Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963): A Brief Biography

First published in The C.S. Lewis Readers’ Encyclopedia in 1998.

CLIVE STAPLES LEWIS (1898-1963): A Brief Biography


John Bremer


This brief biography is deeply indebted to the publications, letters, and diaries of Lewis, his brother, and his friends, and to the biographical work of George Sayer and Roger Lancelyn Green.

It attempts to sketch the intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and professional development of Clive Staples Lewis, with a glance at his social and genetic inheritance. While there is a pattern, the development is not slow and continuous; sometimes, although it is clear that developments must have taken place, there is little or no evidence as to their actual course. As a consequence, in this biography, chronology is not always strictly followed, nor are people, places, events, and publications given full treatment; they are treated, not as important in themselves, but only insofar as they illuminate the life of Lewis. For a fuller account of them, the reader is invited to consult their entries elsewhere in this volume.

To convey the sheer brilliance in the natural talents of Lewis is not easy: his intelligence was of the highest order, he had a prodigious memory, a creative imagination, and his energy was such that everything he did had an intensity (and sometimes an exclusivity) that heightened his already impressive talents. Whether it was a natural endowment it is difficult to say, but he had a way of using all that he read and experienced to transform his living – there was no such thing as “purely academic” knowledge, and what he understood (and misunderstood) affected how he lived. He struggled to unify intelligence, imagination, and morality, and ultimately saw that while reason gave access to the truth, imagination gave access to reality (which the truth was about). Thus, imagination was a higher power or faculty than reason.

Lewis’s moral character was also intense and unrelenting. For example, his loyalty to friends or to those to whom he had made a commitment was legendary; on the other hand, it was only late in life that he achieved what the Greeks called sophrosyne – a moderation or temperance, a gentleness (such as Shakespeare always seemed to have had). His physical appetites were comparable in their excessiveness. He enjoyed food (eating very, very quickly and with great gusto, although the fare was usually plain), he drank strong tea and strong liquor (mostly beer and whiskey), smoked both cigarettes and a pipe, and had a potent sexual animality that he fought to control most of his life. No handyman, he was clumsy with his hands (partly because, like his father and brother, his thumbs lacked the joint furthest from the tip), and he never could learn how to drive a car. But he could — notably in his younger years — draw fine illustrations.

The sheer power of his nature often made him appear coarse and brutal, especially in the first half of his life, but he treated others no harder than he treated himself, and in his writings and in his relations with students, in the second half of his life, he shows a gentleness and sensitivity that is in strong contrast to the ruthless and contentious wrangler and bully that others often saw.

The story of his life is the story of how his incredible talents were gentled, civilized, made creative of good, and Christianized. Thus, in one dimension, his life was a struggle with and within himself, and not the least impressive aspect of it is that he won the struggle — that is, in Platonic terms, his soul became well-ordered, true to its own nature. The way in which he understood that is told in Surprised by Joy, which, if not a formal autobiography, is the closest to it that we have. But it must be remembered that, given his commitment to the interaction between what he knew and how he lived, all of the writings of Lewis are, in a sense, autobiographical.

This biography tries to come to terms with the fact that Lewis understood his life as a passage from Atheism to Christianity, and then a living of the Christian life that he saw was required of him. His devotion, even as far as it appears publicly, is remarkable, and the replacement of his besetting sin of pride by a deep and genuine humility before God is a testament to his honesty. He said his prayers, usually more than once a day, and received Communion weekly; he also gave (anonymously) two-thirds of his royalties to charity, to people in need and institutions.

An account of the life of Lewis by an agnostic or atheist could easily turn into a derisive exercise — how naive he was to imagine that; and one by a Christian into an exultation at God’s mercy and goodness — how he was saved in spite of himself (although this was, in another sense, true.) The former supposes that “we know better, don’t we?” the latter that “we can — or need — do nothing to help ourselves.” However they are to be understood and related to each other, the life of Lewis has both faith and works.

But a biography of Lewis requires us to consider the question “If such a man saw his life in that way, and re-made it accordingly, how can we disagree?” It invites us to accept the responsibility for deciding whether Lewis was and is right or not, and in that sense, the life of Lewis is, itself, an education in Christianity for us all. His life confronts us, gently but decisively, and we must discover how to view it. If we are guided by reason, we may be content with a conventional history, but if by imagination, we will require it to be nothing less than theological.

* * * *


Until the death of his mother, Lewis was raised in a middle-class, comfortable home, where intellectual pursuits were taken for granted. Books were plentiful and were read; while the topics of conversation were restricted, they provided the only material — the social reality — on which imagination could work. Fortunately, there was also another kind of reality, nature, which provided the prime source of beauty and Joy.

* * * *

On August 29, 1894, Albert James Lewis married Florence Augusta Hamilton in the (Protestant) St. Mark’s Church, on the outskirts of Belfast, and, after a honeymoon in North Wales, they moved into a rented semi-detached house nearby, Dundela Villas. There, two sons were born. The first, Warren Hamilton Lewis, was born on June 16, 1895, and the second, Clive Staples Lewis, on November 29, 1898.

Albert was descended from an 18th century Welsh farmer, Richard Lewis, whose son, Joseph, Albert’s grandfather, was a religious enthusiast and father of eight children. He became a Methodist minister, and was known, and not merely locally, as a fine, moving speaker. His son, Richard, father of six children, the youngest being Albert, migrated to Ireland, worked as a boiler-maker and engineer, and wrote many evangelical pamphlets, although he returned to the Anglican Church. Albert was born August 23, 1863 in Cork, but the family soon moved, first to Dublin then to Belfast.

In 1877, Albert was sent to Lurgan College in County Armagh. He got on well with the headmaster, W.T. Kirkpatrick (1848-1921), who helped him to a legal career, which he began in 1879 in a solicitor’s office. He advanced rapidly, qualified with distinction, and after a brief partnership, set up his own office in Belfast in 1885, often acting as a prosecutor in the Belfast police court.

Albert had the requisite qualities to be very successful — an excellent memory, good intelligence, and the ability to give simple expositions of complex topics (a gift shared by both his sons). In the verbal give and take of both life and the courtroom, Albert was very adept, with good repartee and a gift for fair but intense cross-examination. He worked hard and soon achieved a high professional standing.

Although well-organized intellectually and professionally competent, he did not understand how to manage his own finances, was inept at dealing with his own investments, and he had a pathological fear of bankruptcy.

Albert was a kind man with a strict moral code, derived, no doubt, in part, from his devotion to a staunchly Protestant Christianity. While he had a somewhat narrow view of his religion, it was certainly not as narrow as many of his contemporaries. He was, moreover, a compassionate and generous man, with considerable integrity. He was also very emotional, and his sons came to fear and distrust his dangerous and upsetting outbursts of passions.

Privately, he wrote both poems and short stories — although few were published — and he had political ambitions, but they were limited by his lack of social status and private means.

