|C.S. Lewis: Creator of Narnia|
Elaine Murray Stone
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A master at conveying spiritual truths, C.S. Lewis is one of Christianity's most beloved writers. The Chronicles of Narnia, Screwtape Letters, and The Space Trilogy--ranked among the finest literary fantasies ever written--have brought readers both young and old closer to God. Read Lewis's works and he'll soon become one of your favorite authors, too!
In this insightful biography of the world-renowned children's fantasy writer and Christian apologist, award-winning author Elain Murray Stone again proves her skill at making the famous come alive for today's reader. Recommended for ages 9 and up. Includes black and white illustrations.
“Jack, look what I made from an old biscuit tin,” ‘said Warren Lewis. Little Jack, his chubby face rosy with expectation, ran to the nursery door to see. (The famed author-to-be, baptized Clive Staples Lewis, had renamed himself "Jacksie" not long after he learned to talk.) His brother, nicknamed “Warnie,” held out a used biscuit box that he had transformed into a miniature garden. Buried in the green moss lay tiny pebbles, blue forget-me-nots, pink primroses, and even a mirror to simulate a pond. Jack was entranced, and his older brother proud.
“May I hold it?” asked Jack timidly, not sure of the answer.
“Of course,” replied Warnie, three years older than Jack. “I made it for Mother. But I wanted you to see it first.”
At that moment, the children’s Irish nurse, Lizzie Endicott, entered. She set down the boys’ afternoon tea on a nearby table. Drawing Jack toward her, she asked sweetly, “What’s this we have here?”
“Look, Lizzie,” replied Jack. “Isn’t this pretty? It’s a tiny garden Warnie made for Mother. I wish I could do something that nice for her, too.”
Lizzie brushed a brown lock from his eyes, “Now, me darling, don’t pout,” said the nurse. “And isn’t it yourself that’s colored her many a pretty picture? Elves and dressed-up rabbits. Why, many clever things. I know she is right proud of ye, Jackie, boy.”
Lizzie ordered, “Come now. Sit clown and have your tea. At the rate you boys tuck down biscuits, there’ll soon be another tin for you, Jack.”
“But,” added Jack, “the garden was Warnie’s idea. Mother will never think mine’s as nice.”
“Sure she will,” nodded Lizzie, smiling.
Jack and Warnie were the privileged sons of an Irish attorney, Albert J. Lewis, and his beautiful wife, Flora. The Lewises lived in a large semiattached villa in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The villa had a moderate-sized garden with a part-time gardener to care for it. The boys’ lives were well ordered, with morning lessons from their mother, who was a graduate in mathematics of Queen’s College, Belfast. Later, Governess Harper instructed them in all other subjects.
Albert Lewis, their father, was of Welsh stock and the first in his family to work in a profession. Like many Welshmen, Albert was very emotional, swinging from extremes of happiness to deep depression. Albert did not figure high in his sons’ lives, as he was at the office from early morning to night, handling legal cases. Flora, a native of Northern Ireland, was the daughter of an Anglican minister, descending from a long line of respected lawyers and clergy.
C. S. Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, on November 29, 1898. He was baptized Clive Staples Lewis in the staid Church of England of the Victorian era. Collars and backs were stiff. Manners were formal, and little boys were expected to be seen and not heard. However, this would have been difficult in the Lewis household, where Warnie and Jack, with boundless energy, had the run of house and garden. They could shout when excited as well as the next youngster. It was Nurse Endicott’s job to keep the boys under control. Their mother ran the household with the assistance of’ a cook, two parlor maids, and the gardener.
Although other children lived in the neighborhood and the boys had cousins their age nearby, Jack and Warnie found their greatest enjoyment in each other. They played together every day, usually indoors, as Belfast was rainy and foggy.
Mr. Lewis turned out to be very successful in his law firm and decided that his family must have a bigger, more pretentious house. He selected a large site with a view of Belfast’s busy harbor and then had a three-story brick Victorian house constructed. He named their new home “Little Lea.”
Jack was seven when the family moved to Little Lea. The house had many rooms, long dark halls, and gurgling plumbing. What delighted the boys most were its several attics. These they quickly took over as their private domain. Here they wrote stories and drew pictures, always based on their main interests: talking animals, knights in armor, and the icy northlands. Jack always referred to the two homes he lived in as a child as the “Old House” and the “New House.”
Life at Little Lea would have been pure delight for Jack if Warren, by then ten, had not been sent off to boarding school in England. Jack, still without playmates in the neighborhood, had only the servants and his vivid imagination as friends. But once he learned to read, Jack made books his daily companions. Both boys lived their entire lives surrounded by books. At Little Lea, books lay piled two deep in rows of’ bookcases crowding every room and hall. There were books lying about on tables and chairs, desks, stairwells, and ottomans. Almost every night, Mr. Lewis arrived home with his arms laden with books for Flora, the boys, and himself.
