This is post 1 of 2 in the series “C.S. LEWIS AND THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA"
- C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia Session 1
- C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia Session 2
C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia Session 1
Providence Presbyterian Church
Our dear and most gracious Heavenly Father, we come together here in the name of Jesus Christ. We are in the season where we celebrate the coming of Christ into the world, and we recognize that His coming into this world is the single most significant event in all of human history. And so, as we focus our attention upon one man and upon one story he wrote and upon one movie being produced on his work, I would ask that You would use these weeks together to help us clarify our understanding of Jesus Christ, who He is, what He does, and the hope that He sets before us all. Be with us now in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Clive Staples Lewis—C.S. Lewis.—He hated his name. In fact, before he was even of kindergarten age, he announced to his family that from thenceforth, he wished to be known as “Jack”. The name stuck. His childhood friends called him “Jacks” or “Jacksy”, but all the way through the remainder of his life, he never used his full name—either of the two given names, he always referred to himself as Jack. And when his works were published, he insisted that they simply say, “C.S. Lewis”. He was born November the 29th—yesterday. November the 29th, 1898.
An amazing man. In the year 2000, Christianity Today, one of the leading evangelical journals in the world today, decided to do a feature story on the 100 most influential Christian writings of the 20th century. It was their intent to survey authorities all over the place, pull together a list of 100, and then do a feature on each of those 100 influential Christian writings. The problem was, when they tabulated the results of their survey, the majority of the 100 most influential writings of the 20th century were authored by one: C.S. Lewis. And so they changed their whole approach, and they laughingly referred to the article as “C.S. Lewis and the Seven Dwarfs”. Because the feature was then changed to focus on the life and the writings of the man, Christianity Today says, and I wouldn’t quibble with it, “The man who has exercised a greater influence upon the Christian faith and the spread of that faith in our world. The man who has done more to extend the cause of Christ in the modern era. Clive Staples ‘Jack’ Lewis.”
One of the things that he did was to write letters. I’ll come to that again later on. But he loved writing letters to children especially. Children often wrote to him. That should tell you how amazing he was, that in his great intellect, he could communicate the matters of faith to children, and children were then moved to write to him. One child wrote to him asking what he looked like. And C.S. Lewis responded, “I’m tall, somewhat fat, rather balding, black hair, double-chinned, have a deep voice and I have to wear glasses to read.” Now, if he had gone on to be a bit more descriptive, he would have had to admit to this child that his shirts were always wrinkled, his jackets were always threadbare, his shoes were always unpolished and with great holes in the soles.
On the screen before you is a picture of C.S. Lewis as he was most frequently seen when he was at the Kilns—more on that later—wearing his house jacket, his professorial clothes underneath, although they were not much to look at. And behind C.S. Lewis is the most famous character he ever created, Aslan the lion, the featured character in The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe, which, by the way, is only one of seven incredible children’s fantasies that C.S. Lewis wrote called, now, The Chronicles of Narnia. I would encourage you to buy a box set of The Chronicles of Narnia. They’re not terribly expensive. They’re in paperback. And then buy another paperback book along with it called The Keys to the Chronicles by Marvin Hinten, H-I-N-T-E-N. Marvin Hinten. The Keys to the Chronicles.
In order to truly understand—now, you can just read The Chronicles of Narnia, all seven of them, and get the basic message. But in order to understand the true depth that is to be found there, you need a little help. C.S. Lewis was an incredible intellect, and he drew upon a mammoth amount of resources that he had developed over the years of his lifetime and fed those allusions into The Chronicles of Narnia, all designed, every one of the seven designed to communicate the truth of the Christian faith. And so if you get The Chronicles of Narnia, get the little paperback called The Keys to the Chronicles, which will give you a breakdown of each one of the seven along with the various allusions that are contained therein, and you will better understand the symbolism, the characters and the dialogue that you will find in those seven amazing stories.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. November the 29th, 1898, Clive Staples Lewis was born to Florence and Albert Lewis in Belfast, Ireland. Florence Lewis was a wonderful woman, deeply, deeply devoted Christian. She had an older child at that point, his name was Warren. C.S. Lewis always called him “Warnie”. He was three years older than Jack, and the two brothers became basically inseparable. A relationship which lasted a whole lifetime. Albert, on the other hand, was a nominal Christian, fairly serious. But Albert was a voracious reader. He was what we would call today a prosecuting attorney. So the family was not well-off, but they also were not poverty-stricken. Albert made a very decent living, and the family lived reasonably well in Belfast, Ireland, in those early years.