Albert’s wife was Florence (always known as Flora), the daughter of Thomas and Mary Warren Hamilton. Thomas Hamilton was vicar of St Mark’s, the local church for Dundela, the Belfast suburb where Albert Lewis and Flora lived.

The Hamiltons had an aristocratic Scottish ancestry, having owned land in Ireland since the time of James I (1603-1625), and, on the maternal side, claiming descent from a Norman knight, Robert Warrene, buried in Battle Abbey, that is, who had come over with the Conqueror in 1066 and fought at Hastings. That side of the family had been landowners in Ireland since the reign of Henry II (1154-1189).

Flora (b.1862), a slender girl with fair hair and pale blue eyes, was the youngest of four children. She had considerable mathematical ability but was also an avid reader. She studied mathematics and logic at Queen’s University, Belfast (1880) and in 1885 took first class honours in logic and second class in mathematics; she was awarded a B.A. in 1886. She made no public use of her education and obvious talent, however, but remained at home.

Thomas Hamilton was a highly emotional preacher and embarrassed his family — especially his grandsons — by often weeping in the pulpit, and he never tired of expatiating on the evils of Roman Catholicism. Mary Hamilton, more intelligent than her husband, was dedicated to feminism and achieving Irish Home Rule, and discussed politics endlessly and with great ardor.

Flora was cool towards Albert and she would rather have had him as friend than as a suitor, but after seven years, when she was in her thirties, she decided, since she did not want to lose him, that it was unjust to Albert not to marry him. So after a year-long, secret engagement in 1893, they were married. Flora was full of anxieties. She did not know how to manage a household and could not cook; she was worried about her health (suffering from frequent headaches) and she was two years older than Albert. Above all, she wanted to give Albert something in return for his devotion — and felt she had nothing, not even strong feelings, to offer him.

When the two boys considered their ancestors, they thought the maternal side superior to the paternal. In terms of pedigree, they were undoubtedly correct, but they underestimated the sheer talent of their father and the virtues he had acquired through his family and Kirkpatrick. Aristocratic attitudes and values — not always desirable — had been in the life of their mother’s family for a thousand years; how they were passed on may be elusive, but passed on they were and, if they are not apparent in her sons, it may only be because of her early death. Certainly, the boys had not learned to regard themselves as superior to others, and as inheritors of the earth. They were by no means sure of their place in the world and lacked that aristocratic self-confidence that serenely assured its possessors of their centrality in the universal scheme of things. But they knew of tradition, and its defining character.

Warren, while dedicated to his brother and his superlative abilities, found no further purpose in the world and used his own talents, which were not insignificant, very sparingly. Perhaps, being two and a half years older than his brother, he learned more of the aristocratic assumption that if he graced the world with his presence, that was all that could or should be expected of him. The world should be pleased to support him.

When Clive Lewis was one month old, Flora engaged a nursemaid named Lizzie Endicott from County Down, “in whom even the exacting memory of childhood can discover no flaw — nothing but kindness, gaiety, and good sense.” Flora did not read to her children, teach them nursery rhymes, or tell them bedtime stories. This was done by the staunchly Protestant Lizzie Endicott — who undoubtedly added to the approved canon the Celtic myths and legends of her own childhood in County Down,

By the time Clive was four, he had become a hearty eater (which he was for most of his life). About this time he suddenly announced that his name was Jacksie and refused to answer to any other. It got shortened to Jacks, then to Jack, the name by which his family and friends knew him for the rest of his life (although Albert and Warren often called him Jacks).

Belfast was known for its shipyards (the “Titanic” was built there between 1909 and 1912, while Jack and Warren were growing up) and Albert sometimes took the boys to visit the docks. They all three drew nautical pictures, Albert wanting to share in whatever his sons did. He also encouraged their writing, and, before Jack learned to write, would record the stories that he made up.

Albert found it impossible to let the boys be by themselves. If he was available, he would insist on being with them, without realizing that by doing so he inhibited and offended them. When he and Flora had social visitors, Albert, on the ground of politeness, required the boys to be present, silent auditors of conversations — and declamations — about politics and religion, which they did not understand. These topics became the substance of their own stories.

With a governess in the morning, the brothers were usually left very much on their own during the afternoons, but because they did not go to school they met few other children. They got on very well together and became lifelong best friends.

In the summer, Flora and the servants would take the boys to a rented house at Castlerock in County Derry. The boys loved the seaside, and also the train journey to get there, and both pleasures lasted all their lives. Albert did not accompany them, preferring the routine and security of his office.

In April 1905, Flora (who did not think Dundela Villas good enough for their social position) got Albert to move to a new house. It was called Little Lea and was built for them about two miles from Dundela Villas on the outskirts of Belfast and close to open farmland. It was a large three-storey brick house with plenty of room for parents, children, and the servants; later Albert’s father came to live in a room on the second floor, until his death in 1908. (Warren later reports, as an example of Albert’s lack of business acumen, that the builder swindled him by providing inadequate foundations.)

It was about this time that the two boys began to refer to Albert as the “pudaita” or the “pudaitabird” or simply “P.” It is hard to suppose that these nicknames were affectionate or even respectful. They arose from the way in which their father, with his broad Irish accent, pronounced the word “potato.” But how had the two boys come to despise and make fun of this accent? Who did they know who spoke differently, in some preferred way? Their mother?

The new house was ideally suited to the brothers. It was large and could accommodate many, many books, and a gramophone, complete with large horn, so that the boys soon became record collectors (78 rpm, of course). Above all, literally and metaphorically, there was an attic, with tunnel-like passages through which they could crawl and in which they could hide. And they found “the secret dark hole upstairs” where housemaids would not — could not — find them: “the Little End Room.” Here they had “glorious privacy” in the little, low rooms below the ridge tiles. The attic became the center of life for the boys, and in it Jack and Warren drew pictures, wrote stories, and created an imaginary world, collectively called Boxen.

Jack later wrote:

I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles.

From the age of six onward, Jack experienced a recurring vague sense of longing as he looked through his nursery windows at the seemingly remote “Green Hills.” Warren later wrote:

We would gaze out of our nursery window at the slanting rain and the grey skies, and there, beyond a mile or so of sodden meadow, we would see the dim high line of the Castlereagh Hills–our world’s limit, a distant land, strange and unattainable.

The boys had bicycles, however, and, in good weather, were allowed to go out and explore the adjacent countryside.

One month after moving into Little Lea, Warren, aged ten, was sent to England to attend one of the worst schools imaginable, Wynyard School, in Watford. Albert seemed committed to giving his sons the social and educational advantages that came, he thought, from an English boarding school education and subsequent entry into a Public School (in the British sense of an Independent School) and, possibly, into a university.