Jack continued to make the attic his favorite spot. There he kept his paints, paper, pen, and ink. Now instead of drawing knights in armor, he began writing and illustrating his first book, Animal Land.
No one stopped Jack from reading anything he liked. His parents never said, “You’re too young,” or “This book is over your head.” They allowed him to explore novels, history, poetry, and biographies as he crammed his young head with every kind of literature. But it soon became evident that what Jack enjoyed most was fantasy, particularly the tales of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. He searched out the unexpected and the imaginative.
While counting the days until Warnie came home from school on holiday, Jack turned to his mother for companionship. Mother and son took afternoon walks together and trips to the seaside. They even traveled to France to improve Jack’s French. Returning by way of London, Jack toured the Tower of London and the zoo. On returning to Belfast, Jack looked forward to seeing his older brother at Christmas. In mid-December Warnie would be arriving home after traveling across the sea from Liverpool. It would be a jovous reunion for both.
At a dormer window in the attic, Jack knelt facing the road winding up from the harbor. Suddenly, a coach came into view. Jack flew down the stairway and out to the white stone steps of the porch.
“Warnie, Warnie!” he shouted as the coach pulled into the circular drive.
Warren leaped out the vehicle’s door, not bothering with the steps the coachman pulled down for him. He rushed toward his little brother and, pumping his hand up and down, said, “Oh Jack, it’s so great to be home.”
Jack looked at Warnie, now taller and older. Warnie was more like a young gentleman than the carefree boy who had left for school at the end of summer.
As the boys entered the front hail, their mother emerged from her sewing room. “Dear boy,” she beamed, patting Warnie’s shoulder, “How I have missed you!” The pink-checked Irish maids in their starched aprons and caps came forward to curtsey. “Welcome home, Master Warren.” they chirped.
At six that evening, Mr. Lewis arrived home from his office. Pride showed in his face as he greeted his older son. “Now, Warren,” he stated, “I shall expect to see some manly behavior around here for a change.”
Jack’s heart sank. He knew Father was referring to him. Mr. Lewis, working in the pragmatic field of law, found it disturbing that his younger son took no interest in sports or politics but was rather inclined to keep to himself. Worse yet, Jack was still engrossed within a fantasy world of rabbits, mice, and elves.
Once the greetings were over, Jack dragged Warnie to their favorite spot in the attic.
“Look, Warnie.” he cried with delight, “I’ve been writing a book while you were gone. It’s called Animal Land, and I’m giving it to Mother for her birthday.”
“Let’s see,” said Warnie, holding out his hand. “Oh. you’ve even illustrated it. I can’t say which I like best, the pictures or the story.” Jack relished Warnie’s every word.
“There’s lots more,” added Jack. “I’m even planning a chapter on India—just for you.”
Since early childhood, Warnie had been intrigued by that exotic subcontinent, then Britain’s wealthiest colony.
“Oh, India,” Warnie shrugged his shoulders, “I have other interests now.”
Jack looked crestfallen. Had boarding school changed his best and only friend? Jack might even have dropped a tear, except that the dinner bell rang.
“I’d better wash up,” Warnie said, appearing more mature by the minute. “See you downstairs.”
Jack would have raced to the table with his usual grimy hands, but Miss Harper caught him on the landing. Soon the noisy plumbing rattled loudly, announcing that Jack had obeyed his governess.
Christmas was a delight. Everyone was in the best of moods. Candles flickered on drooping branches of a tall evergreen tree set in a sandbox in the formal living room. Gaslight shed a glow over the stacks of gifts, alluringly waiting to he opened. Each time a guest arrived and the front door opened, the wind blew in stiffly from the sea, trailing a chill into the foyer.
The Lewis household already numbered six: Mr. and Mrs. Lewis: Mr. Lewis’s old father, almost blind and very deaf: the boys, Jack and Warnie: and their governess, Miss Harper. Now in quick succession arrived Uncle Joe, Albert Lewis’s brother, and Cousin Mary.
There was a marked contrast between Jack’s relatives on the Lewis side and the Hamiltons on his mother’s. Uncle Joe Lewis had three girls and two boys, one of whom had been a playmate of Jack’s in his nursery years. Uncle Joe was fond of Jack. He always treated the boy warmly but seldom entered into conversation with him or his own five children. At Uncle Joe’s house, adults spoke rarely to children, engaging them only to ruffle their hair or talk down to them.
Jack found his mother’s brother, A. W. Hamilton, more to his liking. “Uncle Gussie” told Jack fascinating stories about science and history and about places he had visited. He opened new horizons to this all-absorbing child, which later enhanced Jack’s science fiction and stories about legendary times and people.
As this large, extended family sat before the shining silver and heaped-up plates of their Christmas dinner, Jack felt a surge of joy. Here he found complete happiness: a loving family, fun and laughter, and delight Christmas delicacies. Added to that was Father’s deep voice presenting toasts and sharing jokes and stories.
