Lewis, C S

Tagged: Author | Critic

(1898-1963) UK author and critic, born in Belfast; he saw active service in the trenches during World War One; he was a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, 1925-1954, and finally Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge. His very early works – Dymer (1926 chap) as by Clive Hamilton, a highly metaphysical Utopian fantasy couched as a book-length narrative poem – came before his conversion to Christianity. Most of his later writing, whether directly or indirectly, was Christian apologetics; this was as true of his autobiography Surprised by Joy (1955) as of the fantasy The Screwtape Letters (1942; exp vt The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast 1961), in which an older devil writes letters of advice to a younger, devising various means of winning human souls. In Oxford Lewis was friendly with Charles Williams (another Anglican) and J R R Tolkien (a Roman Catholic). All three were Christian moralists with a strong interest in allegory or fantasy, and (with others, including Owen Barfield, an Anthroposophist) they formed a casual society, the Inklings, during whose meetings they read to each other from works in progress.

Lewis's most popular fiction is for children, and is allegorical Fantasy, although it uses many sf devices, including Time Travel, other Dimensions and Parallel Worlds. The kingdom of Narnia, to which various human children travel, is ruled by a lion, Aslan, who is "crucified" by a wicked witch. There are many excitingly described perils, most with a direct Christian allegorical application. Widely loved by children as straightforward fantasy, the series is: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), Prince Caspian (1951), The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" (1952), The Silver Chair (1953), The Horse and his Boy (1954), The Magician's Nephew (1955), which comes first in terms of the internal chronology, and The Last Battle (1956), a Carnegie Medal winner; for resortings of this material see Checklist. Omnibuses include Prince Caspian & The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (omni 1990) and Tales of Narnia: The Silver Chair & The Last Battle (omni 1990). Two fantasies for adults are The Great Divorce: A Dream (1945 chap), a minor allegory about Heaven and Hell in which Posthumous Fantasy [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] reverts tamely back to dream; and Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold (1956), a dark retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche which some of his admirers consider his best work.

Lewis's primary contribution to sf proper is the Ransom sequence (also known as the Cosmic Trilogy) about the linguist Dr Ransom, who like Christ is at one point offered as a ransom for mankind: Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943; vt Voyage to Venus 1953), and That Hideous Strength (1945; cut 1955; cut version vt The Tortured Planet 1958). The first two novels are Planetary Romances with elements of medieval mythology. Each planet is seen as having a tutelary spirit; those of the other planets are both good and accessible, while that of Earth is fallen, twisted and not known directly by most humans. These two books are powerfully imagined, although their scientific content is intermittently absurd. The effect of lesser Gravity on Martian plant and animal life is rendered with great economy and vividness, as is Ransom's first sight of the water world of Venus, a rich exercise in Perception; in a passage as purely evocative of a sense of alien wonder as anything in sf, Ransom's human eyes cannot at first make sense of the strangeness about him. The religious allegory of Perelandra, however, in which an evil Scientist plays Satanic tempter to the female ruler of Venus, a new Eve, is deeply conservative and also – in its courtly, romantic (and some may think dehumanizing) view of womanhood – sexist. Lewis's ideology of gender is spelled out in detail in a number of essays and in the critical book A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942), which can be seen as a template for Perelandra.

The third volume, That Hideous Strength, is set on contemporary Earth, and is more directly occult in its genre machinery than either of its predecessors. The fury of Lewis's attack on scientific "humanism" or "scientism" (science directed towards purely worldly ends) is very nearly unbalanced, and leads to grossly melodramatic caricature of Scientists and government-supported research units in general, and of H G Wells in particular, here grotesquely envisaged as the vulgar cockney journalist, Jules. The book's attack on government indifference to Ecology won it a new audience in the late 1960s. Lewis's attitude towards any form of modernism was neatly encapsulated by a remark he made during a lecture on medieval poetry in 1938: "And then the Renaissance came and spoiled everything." The three books are collected in The Cosmic Trilogy (omni 1990).

Some of Lewis's minor essays in and about sf, including a transcript of a talk with Brian W Aldiss and Kingsley Amis, can be found in the posthumous Of Other Worlds (coll 1966) edited by Walter Hooper (1931-    ), which includes two stories originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. A later posthumous work is The Dark Tower and Other Stories (coll 1977) edited by Hooper. It has been strongly suggested by Kathryn Lindskoog (1934-2003) in The C.S. Lewis Hoax (1988) that the Reverend Hooper – Lewis's secretary for only one month – forged various items of posthumously published Lewis material included in The Dark Tower, a charge which has been strenuously (and in the end effectively) denied. Lindskoog offered a vigorous counter-rebuttal in "The Dark Scandal: Science Fiction Forgery" (Summer/Fall 1992 Quantum #42), but in that year it was revealed that she herself had been forging letters to do with the Hooper issue – indeed, she admitted as much, though she described her fourteen forged letters as a lighthearted "prank". What there can be no doubt about is that the works assembled by Hooper have affected readers as being both sexually poisonous and egregiously amateur. [PN]

see also: Aliens; Anti-Intellectualism in SF; Children's SF; Conceptual Breakthrough; Eschatology; Fantastic Voyages; Gods and Demons; Horror in SF; Islands; Life on Other Worlds; Linguistics; Living Worlds; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; Magic; Mainstream Writers of SF; Mars; Messiahs; Mythology; Religion; Secret Masters; Social Darwinism; Venus.

Clive Staples Lewis

born Belfast, Northern Ireland: 29 November 1898

died Oxford, Oxfordshire: 22 November 1963

works

series

Ransom/Cosmic Trilogy

Narnia (selected omnis only)

individual titles

novels and other fictions

collections

nonfiction (selected)

works as editor

about the author

Very many book-length studies of Lewis's life and work exist, perhaps the most distinguished biography being C.S. Lewis: A Biography (1990) by A N Wilson. Further biographical material appears in Shadowlands: The Story of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman (1985) by Brian Sibley, whose germ was a television script by Sibley and Norman Stone titled I Call It Joy. This script inspired or was developed into William Nicholson's television drama Shadowlands (1985), which also became a successful stage play 1989-1990 and was filmed as Shadowlands (1993), directed by Richard Attenborough, screenplay by Nicholson, with Anthony Hopkins as Lewis and Debra Winger as Joy. A selection of C S Lewis studies appears below.

links

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