Warren sent uncomplaining letters home, but with a clear concern about the number of days to the beginning of the next holiday. He wrote to Jack, of course, mostly about the stories they had written together and their illustrations — Animal-Land — and the new ones that Jack had recently written. Jack, aged about eight, replied to one letter:

At present Boxen is SLIGHTLY CONVULSED. The news has just reached her that King Bunny is a prisoner. The colonists (who are of course the war party) are in a bad way: they dare scarcely leave their houses because of the mobs. In Tararo the Prussians and Boxonians are at fearful odds against each other and the natives. General Quicksteppe is making plans for the rescue of King Bunny.

The influence of the overheard conversations of Albert and his guests is evident, and the restriction on the boys’ imaginations was severe. It was only late in life that Jack felt that he had freed his imagination. Incidentally, he was of the opinion that he wrote so much because his jointless thumbs prevented him from making things.

Jack was also writing a play, starting a history of Mouse-land, and other projects including a diary. History led to geography, with Warren providing a map of “India” (or “indai.”)

With Warren away at school, Jack spent more time with his mother. She gave him daily lessons in French, Latin, and mathematics, and sometimes took him walking in the afternoon. But mostly he was by himself for the afternoons and free to do as he liked — and he knew what he liked: reading.

Albert and Flora shared one — and only one — leisure activity: voracious reading. After dinner, they would settle down in armchairs and read for a few hours. (Jack himself would later do the same.) The books in the house were chosen by his parents for their own reading pleasure, but Jack had unrestricted access to them. He devoured all books about animals, including Black Beauty, and delighted in the Strand Magazine, especially the magical stories of Edith Nesbit. And in a diary entry for March 5, 1908, he wrote “I am carpentring a sword. I read Paradise Lost, reflections thereon.” He was introduced to romance and chivalry through Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court and Conan Doyle’s Sir Nigel (serialized from December 1905 to December 1906).

The most significant experiences of childhood, however, were not literary but of what Jack came to call “Joy.”

The longing for the “Green Hills,” visible from his nursery window, was real but puzzling. What is a longing? What was it a longing for? Beauty, perhaps. He did not know. (He characterized his childhood at home as lacking beauty.) His later introduction to the northern myths increased this longing, this dissatisfaction. This was how Joy began, and Jack reported, in Surprised by Joy, that there were three distinct occasions in which it was powerfully experienced.

The first was when, standing before a flowering currant bush on a summer day in Little Lea, there arose in him the memory of his brother bringing from the old house (Dundela Villas) his miniature toy garden, which had given Jack his first experience of beauty. The closest words to describe his sensation were Milton’s “enormous bliss” of Eden. Warren was also affected by the currant bush and later reported:

The flowering currant is now out in several places, and this is always one of the highlights of my year. Enjoyment of it and the wallflower are the earliest aesthetic experiences of my life — dating back to long before we left Dundela Villas. I can still remember the thrill of joy with which I used to greet the arrival of both, a thrill which one never experiences once childhood is past; and which is perhaps the purest one ever receives. Is it I wonder wholly fanciful to think that this thrill is a dim recollection of having just come from a better world?

The second occasion for Joy came from Beatrix Potter’s book Squirrel Nutkin, (1903). Jack loved all the Potter books, but this one administered a shock, which he describes as “a trouble” — the Idea of Autumn. This experience, too, had the same sense of surprise and of immeasurable importance.

The third glimpse of Joy came from Longfellow’s Saga of King Olaf. Idly turning the pages, Jack came upon the unrhymed translation of Tegner’s Drapa, (1825):

I heard a voice that cried,/”Balder the beautiful/Is dead, is dead !”/And through the misty air/Passed like the mournful cry/Of sunward sailing cranes.

Jack knew nothing of Balder, but, he reported, he was “instantly uplifted into the huge regions of northern sky,” and then, immediately, transported back.

He gave a full account in Surprised by Joy:

The reader who finds these three episodes of no interest need read this book no further, for in a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else. For those who are still disposed to proceed I will only underline the quality common to the three experiences; it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.

It seems that it was Joy that gave Jack the motive for his lifelong interest in myths, for they often gave form or shape to the longing. And it must have been Joy that prompted him to write fantasies, his description of “other worlds,” of supernatural or spiritual habitations. The content of Boxen was matter-of-fact (derived from Albert’s political conversations), but Joy gave free rein to the imagination.

 It was only in the second half of his life that Jack came to see that we are dominated by homelessness. We all know what home means, even though we cannot express it. Joy is what we long for; it is a foretaste of heaven, or of what our world as it is, was meant to be. “Joy,” he wrote, “is the serious business of Heaven.”

But such words came much later.

Reason – dependent on the overheard conversations of Albert and his friends – told Jack that human life was about politics and war, and so he wrote stories accordingly. They included elements of fantasy — King Bunny and General Quicksteppe are rather nice — but the actions did not come from his imagination. Joy gave Jack something to imagine, to create out of and for himself.

* * * *


After the death of his mother, Jack went to school. This should have been the occasion for the development of both his intellectual and imaginative powers, but the formal requirements of school were virtually useless as far as his intellectual development was concerned. Only in his private, inner world did imagination have any free play and then only prompted by accident. His life was split. Because of his youth, he was not confident that his imaginative life had any sanity or validity. When he finally left school for private tutoring, his intellectual training really began, but his imagination was still not integrated. And his only friend was his brother. God seemed either non-existent, a mere superstition, or else malignant. Jack called himself an atheist.

* * * *

Early in 1908, Flora’s health deteriorated: her tiredness, headaches, lack of appetite, all worsened. It was decided that she suffered from abdominal cancer and an operation was performed at home (as was customary) on February 15 by three doctors and two nurses in Little Lea. For a short time Flora improved and she took Jack to the seaside in May; but in June she relapsed, and died at 6.30 a.m. on August 23, 1908, Albert’s birthday.

Albert was devastated. “As good a woman, wife and mother as God has ever given to man,” he wrote. Earlier in the year, his father had died and ten days later his brother Joseph also died. What was he to do? More particularly, what was he to do with Jack? With the death of their mother, and the distraction of their father, the two brothers grew closer to each other.

Warren was about to return to the brutal Wynyard School in September 1908. Albert’s response to the loss of Flora was to send nine-year old Jack with him.

What Jack had to suffer! First, the departure of Warren for school; second, the inexplicable loss of his mother (after a new closeness); third, the fact that her death had taken place in his own house; fourth, his father’s misery; and finally, to be banished to a foreign country and an alien school.

Albert had not inspected Wynyard firsthand, but made his decision based upon nothing but a prospectus and a suitable annual fee of 70 pounds. He had inquired of his old headmaster from Lurgan College, W.T. Kirkpatrick, who had recommended a well-known school in Rhyl, Wales but the fees were 90 pounds a year and Albert, haunted by the fear of going bankrupt, thought this was too expensive for him.