I want to suggest to you that C.S. Lewis’ life—and I’ve given you a chronology of his life. His life can basically be divided into three chapters. That’s an appropriate designation for one so prolific in his writings. The first chapter I would call “the tough years”. That begins at the early stage of his childhood and continues on until the year 1929. The next stage I would call “the transforming years”. That’s from 1929 to 1950. The last chapter of his life, beginning in 1950, I call “the tender years”.
The Tough Years
The tough years were just that. C.S. Lewis became devoted to the books with which he was surrounded. He and Warnie loved reading. Their father saw to it that they had more than enough to read. They lived in Ireland, where any number of rainy days prevented much outdoor activity, and so the inside activity of reading was high on their list, and they read way beyond their age. In addition to that, one of the things that they did in order to pass the time as children was to create, with handiwork, little kingdoms using animal figures. And they would then develop stories built around those animal figures, and they would spend hours and hours developing stories and refining them, and entertaining one another with these fascinating stories—for them at least—about animals who, basically, had human characteristics. A seed was planted.
In 1908, everything changed. C.S. Lewis’ mother died of cancer. It was a traumatic time. Because the schools in Belfast at the time were not so good, Albert, the father, had insisted that Warnie be shipped off to England in order to go to school there. And so Jack Lewis was left at home alone. Became devoted, attached to his mother. They read, they talked, they did all sorts of things together and then, she was diagnosed with cancer. At that point in time, medical practice in Belfast, Ireland, was not terribly advanced and so the doctors decided to operate. But, you see, there was no hospital. And so the operation actually took place in C.S. Lewis’ home. And in the bedroom adjoining his mother’s, he sat on his bed and listened to her cries of agony as the surgery was performed. The surgery was not successful, and his mother died.
I suppose there are some who would say that he never recovered from that. And, certainly, the trauma of the death of his mother became a long-lasting influence in his life.
The other difficulty that occurred at that point was Albert, who was very devoted to his wife, Florence, never recovered from her death. He became somewhat bizarre in his behavior. He withdrew from his boys, precisely at a point in time where they needed a parent desperately. He sort of became lost in his own little world and walled out virtually everybody and everything else around him. The man who had been so vital and so voracious in his reading and his learning became nothing more than just a shell of his former self. And the relationship between Jack and his father gradually disintegrated until basically nothing was left and, unfortunately, that’s, for the most part, the way it remained.
It was, nevertheless, Albert’s decision then that he didn’t want the responsibility for Jack. And so he sent Jack off to England to school. Warnie, remember, was already there. But he sent Jack to a school called “Wynyard”—terrible, terrible time for young Jack Lewis. The school was run by a headmaster who, later on, was declared to be completely insane. He was a tyrant. He beat the children mercilessly. Learning became an absolute nightmare. Here’s this young boy who has spent his whole childhood engaged in learning and enjoying the Irish countryside around him in the presence of his mother, and suddenly, within a very short period of time, every bit of it is gone. He actually said later on that it was like going from Heaven to Hell. Those years were terrible years for him.
Ultimately, the situation at Wynyard school became so bad that the authorities moved in and closed down the school. Albert then decreed that Jack, instead of being brought home, was simply to be transferred to another school in England. This one called “Cherbourg”.—slightly better experience, but not much. All the while, the only thing that kept him going was his relationship with his brother, Warnie. Warnie would always try to get to wherever Jack happened to be every weekend, and so they would spend their weekends together. And it became a sort of a saving grace for Jack in the midst of a real wilderness.