Jack’s father was at his best around a crowded table. He had a great gift for storytelling, and one anecdote followed another, drawing peals of laughter from the diners.
Over the long holiday, Jack and Warnie took walks, rode their bikes, and on snowy days raced down the steep hill to the valley below on their sleds. Jack wondered who needed a close friend or “kissing cousin” with such a wonderful older brother to share his life.
All too soon, Warnie boarded the ship again for Liverpool, off to another term at school, which now owned his allegiance. Somehow, Warnie never mentioned life at boarding school. If Jack questioned him about his studies or friends there, a cloud came over Warnie’s jovial face. He seemed reluctant to share anything about his school, all with good reason, as Jack later discovered.
With Warnie gone, Jack found a new love: the long ago and far-off northlands. He reveled in Nordic mythology, the strong warrior gods, the ice-draped lands of blue and white shadow. He couldn’t find enough books and illustrations to satisfy his new hunger. When he asked his father to bring him books on the Norseland, Mr. Lewis appeared distant, as though his mind and heart were in some other far-off place. It wasn’t too long before Jack discovered what was troubling his father.
One night Jack lay in bed with a toothache. The pain was caused by a baby tooth, and the family dentist had judged it not worth filling. He knew it would soon fall out anyway. But the boy was also running a fever. He tossed and turned, begging the governess to fetch his mother, but no one seemed interested in his problem.
“Doesn’t any one care about me?” he moaned, kicking off the blanket that was quickly drawn up by Miss Parker. “Where’s Mummy? Doesn’t she know I’m sick?”
Miss Parker put a finger to her lips. ”Hush Jack. Your parents can’t come right now.”
It was then that Jack took notice of’ the unusual number of people passing up and down the staircase of the click of unfamiliar shoes on the landing, of strange voices whispering in the hallways. Suddenly Jack’s heart went cold.
“Is something wrong?” he asked the stone-faced governess. “Is it Mother?”
Miss Parker’s usually stalwart face crumbled. She held a lace-edged handkerchief to her eyes. “Yes, Jack. I’m afraid your mother is quite ill. Several doctors have been with her all evening.”
Just then there was a knock at the nursery door. Mr. Lewis entered, looking as if he had been in a battle.
Tears poured down his broad Welsh face. He sat on Jack’s bed and took the boy’s hot, trembling hand in his.
“Jack,” he began, his throat so tight and hoarse that the boy could hardly understand him. “Your mother is very ill. The doctors have been examining her all day. I’m afraid Mother has cancer.”
The frightening word cancer was then rarely uttered in polite society. Jack pulled the covers over his head and pushed himself down to the bottom of the bed.
“Cancer,” he cried. “Cancer means she’s going to die.”
The little bed shook with his sobs. To the lonely child, Mother meant everything Iovely, beautiful, and good. Mother provided stability and understanding, warmth and safety. What would life be without Mother?
The next few months passed in a haze of tragedy. Mrs. Lewis was operated on at home, and the cancer was removed. Everyone in the house looked forward to her fast recovery and a return to normalcy. Brought up in the Church of England, Jack now turned to God begging him to spare his mother. This was Jack’s first great test of faith, but, it seemed, God let him down.
The cancer struck again, this time with greater force as it spread throughout his mother’s body.
Warnie returned home for the summer holiday.
“Stop that noise,” Jack and his brother were instructed whenever they tried to play. “Go outside. You’re disturbing your mother,” said the nurses who attended Mrs. Lewis around the clock.
Jack tiptoed into her room for a good-night kiss during a moment when his mother was awake. Doses of morphine had relieved her pain but left her in a twilight condition of sleep. Antiseptic odors, cotton bandages, syringes—all so strange and foreign to Jack’s experience—dominated her room. It would be the last time he saw his beloved mother. Returning to his room. Jack heard footsteps padding by his door en route to hers at all hours. His mother’s screams of pain pierced the walls near his bed. The terrified boy prayed harder than ever for his mother’s life.
Then, on the night of August 23, 1908, Flora Lewis’s suffering finally came to an end. Albert visited the nursery to break the news to both boys.
Jack was only nine, his brother thirteen, when their mother died. As the many months of sickness crawled past, Jack had believed that God would spare her. Where was his powerful God, and why had he turned a deafened ear to Jack’s desperate prayers? Beyond losing his mother, Jack felt betrayed by God. His faith faltered.
After Flora’s death, Albert Lewis seemed to have forgotten his two sons altogether. His heart, his life, was Flora, and she had left him. He had no time for Jack and Warnie, who were suffering as great a loss as he. Deep in grief, Mr. Lewis was completely blinded to anything around him and especially to the needs of his two young sons. But as he grew further apart from them, the two boys grew closer to each other.
Minutes after Flora’s death, the somber Irish maids had tiptoed around the house, drawing the heavy drapes and curtains closed. In that moment of sorrow, a dark curtain fell over Jack’s childhood. Could anything, or anyone, ever open it again?