The school was about as bad as it could be (in the 1950’s Jack referred to it as the concentration camp, or just Belsen) and the headmaster — nicknamed Oldie — was a sixty year old Anglican clergyman, powerfully built, intimidating and brutal. He was close to insanity. No educational work went on, as witnessed by the report of Warren that he spent the best part of a year doing the same four arithmetical problems over and over again on his slate.

Both Warren and Jack pleaded to be removed — even preferring Belfast’s Campbell College, the local independent school less than two miles from Little Lea. But Albert wanted his sons to become “gentlemen” which involved, amongst other things, losing the speech and manners of Irish boys. So, he made arrangements for Warren to attend School House (one of ten boarding houses) at Malvern College in Worcestershire, England.

In September 1909 Warren entered Malvern, but Jack remained at Wynyard for another school year. Even with Warren gone, he found some consolations. As physical exercise the boys were sent on walks, and, of course, they talked, and talked about everything. Jack had the first metaphysical argument that he remembered. It was about the future: is it like a long line that you can’t see, or is it like a line not yet drawn?

Soon Wynyard was down to only five boarders and, at the end of the 1909-1910 school year, it mercifully closed. Oldie was appointed vicar of a nearby parish, but he caned the choirboys, and in two years was declared legally insane.

In later years Jack claimed that some good had come of his Wynyard experience. “It taught all of us at least one good thing . . . to stick together, to support each other in resistance to tyranny.”

He also extended his reading — historical novels of the ancient world (like Quo Vadis? and Ben Hur), the science fiction of H.G. Wells and space-travel adventures and much more. He was fascinated by the scenes of cruelty in the stories from the ancient world — the slave beatings, gladiatorial combats, and the like. He later recognized that the feelings aroused were sexual, and in his adolescent years he was plagued with sadistic fantasies that he created for himself.

Wynyard required attendance at two services in St. John’s Anglo-Catholic church in Watford every Sunday and there, for the first time, Jack heard sermons that dealt with Christianity and its teachings. He had, of course, gone to church on Sundays with his family, but those services were meaningless, the sermons (by his grandfather) were mostly bigoted anti-Catholic diatribes, and he had never learned how to pray. He now began to pray seriously and to read the Bible (which he discussed with other boys.) It was here (not in supposed Puritanical Ulster) that he learned about Hell, and began to fear for his soul. He also came to recognize the reality of sin.

Of course, his narrow Irish Protestant upbringing made it impossible to approve of the candles and incense, and he castigated St John’s as an “abominable place of Romish hypocrites . . .”

When Wynyard closed in July 1910, Jack was sent to Campbell College, as he had requested. Although he was a boarder (and disliked the noise and lack of privacy in the common rooms — it was “very like living permanently in a large railway station”), he was allowed to go home every Sunday. He only spent a half term there, but even in that short time he had one powerful experience — he heard his English master (nicknamed Octie) read, in a deep dramatic voice, Matthew Arnold’s epic, Sohrab and Rustum. Jack was deeply impressed by the almost Homeric poem.

In the poem, a father, Rustum, and his son, Sohrab, champions of their respective hosts, do not recognize each other; the son admiring the great warrior, the father not trusting the young hero’s adulation. They fight, with tragic consequences. This must have affected Jack’s feelings and imaginings about his father. Albert was no Rustum, but was he, like Sohrab, a filial competitor? And who was to be slain?

In November, Jack became sick with a bad cough, and was removed from Campbell. The town of Malvern, however, had a reputation as a health resort, boasting fine air and pure water, and so Albert made arrangements for Jack to go to a prep school named Cherbourg in Malvern, where the ambience would be healthful and he would be near Warren. After two months of reading at home, Jack went to Cherbourg in January 1911.

Jack liked Malvern — “one of the nicest English towns I have seen yet. The hills are beautiful but of course not so nice as ours” — and the education he received at Cherbourg was quite good. But his association with Warren, then aged a sophisticated fifteen, was not all for the good. Amongst other things, the two boys, traveling together, would delay their arrival in Malvern to the last possible moment and spend their time in the Lime Street Hotel in Liverpool smoking cigarettes. It was at the ripe age of twelve that Jack developed the habit of smoking that lasted all his life.

In school, Jack seems to have been good academically but mischievous and rebellious, and his diary reports “hundreds of impots,” (that is, impositions which were punishments for breaking school rules). His scholastic achievement was impressive because, in only two years, he was able to take and pass the Malvern College entrance examination — in spite of the handicap of having learned little or nothing at Wynyard.

While at Cherbourg from January 1911 to July 1913, Jack developed intellectually. He got a good grounding in both Latin and English, studied the classical authors, particularly Virgil, and began writing a veritable stream of stories and essays on a wide variety of subjects – Party Government, Richard Wagner, and Are Athletes better than Scholars, to name but three. He went to a performance of Handel’s Messiah (which he thought “simply lovely”) and to productions by Sir Frank Benson’s touring company of Shakespearean plays, which he also enjoyed. But he was changing–emotionally, spiritually and sexually.

The matron at Cherbourg, Miss Cowie, mothered Jack and supported his complaint about the school censoring his letters to his father. But it led to her dismissal and, again, Jack lost a comforter, and his sense of justice was outraged.

Jack’s sexuality became very powerful in him, and it showed itself in seemingly contradictory ways. First, he was prudish, and thought his school prize book, Charicles: or Illustrations of the Private Life of the Ancient Greeks by Wilhelm Becker (1796-1846), pornographic; he felt it had corrupted him. No doubt some (but very few) of the descriptions were lurid, but, then, so were certain aspects of Greek life.

Second, he began to masturbate–“a violent and wholly successful assault of sexual temptation”–and it caused him both pain and guilt, made all the more intense by repeated resolves to give it up, and repeated failure to do so. It was the source of great misery.

His failure to free himself either from the act or from the associated guilt, affected his religious convictions. He had prayed but it appeared that his prayers had been in vain; God had not helped him nor had he been helped to help himself. He rejected Christianity, a process made somewhat easier by conversations he had had with the motherly Miss Cowie, who seems to have had a (possibly) confused belief in some esoteric, oriental religion, but her thoughts were either not clearly formulated or not clearly communicated. Any belief that Jack had in Christianity was further diminished.

The classical authors he was studying, especially Virgil, highlighted religious ideas, but they were treated as “sheer illusion. No one ever attempted to show in what sense Christianity fulfilled Paganism or Paganism prefigured Christianity.” Nor did Jack hear any grounds for believing Christianity to be true.

When Miss Cowie left, probably in July 1912, an assistant master, who had been a good if not strong influence also left, and was replaced by a young master, straight from university, nicknamed “Pogo.” Now Pogo obviously fancied himself as a wit, as a man about town, as a “bit of a lad.” Full of all the superficial frippery of fashionable life, most of the boys at Cherbourg worshipped him, not least Jack who reports “I began to labour very hard to make myself into a fop, a cad and a snob.” A new element had entered his life, as he says: Vulgarity.