Finally, Albert, the father, at least realized that his son was being terribly marked by the experiences he was having. He had a friend—Albert did—who was a retired professor. His name was W.T. Kirkpatrick. He asked Kirkpatrick if he would be willing to take on young Jack, and Kirkpatrick said, “Yes.” And so for the next three-plus years, Jack Lewis was basically—we would call it today—homeschooled by a man named W.T. Kirkpatrick. He was an extraordinary intellect. Very demanding tutor. Challenged young Jack Lewis at every point. But did something else as well—caused him, as part of his intellectual approach to life, to begin to question the God whom his mother had taught him to love.
Kirkpatrick made the point that this God had allowed his mother to die and had left him in this miserable circumstance and had obviously caused his father to go off on a different tangent. And there is where C.S. Lewis, as a teenager, became an atheist—that’s what he said. He actually, probably, was more an agnostic than an atheist, but he said he was an atheist, so we must take him at his word. It was during that period, however, that W.T. Kirkpatrick—by the way, Warnie and C.S. Lewis called him “The Great Knock” because he would pound it into their heads, whatever it was he had in mind. He taught young Jack Lewis to speak Latin, Greek, Hebrew, German, a couple of other languages. Introduced him to all of the great classics. And there began a pattern that followed Jack Lewis all the way through his life. He never forgot anything he read. Never.
Years later, Kenneth Tynan, who was the drama critic for the London Times and had been a student of C.S. Lewis’, wrote how, when he was a student, and he would be at C.S. Lewis’ house, they would play a game. He would go to the many bookshelves in the Lewis’ home, pull a book off the shelf, open it up to a page at random, read a line and C.S. Lewis, from memory, would recite the chapter and the succeeding paragraph that followed that line. His memory was almost beyond one’s ability to understand. Served him well later on. But it was Kirkpatrick who pounded into him—“The Great Knock” = who pounded into him the values of the intellectual-academic life. And it was Kirkpatrick who prepared him to make application to Oxford University.
1917, he went to Oxford to apply for entrance. Kirkpatrick had forwarded all of his work, and they were very much aware of his intellectual power, but all incoming students at Oxford had to take tests. C.S. Lewis aced every test except the one in math. He just never could get math. I have nothing but sympathy for him. I can’t get it either. And so it was suggested—because now World War I was in full flower, there was a discipline at Oxford called “Officers’ Training Corps”—that if he enrolled in the Officers’ Training Corps at Oxford, that he could then begin his studies at University College at Oxford. And then, after the war, they would tend to his formal enrollment.
He went into the Officers’ Training Corps—very spartan existence. This part of his training took place at Keble College in Oxford. And there, he met a young man. They became fast friends. The young man’s name was Paddy Moore. The two of them were of the same age, similar interests, although Jack Lewis was certainly the superior intellect. But the two young men recognized that they probably were going to war. World War I was well underway, and the English were losing literally millions of young men, and practically everybody was being thrust into combat. And they both recognized that the chances were that one of them might not return home. And so they made a pact with each other, that if one of them survived and the other didn’t, the survivor would then commit himself to taking care of the other’s family for as long as they lived. It was a solemn pact that they made together. And it was a pact which C.S. Lewis honored for the next 40 years.
With just four weeks’ training, Jack Lewis was commissioned an officer and sent to the front lines to command a squadron. He was way over his head. Mind you, this is 1918. He is 19 years old, soon to be 20. And he’s thrust into the midst of some of the most violent combat imaginable. World War I was unique among wars because there, for weeks, months and years, soldiers stayed right in the same place, in the mud. Dug into the ground. Getting shelled on a daily basis. Living with constant death and pain and agony. It went on and on and on. It was combat at its most brutal. C.S. Lewis saw all of that, was changed by it, hardened by it, and yet never lost his love for literature, writing.
