagle and Child, affectionately known to locals as The Bird and Baby, but they would also meet on Thursday nights in Lewis’ rooms at Magdalen College where they’d have a drink and smoke.

9. Speaking of smoking, Lewis really loved tobacco

I recently came across a biography of Lewis which estimated that he smoked sixty cigarettes a day! Now, since I’m marginally better at mathematics than Lewis, I sat down and worked out that, assuming he was awake for 14 hours a day and that it takes approximately five minutes to smoke a cigarette, that he spent a third of his waking life smoking!

Last year I visited Lewis’ home and although they had repainted the walls in the living room, they left the ceiling untouched so you could see how it was thoroughly stained by the nicotine!

10. His friends helped bring him to Christ

After converting to Theism, Lewis began to suspect that Christianity might be true. However, it was after a long, late-night conversation with Tolkien and Dyson that the last major obstacle was removed. Lewis had regarded Christianity as a myth like any of the other Pagan myths – “lies breathed through silver” – emotionally moving, but false.

Over the course of their conversation, Tolkien and Dyson helped Lewis see that Christianity was the true myth. For centuries before Christianity, man’s myths had intuited a dying and rising God. However, in Jesus of Nazareth, that myth became fact.