At home, during the school holidays, Jack continued to write, mostly a continuation at the childish level from his pre-school days. During the Easter holiday of 1912, he wrote Boxen, or Scenes from Boxonian City Life, in two school exercise books, profusely illustrated in color. It was an escape to an earlier innocence, perhaps, and it is hard to reconcile with other aspects of life. His imagination had not grown.

Not liking the atmosphere at home and regarding their father as “Pudaitabird,” Jack and Warren spent as little time as possible there. It is clear that they both despised their father for what they regarded as his lack of culture. They were, as always, close friends, but Warren cannot have been a good influence on Jack; rather he contributed to his Vulgarity. Warren was happy at Malvern, but he was failing academically. He did so badly that he was transferred from Arts to Science (a real degradation, in those days), but referred to it as “a non-stop Fun Fair.” His conduct was bad and his disposition idle and, being caught smoking for the umpteenth time, he was asked to leave at the end of the spring term in 1913, at the age of eighteen.

The mortified Albert, once again, sought the advice of Kirkpatrick who suggested a career in the army on the grounds that neither brains nor industry were required. The judgment was unfair, at least to Warren, who did not lack brains, but he was placed under the tutelage of Kirkpatrick (now retired and living in England at Great Bookham, Surrey). He successfully prepared him for the entrance examination to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, the British equivalent of West Point.

Jack remained at Cherbourg for another year (1912-1913) in order to take the entrance scholarship examination to Malvern College. Unfortunately, he was sick in bed at the time of the exams, but nevertheless did well enough to achieve a second-rank (junior) scholarship. His English essay was the best of all the candidates’, he did fairly well in Greek and Latin, and was decidedly poor in mathematics.

During his time at Cherbourg, he discovered Wagner, the real romantic passion of his life. This began, as so much did for Jack, with a visual experience. By chance, in 1911 Jack saw a review of Margaret Armour’s recently published translation of Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods, which included one of Arthur Rackham’s illustrations of Siegfried, gazing in wonder at the sleeping and bare-breasted Brunnhilde. This brought him a sense of Joy, akin to that of “Balder the beautiful is dead, is dead . . .,” which lifted him again “into huge regions of northern sky,” with “the sunward sailing cranes” and into a world that was “cold, spacious, severe, pale, and remote.”

Jack’s love of “northernness” grew, and, later in life, he said that he liked Greek mythology, liked Irish mythology better, and liked Nordic mythology best of all.

In the next school holiday, Jack and Warren discovered in a gramophone magazine a synopsis of Wagner’s Ring cycle. Jack immediately began to write a heroic poem based on it, in couplets, in the style of Pope’s version of Homer. The next holiday produced a recording of The Ride of the Valkyrie. Listening to The Ring inflamed him, and it became “a conflict of sensations without name.” The passion was intensified when, at a cousin’s house, Jack found a copy of the book he had seen reviewed, Armour’s Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods, complete, of course, with all the Rackham illustrations. With Warren’s help, he managed to buy a cheap edition and for weeks on end he lived in the world of Richard Wagner. Extending his range, he read everything on Norse mythology that he could find.

This immersion, this absorption was characteristic of Jack, and he could enter completely into the imaginative world of a great creator, of a Spenser or a Wagner. He usually delighted in it, but he could not control it and sometimes he was afraid that he was going mad. His imaginative life was an isolated world (secret, except, in part, from Warren) because he had no friend who might understand it and share it, and no older person who could be a model for him. The reasons for secrecy were his vulnerability to ridicule and the accusation of madness. Later, before his last term at Malvern College in the spring of 1914, this changed, when he met a young man, three years older than himself, Arthur Greeves (1895-1966).

Until that time, however, Jack created a persona that hid his rare talent and extreme sensitivity, his longing and desire for Joy. This persona was that of an insolently intelligent, overtly blasphemous, foul-mouthed and sex-obsessed schoolboy. And with the absolute logic of adolescence, since he had ceased to be a Christian, he must be an atheist. And so he thought and declared himself.

From Cherbourg, Jack progressed to Malvern College in September 1913. His account of Malvern in Surprised by Joy (under the name of Wyvern) occupies two chapters and much exception has been taken to their terrible descriptions. Warren, in later years, was at great pains to “correct” the unfavorable impression that Jack’s words had made.

The truth of the matter would seem to be that bad things certainly went on at Malvern, but not only bad things and that Jack’s emotional and spiritual condition required him to notice and to anguish over those bad things. He himself, in Surprised by Joy, warned the reader of the duality of his life. “Reading through what I have just written about Wyvern, I find myself exclaiming, “Lies, lies! This was really a period of ecstasy. . .” But, he went on, he is telling the story of two lives, and if the eye is fixed on either one, it claims to be the sole truth.

According to Jack’s recollection, Malvern was “riddled” with homosexuality, it had a system of fagging (in which younger boys were at the command of older boys), and it had a prefect system that encouraged bullying.

Spiritually speaking, the deadly thing was that school life was a life almost entirely dominated by the social struggle . . . and from it, at school as in the world, all sorts of meanness flow . . .

Disappointed in his expectation of an intellectual life and freedom for his imagination, all that happened to him, according to Jack’s own account, was that he became a prig, an intellectual snob, feeling greatly superior to the other boys around him.

When I went there nothing was further from my mind than the idea that my private taste for fairly good books, for Wagner . . . gave me any sort of superiority to those who read nothing but magazines and listened to nothing but the (then fashionable) Ragtime.

This can be doubted, and he was becoming an intellectual snob, perhaps without realizing it, before entry into Malvern College.

There were two good things–or “blessings that wore no disguise”–about Malvern. One was the school library, called the Grundy–a veritable “sanctuary” for, once in it, you were “unfaggable.” It had a better, wider collection of books than any library he had ever seen, and in it he discovered Yeats, “an author exactly after my own heart.” The Grundy also had the two volumes of the Corpus Poeticum Boreale which not only made Norse poetry available to him, but also provided the inspiration for his opera libretto, based on Norse mythology but classical in form, Loki Unbound. It was, perhaps, to be expected that he would model his thought and plot on the story of Prometheus, the savior of mankind, and his struggle with the tyrannical Zeus. He had obviously read Aeschylus and Shelley.

The other good thing was Smugy (pronounced Smew-gy)–Harry Wakelyn Smith–Jack’s form master, who taught him English and Latin for fourteen hours a week. His form had as its motto, Virtus Tentamine Gaudet (or, Excellence rejoices in competition).

Smugy was a great teacher for Jack:

. . . even had he taught us nothing else, to be in Smewgys’s form was to be in a measure ennobled. Amidst all the banal ambition and flashy splendors of school life he stood as a permanent reminder of things more gracious, more humane, larger and cooler. But his teaching, in the narrower sense, was equally good. He could enchant but he could also analyze. An idiom or a textual crux, once expounded by Smewgy, became clear as day. He made us feel that the scholar’s demand for accuracy was not merely pedantic, still less an arbitrary moral discipline, but rather a niceness, a delicacy, to lack which argued “a gross and swinish disposition.” I began to see that the reader who misses syntactical points in a poem is missing aesthetic points as well.

