C.S. Lewis: A Gallery of Family and Friends
Albert Lewis (1863–1929)
C.S. Lewis’s father, Albert Lewis, was the son of a Welsh immigrant who found success as a partner in a firm that manufactured boilers and ships. Albert attended college and began a practice as a solicitor in Belfast in 1885.
Lewis believed his father’s quick mind, eloquence and love of oratory would have suited him for a career in politics if he had had the means. Albert’s favorite pastime was spending an afternoon swapping anecdotes with his brothers, acting them out with great florish.
C.S. Lewis described his father’s side of the family as “true Welshmen, sentimental, passionate, and rhetorical, easily moved both to anger and to tenderness.” Albert never fully recovered from grief following his wife’s death, and his erratic and sometimes cruel subsequent behavior alienated his sons.
Albert filled the Lewis home with books, but his son’s interest in fantasy literature was not shared by his parents. “If I am a romantic,” he wrote, “my parents bear no responsibility for it.”
Florence Hamilton Lewis (1862–1908)
Flora Lewis, C.S. Lewis’s mother, was the daughter of the Rev. Thomas Hamilton, rector of the church attended by the Lewises. Flora’s talent for mathematics won her a first in the subject at Queen’s College, Belfast, where she earned a B.A.
Flora’s cool temperament was the antithesis of her husband’s emotionality. When she agreed to marry Albert after an eight-year courtship, she wrote to him, “I wonder do I love you? I am not quite sure. I’l know that at least I am very fond of you, and that I should never think of loving anyone else.”
C.S. Lewis wrote of her family, “their minds were critical and ironic and they had the talent for happiness to a high degree.” Flora was a voracious reader and wrote magazine articles. She died of cancer when C.S. Lewis was only nine. “With my mother’s death,” he wrote, “all that was tranquil and reliable disappeared from my life.”
Major Warren Hamilton Lewis (1895–1973)
C.S. Lewis referred to his older brother, Warren (“Warnie”), as “my dearest and closest friend.” The lifelong bond formed as the boys played together, writing and illustrating stories, in their country home. When their mother’s death devastated their father, they were left with only each other for comfort and support.
Although their careers took widely different turns, the two lived together much of their lives. Warren was a career army officer in the Royal Army Service Corps and served in such posts as Sierra Leone and China. After retiring from 18 years of active service in 1932, he took up residence at the Kilns, where he lived until after his brother’s death.
Upon retirement, Warren took on the task of editing the Lewis family papers. He was recalled to active service in World War II. During his final retirement he wrote seven books on the history of 17th Century France.
Warren Lewis returned to belief in Christianity five months before his brother’s conversion. He was a frequent participant in weekly meetings of the Inklings. The Lewis brothers undertook many annual walking tours of up to 50 miles. His 40-year battle with alcoholism was a source of great concern to his brother.
Arthur Greeves (1895–1966)
C.S. Lewis described Arthur Greeves as, “after my brother, my oldest and most intimate friend.” Lewis met Greeves when the neighbor boy, bedridden with the bad heart that kept him an invalid most of his life, requested a visit. The two boys discovered a common love for books, and Lewis found in Greeves an “alter ego, the man who first reveals to you that you are not alone in the world by turning out (beyond hope) to share all your most secret delights.”
Although Lewis did not consider Greeves his intellectual equal, he learned much from Greeves’ insight into the realm of feelings. The two began a correspondence that lasted for the rest of Lewis’s life, and he wrote his friend nearly 300 letters. Greeves was also a consistent influence for Christ in his friend’s life, and it was to Greeves that Lewis first revealed his own conversion.
Greeves’ heart ailment prevented him from holding steady employment. Independently wealthy, he never needed it. He earned a certificate of art at a London school, and was considered a good painter. Although he also wrote, Greeves was never published. Lewis sent Greeves some of his manuscripts for critique.
Owen Barfield (1898– )
C.S. Lewis and Owen Barfield were drawn together during their undergraduate days at Oxford by a common interest in poetry. As they read and critiqued each other’s work, Lewis found in Barfield a second great friend. The two men shared interests, but not points of view; Lewis described Barfield as his “anti-self,” “the man who disagrees with you about everything.”
After Oxford, Barfield worked as a free-lance writer until financial demands forced him to enter his father’s legal firm as a solicitor. He maintained his friendship with Lewis for the rest of their lives, and was influential in shaping Lewis’s views about the importance of myth in language, literature, and the history of thinking. Barfield resumed his writing career after retiring from law.
Raised an agnostic, Barfield became a Christian in his late twenties; nevertheless, he was never comfortable with Lewis’s apologetics or his evangelism. He later embraced and wrote about anthroposophy, a form of religious philosophy which he believed complemented rather than detracted from Christianity.
J.R.R. Tolkien (1892–1973)
Although they initially took opposite sides in a faculty dispute over English literature curriculum, Tolkien and Lewis were eventually united by an interest in myth and legend. Tolkien introduced Lewis to the Coalbiters, a club he had formed which read and translated Icelandic myths. Their mutual interest led to many late-night discussions and long walks. Lewis wrote to Greeves that Tolkien was “the one man absolutely fitted, if fate had allowed, to be a third in our friendship in the old days.”
Their shared belief in the importance of myth led to a discussion about Christianity that Lewis regarded an important factor leading to his conversion. Lewis encouraged Tolkien in his work on The Silmarillion, a cycle of myth and legend, and read The Lord of the Rings as Tolkien wrote it. Tolkien was extremely critical of Lewis’s Narnian chronicles, charging that they were hastily written, inconsistent, and that they failed to create a “real” setting. Tolkien was also critical of Lewis’s marriage to Joy, partly because of his views on divorce and remarriage.