And, in fact, in the foxholes, in World War I in France, he wrote a sheaf of poems which, after the war, became his first published work. Published it under a pseudonym. The poems are basically forgotten, but they were the first glimmer of the brilliance of the man. He also continued to read everything he could get his hands on in the mud and the mire of the battlefield. And he tried as best he could to lead his men. Fortunately, he was given a sergeant who was battle-hardened, and the sergeant would spend all of his time whispering in his ear the things that he ought to be doing, which was a great help. In fact, the sergeant once said to him, “Looking at you, I’ve decided that the worst thing that can happen on the battlefield is to have a lieutenant who’s given a map.” But it was the sergeant who ultimately saved Jack Lewis’ life.
One day, they were leading a charge, the two of them together, and suddenly, the artillery from behind them and the artillery from in front of them merged, and a massive explosion took place right in front of Jack Lewis. The sergeant saw it coming, jumped in front, and was blown to bits. Jack Lewis took shrapnel all over his body. He was grievously wounded but managed to survive. He was ultimately shipped back to England where he underwent a large series of operations to try to repair the damages done. But one large piece of shrapnel remained pushed up against his heart. It was so close to his heart that they couldn’t remove it. And that shrapnel stayed with him for the rest of his life. Had something to do with his death, but we’ll come to that in due time.
The time in the war was a desperate time for him. He saw all of his friends, so many of them the young men under his command, slaughtered. And he began to think deeply about this so-called God that he remembered from his childhood. How could this God allow these things to happen? And so it was that his atheism became even more entrenched as a result of his wartime experience. After a long, long recuperation at home in England, he returned to Oxford. In the meantime, he learned that his good friend Paddy Moore had been killed, was buried in France, leaving behind his mother, Mrs. Janie King Moore, and a daughter, Maureen. Jack Lewis remembered the commitment he’d made to Paddy Moore. And here he was, a student at Oxford, no significant means of support at all. His father, perhaps out of guilt, was sending him a weekly allowance, but nothing more than that.
The estrangement with his father continued. While he was in the hospital recovering, he actually wrote to his father asking if he would come to see him, and his father refused to do it. And that was kind of the final break. He wound up taking what little money he had trying to provide support for Mrs. Moore and the daughter, Maureen. Kept him completely strapped. That was a situation which would follow him for many, many years to come. He ultimately began to realize that something was going to have to give. He was continuing to shine in his studies at Oxford. 1920, 1921 and 1923, he won the highest academic prizes at Oxford. But all the while, he was stressed to the hilt taking care—or trying to—Mrs. Moore and her daughter.
He then began to look for work, hopefully at Oxford—wanted to teach, and no openings came his way. There were openings. He applied; he was turned down. One wonders, in retrospect, why? But nevertheless, it wasn’t until 1925 that he was finally given a fellowship at Oxford. He became an Oxford Don. At Oxford, the instructors are in two categories, dons and professors. The dons are the folks who work with the students. Kind of scut work—tough work. The professors are exulted and highly paid and respected and write and teach in big arenas and are the Crème de la crème of the academic community.
C.S. Lewis became an Oxford don and remained that for the rest of his career at Oxford. But at least he had some income. And so he began to realize that the best thing to do was for Mrs. Moore and Maureen and Jack to live together in the same dwelling, and so he rented a place, scrambling as hard as he could to make any money that he could to pay the rent. They moved from one rental house to another to another over the next several years. Each time, he kept struggling because he wanted to be engaged in the pursuits which were his academically, but he had this mammoth responsibility over here that was consuming so much of his time, energy and effort. In addition to that, his brother Warnie, a professional soldier, had come home from the war with a problem. Turned out later on to be a major problem—a drinking problem. And so Jack Lewis took on the care and responsibility for his older brother Warnie.