Later, Jack said that his own poetry reading style was based on what he had heard from Smugy. There were differences. Jack’s voice was more suited to heroic and other ‘grand style’ poetry, whereas Smugy had a musical voice and was an enchanting reader of romantic, lyrical poetry.

Scholastically, Jack was usually placed in the lower half of his class, with little signs of special ability in Greek and Latin. In mathematics he was, as always, weak. But he had a kind of kinship with Smugy, and they shared an understanding of poetic appreciation which separated Jack from the other boys.

After only one year at Malvern, Jack was very unhappy and physically exhausted (“cab-horse tired,” he called it), but it was only when he threatened to shoot himself that Albert took his complaint seriously. Warren was not at all pleased that his brother could not be happy in the school that he had enjoyed but suggested that Jack should be sent to study with Kirkpatrick, as Warren himself had been. Albert approved this plan, Jack agreed, and he spent the next two and a half years at Great Bookham with Kirkpatrick.

Warren later wrote:

The fact is that he should never have been sent to a public school at all. Already at fourteen, his intelligence was such that he would have fitted in better among undergraduates than among schoolboys; and by his temperament he was bound to be a misfit, a heretic, an object of suspicion within the collective-minded and standardized Public School system. He was, indeed, lucky to leave Malvern before the power of this system had done him any lasting damage.

With inadequate teaching overall in formal education, and various diversions from study, it could not be expected that Jack’s intellect had achieved the kind of discipline that its innate power required if it was not to be self-destructive. From September 1914 to March 1917, Jack was dedicated to study under the tutelage of Kirkpatrick, whose strengths were exactly what Jack required and whose limitations were unimportant at that time. These were the most peaceful years of his life, and they gave him the opportunity to discover something about himself without the excessive pressure and expectations of an institution and “peers.”

William T. Kirkpatrick (1848-1921), rejoicing in the nickname of “the Great Knock,” was a somewhat eccentric man, once a Presbyterian but then an outspoken atheist, who had no use for frivolous conversation; he was a great vegetable gardener and so usually wore shabby, even dirty, clothes. And he smoked a pipe. He thought of himself as a logician and rationalist and even the most casual remark could be taken as a “summons to disputation.” Warren once remarked “You could not say something about the weather without being pounced on.” But Jack reveled in such arguments, being well able to hold his own, and it became part of his intellectual stock-in-trade.

Jack improved his Greek with Kirkpatrick, well enough to be able to think in it. Similarly, with Latin, even though he did not enjoy Virgil. He also learned French with Mrs. Kirkpatrick and later, both Italian and German. German was the least mastered, but he became fluent in all the other languages.

Jack could teach himself, and he only needed the guidance of the Great Knock to get tremendous benefit from his studies. Kirkpatrick was good for him, guiding him, but also leaving him to develop into what he really was. There is no evidence that Kirkpatrick liked poetry at all, and he certainly did not have Jack’s poetic sensibility, but he recognized it and respected it:

I do not think there can be much doubt as to the genuine and lasting quality of Clive’s individual abilities. He was born with the literary temperament, and we have to face that fact with all it implies . . .[I]t is the maturity and originality of his literary judgements which is so unusual and surprising. . . .

As at Malvern, Jack led a double life. He pursued the logical and rationalistic methods of Kirkpatrick in his studies, but, at the same time he was intensely romantic and imaginative. The problem that he faced was how to integrate the two, a problem that was not solved in principle until 1931. As he wrote:

 The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast. On the one side a many-islanded sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow ‘rationalism’. Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.

* * * *


Imagination and intellect began to move closer together through Jack’s friendship with Arthur Greeves. In academic settings, Jack was well able to handle such topics as the use of the optative in Greek conditional sentences, but he had never been able to apply his intellect to the problems of his own life — the simple fact of his imagination, its incredible power, his experience of Joy, and his intense sexuality. These could be shared with Arthur, either face to face or in letters.

* * * *

In 1914, before leaving home for his last term at Malvern, Jack found a new friend, Arthur Greeves, who lived across the road from Little Lea. By accident, they discovered their common delight in Grueber’s Myths of the Norsemen.

At the very beginning, Grueber wrote, “Northern mythology is grand and tragical. Its principal theme is the perpetual struggle of the beneficial forces of nature against the injurious, and hence it is not graceful and idyllic in character, like the religions of the sunny south . . .” This suited both Arthur and Jack, and talking over the book, they discovered that they both liked the same thing “and even the same parts of it and in the same way.” The book was enhanced by many pages of fine illustrations, with extensive quotations from the Eddas and Sagas, the Lays, or the Nordic works of English poets.

Through Arthur, who was three years older, Jack was reintroduced, in writings, to Matthew Arnold, as well as meeting William Morris for the first time. He was impressed very deeply by some of the quotations in Grueber; for example, from Carlyle:

To know the old Faith brings us into closer and clearer relation with the Past–with our own possessions in the Past. For the whole Past is the possession of the Present; the Past had always something true, and is a precious possession.

And from William Morris:

This is the great story of the North which should be to all our race what the Tale of Troy was to the Greeks . . .

Jack was always, throughout his life, attracted by beauty, and he was drawn to the Nordic fair hair, fresh complexion, and blue eyes of Arthur Greeves; but to find him a companion enthusiast for the North as well was almost too good to be true. They became close friends and confidants, sharing not only books but also ideas and their sometimes turbulent emotional lives.

Their security in the relationship soon became such that they could share the most personal matters, including their sexual fantasies. Jack related his sado-masochistic tendencies and included an account of his habit of masturbation, called THAT in his letters. Arthur was homosexual.

Later, in 1933, Jack called Arthur Greeves, “after my brother, my oldest and most intimate friend.” The loyalty of the two to each other is, in some ways, surprising, although both were very aware of the importance of loyalty in friendship and their disagreements never affected it. Arthur did not have the same intellectual capacity as Jack, and, it seems, took no pleasure in poetry. Moreover, he was childish and bad mannered. And yet they remained friends for fifty years, influencing each other in many ways, listening to the exposition of visions different from their own, suggesting more books to be read, although Jack never got Arthur to like poetry. But he did applaud both his composing and his painting, and encouraged him to enroll at the Slade School of Fine Art in London in 1921. They were both romantics, but approached nature and experience from different points of view; Jack would extrapolate fantasies, while Arthur was engrossed with the immediate, whatever was concrete and before him.

Because of Arthur, Jack read many of the classical English writers (to be found in his father’s library) such as the Waverley volumes of Sir Walter Scott, and the novels of Jane Austen and the Brontes.