Tolkien was professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford from 1925 to 1945, when he became professor of English language and literature until retirement in 1959.
Charles Williams (1886–1945)
The son of a clerk who instilled in him his love of literature and belief in understanding all sides of an argument, Charles Williams was largely self-educated. Williams began his career as a proofreader in the London office of Oxford University Press, where he worked his way up to the position of editor. Williams wrote poetry from his early days, and became a prolific writer of novels, drama, theology, and criticism as well.
Williams met Lewis when the latter wrote him a letter praising his novel, The Place of the Lion. At the same time, Williams was admiring Lewis’s Allegory of Love. The two met occasionally until Williams moved to Oxford in 1939, where he became a regular member of the Inklings.
Although Lewis described Williams as “ugly as a chimpanzee,” Williams’ personal magnetism won him a wide following. He developed the idea of romantic theology, which considers the theological implications of romantic experiences, and The Way of Affirmation, in which earthly pleasures are seen as a door to Christian vision rather than a barrier.
Lewis was impressed by Williams’ selfless character, and described him as offering himself wholly to others without expecting anything in return. Although Lewis said he was never consciously influenced by Williams’ work, many students of the two see Williams’ influence in Lewis’s writing, especially in using ordinary people as the characters in the Space Trilogy.
R.E. Havard (1901– )
The son of an Anglican clergyman, R.E. Havard studied chemistry at Oxford before becoming a medical doctor. Havard took his practice to Oxford in 1934, where he became the physician for Lewis and the Tolkien family. Lewis enjoyed Havard, who was as willing to discuss philosophical problems as medical ones. After Lewis invited him to read a paper on the effects of pain at a Thursday evening meeting of the Inklings, Havard became a regular member of the group.
Tolkien said Havard, unlike most doctors, “thinks of people as people, not as collections of ‘works.’ ” Lewis named the doctor in Perelandra “Humphrey,” Havard’s nickname, in tribute to his friend.
Dorothy Sayers (1893–1957)
Dorothy Sayers, one of the first woman graduates of Oxford, studied the classics and won honors in modern language studies. She worked as an advertising copywriter for 11 years. Sayers first won recognition as the writer of detective thrillers featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. She later wrote religious plays for radio, as well as numerous books and essays on Christian apologetics and theology. Sayers kept up correspondence, primarily concerning literature, with Lewis and his contemporaries. Lewis considered her “the first person of importance who ever wrote me a fan letter,” and he called her “one of the great English letter writers.” It may have been Sayers who spurred Lewis to write Miracles—he began work on the book just weeks after receiving her letter lamenting no good modern works on the subject.
Sayers was a member of Oxford’s Socratic Club, a forum for discussing intellectual challenges in religion and Christianity, of which Lewis was president for 22 years. Lewis appreciated Sayers in person as well as by post; he praised “the extraordinary zest and edge of her conversation.”
Joy Davidman (1915–1960)
Helen Joy Davidman, of Jewish descent, was raised in the Bronx, New York, where she readily adopted her father’s materialistic philosophy. Extraordinarily bright, she entered college at 14. By the age of 25 she had earned a master’s degree and published a novel and two books of poetry. After a failed try at screenwriting in Hollywood, she settled in New York to continue her work with the Communist Party. There she met and married William Gresham, a fellow writer.
Joy found faith in God in her early thirties, and became a Christian a year later, partly through the influence of Lewis’s books. She began correspondence with him that led to a visit and a growing friendship. When her husband left her for another woman, she moved to Oxford with her two sons.
Lewis described Joy’s mind as “lithe and quick and muscular as a leopard.” Many of his friends disapproved of the match; some found Joy too harsh and outspoken; others objected to her status as a divorcee. Nevertheless, their brief marriage, which ended in her death from cancer, brought some of the greatest joy to his life. Joy encouraged Lewis to write Reflections on the Psalms and her influence can be seen in Till We Have Faces and The Four Loves. Her own book, Smoke on the Mountain, is still in print.
G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936)
One of Lewis’s primary mentors in apologetics, and an influence even in his conversion, was G.K. Chesterton. Novelist, poet, essayist, and journalist, Chesterton was perhaps best known for his Father Brown detective stories. He produced more than 100 volumes in his lifetime, including biographies of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas. His The Everlasting Man, which set out a Christian outline of history, was one of the factors that wore down Lewis’s resistance to Christianity.
Chesterton was one of the first defenders of orthodoxy to use humor as a weapon. Perhaps more important was his use of reason to defend faith. Chesterton wrote that the universe can only be understood as a creation; that man’s sense of right and wrong and his conflict when he becomes aware that he is not what he was made to be points to a Creator. Though they never met, Lewis called Chesterton “the most sensible man alive.”
George MacDonald (1824–1905)
The man C.S. Lewis regarded as his master barely made a living as a poet, novelist, lecturer, and writer of children’s books. Yet Lewis said of the retired minister, “I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself.” In his teens, Lewis was profoundly changed by reading MacDonald’s Phantastes, a Faerie Romance, an experience Lewis considered the “baptism” of his imagination. Lewis considered MacDonald the best writer of fantasy alive, and he found a sense of holiness in all MacDonald’s writings. Lewis was touched by MacDonald’s devotional writings as well. He wrote, “My own debt to (Unspoken Sermons) is almost as great as one man can owe to another,” and he recommended the book with success to many seekers.
Copyright © 1985 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.
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