Those years were really, really tough, tough, years. And yet, he began to write. And he began to write significantly, all of it academic in orientation. And the fact of the matter is that much of what he wrote during those years remains, to this very day, studied in academic settings and communities all over the world. So advanced was his thinking that he outshone everyone at Oxford, and his reputation began to build and to spread. All the while, he was submerged under the personal responsibilities which were his. And then, 1929. That was the beginning of the next chapter of his life. In the years leading up to 1929, in his relationships with other teachers and students at Oxford—and by the way, he was teaching at this point at what people in Oxford call Magdalen College. It’s actually spelled Magdalen. Named after Mary Magdalene, but the English, who have a tendency every now and then to corrupt things for no good reason, corrupted that to Magdalen. So it’s called “Magdalen College” to this very day.
In his relationships with other people there, he began to discover that these great minds surrounding him had a belief in God. He found that hard to digest, hard to understand, and yet, in his dialogue with them, more and more, the question began to be raised, “Is there a God?” That dynamic was working on him constantly. One day, in 1929, his rooms at Magdalen College—that is where he had his office and his library, and all the Oxford dons have rooms at the colleges—looked out over the deer park at Magdalen College. You can see it there to this day. There was a wonderful walk around the park and the meadows there called “Addison’s Walk”. He loved to walk all his life long, and he loved to walk around the grounds of Magdalen College. And one day on Addison’s Walk, he was overwhelmed by the realization that there is a God. It wasn’t a blinding light. It wasn’t a knocked-from-his-horse kind of an experience. But it began a significant change in his life.
Two years later, 1931, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ in a deep, profound, personal commitment to Jesus Christ, Savior, Lord. And from there on, his whole life began to change. He began to devote this enormous intellect and this powerful energy into writing for the faith. It was not done so much by Oxford scholars then. They didn’t mind dealing with great theological doctrines, but they were more comfortable with other disciplines like philosophy and literature and things like that. And so he began to move away in his relationships with some of those folks, but there were others who were already significant Christians he became very close to: a man named Owen Barfield, who had a great influence on Jack Lewis, a man named Nevill Coghill, a man named Charles Williams, and a man named John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote The Lord of the Rings.
And they began to visit together. They would all gather in Lewis’ rooms at Magdalen College and would talk and banter back and forth, and out of that, Lewis’ faith began to grow and deepen and strengthen. In the meantime, remember what I said about this man being so prodigious in his mind and in his writings? He was asked by the Oxford Press to write a book on the 16th-century literature for the Oxford History of English Literature series. He began to research for that. Listen to this carefully. In order to prepare himself for that task, he read every single book published in English in the 16th century and every single book published in other languages translated into English, and read those in both English and in their original language.
Well, if you think about the 16th century, you recognize that that was the century of the Protestant Reformation. And so as a part of his research into writing this academic textbook, he read all of the theological works of the Christian family in the 16th century, and he became, by his own study, one of the most amazing theologians ever to live. What was so amazing about him was not the breath of his knowledge. I suspect there have been others who’ve been knowledgeable as well. What was so amazing was his ability to put it all into terms that anybody could understand. And that he began to do. And he began to write, absolutely turning out one book, and one article, and one tract after another dealing with all of the issues of the faith.
By 1933, this group of friends decided they needed to meet somewhat regularly. They didn’t have a focal point necessarily, but they decided they would meet every Tuesday. And they would meet in a place where they could just be themselves. C.S. Lewis chose The Eagle and Child pub because they had a back room, and the owner of the pub would let them go back there and sit in that back room. And they could sip a pint of beer and they could talk to their heart’s content and they didn’t have to worry about what anybody thought about them. Lewis used to call that “The Bird and the Babe, The Eagle and the Child”. And that’s where the first inkling of The Inklings came to be. This group of high-powered brains who would sit together and talk about the faith primarily. And they would try each other’s writings out. They would read what it was they were working on, and the others would critique it. And believe you me, they were vicious in their critique, and yet they sharpened one another. And as a result, so much of what was produced by The Inklings over the next years became so important, and, as you know, at least from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, remains important to this day.