The friendship with Arthur Greeves had begun before Jack went to Great Bookham, and they wrote long, intimate and intellectual letters to each other. From Bookham, Jack wrote that he had discovered more of the poems and Celtic plays of W.B. Yeats, that Malory, while not a great author, had the gift of lively narrative, and so forth. But the author who influenced him the most was the Aberdeenshire Minister, George MacDonald (1824-1905), and Jack told Arthur how, in March 1916, he found his book Phantastes on the bookstall in the railway station at Leatherhead and that reading it was “a great literary experience.” Appreciating the beauty of MacDonald’s writing, Jack was mostly influenced, unconsciously perhaps, by the symbolism and the way in which MacDonald sees divinity in ordinary things. Jack later called this “holiness.” The only other work of MacDonald’s that he read at Bookham was The Golden Key, an entrancing children’s story.

In encouraging Arthur to develop his interests in painting, composing, and writing, Jack suggested that he should compose the music for the opera libretto he had written, Loki Unbound, and perhaps provide illustrations. About this time, Jack wrote a large part of a prose romance, the story of Bleheris, a young knight setting out to prove himself. In interpreting it for Arthur (who was a Christian), Jack claims that he was not attacking Christianity itself, but “Christianity as taught by a formal old priest like Ulfin, and accepted by a rather priggish young man like Bleheris.”

Jack wrote to Arthur about “the sensuality of cruelty,” by which he seems to have meant the pleasure derived from self-indulgent cruelty, especially centered on the whip and the rod. By February 1917, he is quite explicit (although Arthur seems not to have shared his taste) and even signs himself J. Philom.–an abbreviated form of philomastix, the Greek for “lover of the whip.” He reports his pleasure at reading, in Rousseau’s Confessions, the section on flagellation: “His taste is altogether for suffering rather than inflicting: which I can feel too, but it is a feeling more proper to the other sex.”

He seems to have had powerful sexual feelings, not understood, not controlled, not controllable, but confused even in themselves, for while admitting that he could appreciate being the “sufferer,” he felt that this was more appropriate for women, and it was his role to inflict pain (as he wanted to do at Oxford in June 1917 when he got drunk for the first time in his life and pleaded with other men to let him whip them at a shilling a lash).

What is even more perplexing is that beautiful women are the predominant partners in Jack’s flagellation scenes–but as active or passive? Although a confused sado-masochist, writing to Arthur must have helped him, because it made it possible for him to acknowledge to another his “sensuality of cruelty” and to make clear the extent of his feelings. He felt neither shame nor guilt in his letters to Arthur (whom, incidentally, on one occasion, he called a prude, and for a time addressed as Galahad, that is, the innocent and pure one).

In their correspondence, Arthur asked Jack about his religious views. Jack, who had read Frazer’s The Golden Bough and Lang’s Myth, Ritual, and Religion, replied that he believed in no religion because there was no proof; they were all, properly speaking, mythologies, human inventions, based on deified natural forces. This does not undermine morality, because our very humanity requires us to be “honest, chaste, truthful, etc.,” but the universe is a mystery, and until Jack understands it, he will not go “back to the bondage of believing in any old . . . superstition.” He sees the Christian God as “a spirit more cruel and barbarous than any man.” He admitted to Arthur that he had gone to Belfast to be confirmed on December 6, 1914 merely to please his father and to avoid endless argument.

As to the immortality of the soul, though it is a fascinating theme for day-dreaming, I neither believe nor disbelieve: I simply don’t know anything at all, there is no evidence either way.

Immortality was always a problem for Jack, and, later, he was glad that he had found God before believing in it.

These conventional and rationalist views are in strong contrast to the imaginative and romantic world of Jack’s literary preferences. He was, in fact, still divided, but the rationalism of Kirkpatrick helped to keep his talents and interests under some measure of control.

It also helped him to the discipline required if he was to obtain an Oxford scholarship in classics. This was the goal that had emerged in his work with Kirkpatrick. But there was a problem:

The fact is that a critical and original faculty, whatever may be its promise for the future, is as much a hindrance as a help in the drudgery of early classical training. [Jack] has ideas of his own, and is not at all the sort of boy to be made a mere receptive machine . . .

In May 1916, the Knock wrote that Jack was “the most brilliant translator of Greek plays I have ever met” and that he would probably gain an award in classics in any of the Oxford colleges, although he “knows nothing of science and loathes it and all its works.”

Jack took the entrance examination scholarship for Oxford on December 4, 1916, although he was not happy with his performance. But fifteen days later, Albert received a letter from University College, accepting his son (who was still a minor) and awarding him the second of three scholarships.

College acceptance was one thing, but university entrance was another. This was achieved by taking another examination, called Responsions. Jack was not prepared for this examination, not least because it included mathematics, a subject at which Jack was hopeless and in which Kirkpatrick could be of little help, although he studied with him another term to acquire the necessary amount of “the low cunning of algebra.”

Jack took Responsions on March 20 and 21, and then returned to Belfast for a month. There he dedicated his time and energy to a collection of poems (provisionally titled Metrical Meditations of a Cod) that he had begun writing at least as early as Easter 1915. He copied out the finished poems and added “no fewer than ten pieces.” He also worked on a prose piece, Dymer, that was eventually re-written and published as a long narrative poem, and on The Childhood of Medea.

Jack, however, failed Responsions — at least, he failed the mathematics paper — but was allowed to go into residence at his college earlier than expected, namely in April, instead of October 1917, provided that he took the mathematics paper again and passed it. It is possible–not certain–that he took it again in June and failed it again. This might have been the end of his academic career but for the fact that after the war the examination was waived for those who had served in the armed forces.

Jack’s notebook entry of April 28 reads: “Matriculated. College Library. Entered name in Coll. books.” He also joined the Officer’s Training Corps, with the expectation that when he joined the army he would be commissioned. Being Irish, he was not liable for war service, but chose to follow his brother, Warren, who had a commission in the regular British army and had been in France since 1914.

Jack arrived at University College on April 26, 1917. The dean would not provide him with a course of study, however, because he would shortly be in the Officer’s Training Corps and have no time for scholastic work. But he did get a sorely needed mathematics coach.

In spite of the rigors of OTC training, Jack went swimming at Parson’s Pleasure “without the tiresome convention of bathing things,” and began to enjoy the beautiful, natural setting of Oxford. He also joined the Union (the debating society) and found friends to talk with, often late into the night. One friend interested him particularly because he had been an atheist and was then “engaged in becoming a Catholic.”

Letters to Albert depict Jack as following a good Christian life, attending church or college chapel every Sunday. But this was not true, as letters to Arthur make clear, and thus began the long-lasting deception of his father.

After only eight weeks at University College, the OTC program transferred Jack to a “carpetless little cell” in Keble College, Oxford, and put him in a cadet battalion for training. Jack wrote condescendingly and mostly disparagingly about the other members of his battalion, but also mentioned his room-mate, assigned by the alphabetical order of names, first as “a little too childish for real companionship,” and later as “a very decent sort of man.”