The Inklings actually became a more formal group a little bit later. They actually then met on Tuesdays and on Thursday evenings. And so twice a week they would get together, and this discipline continued for a number of years. It was a great help because Lewis desperately needed friends, and these friends of his were at least close to being his intellectual caliber. So it was a great time for him—transforming time. And then, all along the way, he had the responsibility both for Mrs. Moore, Maureen and Warnie. The burden was becoming more and more intense. Mrs. Moore was becoming somewhat unhinged mentally, and that created a terrible problem for him. She was constantly demanding that he do this, that and the other for her. She was constantly manufacturing hypochondriac illnesses. He was constantly being pushed to the limit by her and her demands. And yet he never once lost his cool. Warnie also was a problem because, periodically, he would go on benders, and then Jack was left to pick up the pieces and try to get him back together again and get him back on the path, and it would all then start again.
It was at that point, 1929, actually, that Albert died, the father. The relationship had never been restored. And so Warnie and Jack sold the property in Belfast, such as it was. And with that money, they bought a little house on the outside of Oxford, out in the middle of a quarry, in a little place called “Headington”. Just a couple of miles out of Oxford, in the middle of a quarry. And where this house was was basically the kilns where they kept the fires going to heat the stones that were drawn from the quarry. They bought this little house. It was in miserable condition, but at least it was theirs. And they set about trying to make of it a place where they could all live. It was a little bit awkward.
Tricia and I had the blessing, I think I could say, to go visit The Kilns in the late ’90s while we were studying at Oxford one time. And this was when the house had been left for a long period of time in disrepair. A foundation in the United States had purchased the thing and intended to restore it, which they have done since. They had some college kids living in the place at this point in time. Golly, it was a disaster. But at least you could see. There were three bedrooms upstairs, such as they were, very small. Maureen’s was on one side of the stairs and Mrs. Moore on the other. The third bedroom was accessed only through the second bedroom and the door that went into the third bedroom. Mrs. Moore was in that bedroom. Jack was in the outside bedroom. Well, you can see the awkwardness of that. And so a steel staircase was built at the window of Jack’s bedroom and that’s the way he would come and go to his bedroom, up that steel staircase, and in the window. You can still see the steel staircase there to this day. The house has now been restored to the way it was when Joy was in the house. But let me come to that in a moment.
The Second World War
Jack Lewis remembered with horror the years of his experience in World War I, and so he volunteered to do what he could to help the young men who were going off to war in England in World War II. He signed on with the Royal Air Force, and he then began to travel to all of the RAF bases in England to preach and teach to the students—I mean, to the soldiers there. He knew what they were going to face, he knew the reality of death in his own life and he knew how to communicate to them a bedrock faith. There are many, many, many, many people, writing years later, who said that their experience in the war was saved by the faith they were given by C.S. Lewis in his travels to the RAF bases.
It was at that point his popularity now was beginning to spread in the Christian family. The BBC came to him and asked him if he would once a week go on radio all over England and talk about the Christian faith. And so he did. It was a terrible burden for him because he had to get the train—he never drove, by the way, he always traveled by the trains in England. He had to travel down to London late in the afternoon, do the radio broadcast, get back to Oxford about 2 o’clock in the morning, and then have his classes at 8 o’clock the following morning. It was a terrible burden on him. In the meantime, he was traveling to all the RAF bases, also by train. You can tell that the strain on him was beginning to get intense. Those broadcast talks became very popular, so that people, quite literally by the millions, in England would listen to C.S. Lewis on the radio every single week. A number of years later, in the early ’50s, all of those talks were taken and put together and edited by Jack Lewis into a book that we know as Mere Christianity, the book by which he is best known in the Christian family. Those things began as broadcast talks to the people of England.
After the war—was a tough time for him—still got the responsibility for Warnie, still got the responsibility for the Moores—carrying all of that weight. He is getting more and more royalty money from his various publications, and, by this time, they were beginning to be extensive, and they’d spread to other parts of the world, including America. And he became a rather adored figure in much of the Christian family in America, in the war years and the years after that. So much so that Americans used to voluntarily send care packages to him because they knew things were tough in England. And he would periodically get care packages, and then he would get royalty payments. He could never manage to keep all of that for himself. He would give it away. Two-thirds of all of his royalties, for all of his life, he gave to who knows how many people, institutions, churches, to keep them afloat. By the time he died, it was in the millions upon millions of dollars. And he only kept a small bit of it to live on; the rest of it, he gave away. He believed that his call was to serve Christ in everything that he did, regardless of how tough it was. And that’s precisely what he did.
1950 began what I call the tender years. 1950, everything changed for him. The first place, he had in his mind from his early days that he wanted to write a fantasy built on the Christian faith—a children’s book. And so he sat down, and he began to work on some things that had sort of been in his mind earlier, and he created The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It was published in 1950. Became an immediate bestseller. Introduced the world to Aslan, the lion. Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the Christ figure. Aslan is the Turkish word for lion. And the reason he chose the lion is, first of all, the lion is called “The King of Beasts”, but more to the point, he said, “Jesus is referred to in the Bible as ‘The Lion of Judah’.” And so Aslan became the Christ figure. And Aslan is the dominant figure in The Chronicles of Narnia, along with four little children and then a host of other fascinating characters as you make your way through all of them. But it’s a very profound and powerful story that is clear in its Christian impact. When you read it, you can’t help but see the New Testament gospel in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, you see it in Aslan. It’s an amazing thing.
In addition to that, Mrs. Moore, in 1950, became completely mentally disabled, was placed in a nursing home, and, not too long thereafter, died. So suddenly, the responsibility for her was gone. Something else happened in 1950. One day he got a letter in the mail. He used to get hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of letters from people all over the world who would write to him having heard either his broadcasts or read his writings. And he responded to every one of those. It took him hours and hours and hours and hours. Finally, the task became so overwhelming in the late ’50s that he would dictate to Warnie the kinds of things he wanted to reply, and then, while he was doing other things, Warnie would type out the letters. He answered every letter he ever received, no matter the circumstances.
One of those letters in 1950 came from an American woman. Her name was Joy Davidman Gresham. She had been born Jew, she had become a communist, and then she had read C.S. Lewis, and she had come to Jesus Christ. And they began a correspondence back and forth that he found to be quite fascinating. Two years later, in 1952, she came to England to visit. Wanted to have the chance to meet him. And so they had lunch together. He brought along Warnie, she brought along a friend, had to be proper, and they had lunch at the Eastgate Hotel, right at the backside of the Magdalen College. And something happened there that changed him profoundly. He found someone who was almost his intellectual equal and someone who possessed a raw, unbridled passionate faith in Jesus Christ. The conversation went on for hours, and that began a series of contacts. She went back to America.
In the meantime, her life at home was disintegrating. Her husband had gotten involved with Scientology. You know Scientology these days? Tom Cruise, John Travolta? And he had become very, very difficult to live with, and here she had this rock-solid faith in Christ, and he was attacking her constantly. Along the way, she took in her first cousin Rene; her marriage had gone south. And with her children, Rene moved into her home. Bill Gresham, Joy’s husband, took up with Joy’s sister. She was heartsick, heartbroken, devastated. She didn’t know what else to do at that point except she wanted to make a new start, and so she decided—she had fallen in love with England during her brief visit there, so she moved to London. She was not well-off. She had two children, David and Douglas, and C.S Lewis paid for their education.
And that began a wonderful friendship. Finally, she actually moved to Oxford. Lived in a little house there. And the two of them continued their wonderful times together. She kind of became a sort of an unofficial member of The Inklings. They sort of resented women, but they couldn’t deny her intellect. She would bring them to their knees. And so they had to admire her for that, and so they gradually accepted her. And then, one day, she got a note from the British Home Office saying that her visa was expiring. She was going to be deported. She turned to Lewis, and he said, “Only one way to deal with that. I’m going to marry you.” There’s such a thing in England as civil marriage. As Lewis said, “It doesn’t mean a thing in the eyes of God. But it’s a civil marriage and then you’re on my citizenship, and you can stay here.”
So they went and got married civilly—1956, April. Continued to live exactly as they’d lived before. Had no relationship other than this relationship of deep friendship. And then, one day, in her home, Joy got up to answer the phone, and her leg gave way. Her whole bone in her leg was shattered. He took her to the hospital and discovered that she had cancer. It had destroyed the bone. She was eaten up with cancer. They told her she had only a matter of weeks to live. By this time, C.S. Lewis had acknowledged that, in his own heart, this thing was more than friendship, this was love. And so he declared his love to Joy, and he said, “I want to marry you good and proper.”
He went to the bishop of Oxford, and the bishop said, “No. She’s divorced. You can’t marry her.” He was bereft. Had a friend named Peter Bide who had been a student of his, and the friend he went to, asked him if he would perform the marriage, and Peter said, “Yeah. I don’t care what the bishop says.” And so he performed the marriage in the hospital room. March, 1957. And that began the most glorious years of Jack Lewis’ life. They had a profound and powerful love that only grew deeper and stronger with every day. The cancer went into remission for a time. They had great years together. His writing continued; he was pouring out stuff. He was actually becoming, at that point in time, a powerful force for Christ in the world. And they shared wonderful times together.
And then, in late 1959, the cancer returned, and the last months of Joy’s life were an agony, but they were very priceless to the two of them. She fought for all she was worth. She allowed her faith to triumph. And the love they shared over those months was beautiful indeed. And on July the 13th, 1960, she went to Heaven. He wrote a little poem that now marks the spot where her remains are to be found.
Here the whole world (stars, water, air,
And field, and forest, as they were
Reflected in a single mind)
Like cast off clothes was left behind
In ashes, yet with hopes that she,
Re-born from holy poverty,
In lenten lands, hereafter may
Resume them on her Easter Day.
The last years of his life were bittersweet. As he tried to deal with the reality of her death, he wrote in his diary day after day after day. Had no intention of it ever being published. Then one of his friends read the things that he’d written there and asked him if he would publish it. He said yes, but only under a pseudonym. And so his diary at that point was published under the name “Didymus”, which means cut in half. It’s the title we now know as A Grief Observed. It’s a very, very powerful, powerful book, now, obviously, published under his name.
1961, his body began to fall apart. He had a tough time. And then, in ’62, he had a heart attack. Basically confined to his home. He began to invite friends to come by one after another. He wanted to have one last visit with all of those who had meant so much to him. And so there was this procession through The Kilns, some of the greatest minds of the 20th century, and then, some of the most common, ordinary people you could ever imagine. All to visit with Jack Lewis in his last days.
4:30 in the afternoon, November the 22nd, 1963. Warnie went in to take his afternoon tea to Jack—he was in bed. He then went out. Shortly thereafter, he heard a noise in the bedroom. He got up and went in, and Jack had gotten up from the bed and collapsed and died. 5:30 in the afternoon, November the 22nd, 1963. You will know, if you think about it, where you were that day because, you see, that’s the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. And, in a way, it was kind of sad because the whole world was galvanized by the death of John Kennedy. Nobody paid any attention to the death of the most influential Christian of the 20th century—Clive Staples ‘Jack’ Lewis.
The last of The Chronicles of Narnia is called “The Last Battle”. It ends with an incredible affirmation of Heaven. Here is how C.S. Lewis describes it, “And for us, this is the end of all the stories,” the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, “And we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them, it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page. Now, at last, they were beginning chapter one of the great story, which no one on Earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Clive Staples ‘Jack’ Lewis, a man in Christ and a man, now, with Christ in the Heaven he so longed for, in the presence not only of Christ but of the one who was the joy of his life.
God bless you. Go in peace.