This was Edward Francis Courtenay Moore, known as Paddy, and born in the same year as Jack. In a letter a few days later, Jack mentioned Paddy’s mother, “an Irish lady,” who was in Oxford to see as much of her son as possible before he was shipped off to the carnage of the Western Front. She was accompanied by her daughter, Maureen Moore, then eleven years old. In the same letter, Jack invited Albert to visit him in Oxford during a short period of leave, but the invitation was declined.

Mrs. Janie King Askins Moore (1872-1951) did not get on all that well with Paddy, but obviously felt that she ought to be with him when that was possible. She was also, as Jack later reported, very hospitable, and she entertained her son’s room-mate and several other cadets in the furnished rooms she had taken in Oxford.

This was the beginning of Jack’s relation with Janie Moore, a relationship that lasted until her death in 1951. They lived under the same roof for about thirty years, and no doubt the pattern of their relationship changed through time, but it persisted.

It is not hard to explain the initial attraction. Janie Moore was Irish (and Jack was homesick); she was the mother of his contemporary, Paddy (and Jack had been motherless for nine years); she offered hospitality (and Jack was without a real home anywhere); and she was attractive (and Jack was always susceptible to beauty).

At the end of his course on September 25, Jack first went to stay with the Moores in Bristol, which offended Albert, who only got to see his son on October 12. It is highly probable that the relationship between Jack and Janie Moore became sexual at this time, and Albert had greater cause for jealousy than he knew. Shortly after returning to his regiment, Jack sent a telegram to Albert saying that he had to report to Southampton and had been granted forty-eight hours leave. This meant that Jack was going to France. Albert–possibly not understanding that–refused to travel to see him.

Jack, 2nd Lieutenant C.S. Lewis, arrived in France with his regiment, the Somerset Light Infantry, on November 17. Within twelve days, on his nineteenth birthday, he was in the front line (although he did not tell Albert this). In February 1918, Jack was in hospital with trench fever or “pyrexia” and stayed there for twenty-seven days. He returned to active duty on February 28, and from March 21 onwards he seems to have been in the front line again; at one point, he captured sixty German soldiers–although he insisted that they only surrendered to him. In early April, he reported having “a fairly rough time” and, nine days later, that he was in the Liverpool Merchants’ Mobile Hospital in Etaples with a wound (received April 15, 1918 in the Battle of Arras) “to his left arm.”

 Warren, as soon as he heard what had happened, borrowed a motor-cycle and drove to the Etaples hospital–a distance of fifty miles–and was delighted to find Jack sitting up in bed, “only slightly wounded and in great form, expecting to be sent home. Thank God he is out of it for a bit.” Jack and Warren had been distant ever since Jack’s condemnation and rejection of Malvern College, but at this point their friendship was renewed and it remained close for the rest of their lives.

Jack was wounded by shrapnel (from a British shell that fell short) but in three places, not just one: in the back of the left hand, on the left leg just above the knee, and on the left side of his chest, under the arm. The last turned out not to be, as Warren had understood, slight; it was the most troublesome, and it was decided to leave the shrapnel where it was since it was close to the heart and difficult to remove. It was finally removed in 1944.

By May 25, Jack was back in England. He was taken to London to the Endsleigh Palace Hotel that had been converted into a hospital. From there he sent a telegram to his father, imploring him to visit. Albert replied that he was unable to travel because of bronchitis; but he was at his office every day. Within a few days of Jack being in London, Janie Moore was there, staying with her sister. Jack wrote, “. . . we have seen a good deal of each other. . . [S]he has certainly been a very, very good friend to me.” The implication was that Albert had not. Paddy Moore had been posted as missing in March, and in September it was confirmed that he had been killed in action.

In June, towards the end of his hospital stay, Jack was able to go out, and he visited the Kirkpatricks at Great Bookham. He wrote a long appealing letter to his father, reporting his visit, but also pleading with him to visit him in London. He admitted that he had not always been what he should have been in relation to his father:

But please God, I shall do better in the future. Come and see me. I am homesick, that is the long and short of it.

But still Albert did not come.

After his hospital stay, Jack was sent to a convalescent home. Because none was available in Ireland (which he told Albert he preferred), he chose to be sent to Ashton Court, near Bristol and the home of Janie Moore, arriving there on June 25. The expectation was that he would have two months in which to recuperate, after which he might well be sent back to France. From Bristol, he wrote again to his father, asking him to visit, but Albert did not budge. Jack’s recovery was slower than expected and the convalescent home was quarantined with an outbreak of an infectious disease; on October 3 he again wrote to his father: “It is four months now since I returned from France, and my friends laughingly suggest that ‘my father in Ireland’ of whom they hear is a mythical creation . . .” But still Albert did not visit.

Although they continued to write to each other, the relationship between father and son was strained almost to breaking point.

Janie Moore and Jack wrote to each other every day, and when Jack was later moved from Bristol to Eastbourne to Andover, Janie Moore followed him with her twelve year old daughter, Maureen. They were joined by friendship, companionship, Irishness, the common reading of books, the surrogate mother/son relation, and Paddy’s death; there was also a physical, sexual bond between them.

Jack had told Arthur in at least three letters (December 4, 1917 and February 2 and 12, 1918), that he was in love with Janie Moore. Although the disparity in age and experience between them is not usual between lovers, there is no reason to disbelieve him.

The ever-present sexuality is underlined by the strange confession that Jack made to Arthur Greeves in three separate letters (May 23 and 29, and June 3, 1918). He found it significant to record that his views were getting “almost monastic about all the lusts of the flesh.” The lessening of lust seems to be unexpected, and it strongly suggests that usually sexuality was noticeably present. The diminution was not due to any change in Jack, in all probability, but to the “bromides” or sexual suppressants that were routinely added to the daily fare (usually in the tea) of “other ranks” and also of those confined in hospital.

Janie Askins, born on March 28, 1872 in Pomeroy, County Tyrone, was married on August 1, 1897 to Courtenay Edward Moore, a Dublin civil engineer. They had two children, Paddy and Maureen, but the marriage was unhappy, and Janie Moore separated from her husband without being divorced. She went to live in Bristol, where one of her brothers, Dr Robert Askins, was a government medical officer. Seeking the advantages of a public school education (as Albert Lewis had done), she enrolled Paddy at Clifton College in May 1908. She herself had had little formal education but liked reading books and, in the early years of their relationship, she and Jack would lend each other books and discuss them.

She called Jack “Boysie” and he called her either “Mother” or “Minto.” Later, when they were living in Oxford, she always referred to Jack and Warren as “the boys.” Warren reports that is was sometimes difficult to explain to guests, who had been introduced to Janie Moore as “Mother,” what the actual (and reportable) relationship was. Minto, incidentally, was the name of her favorite confection, Nuttall’s Peppermint Candy, “Mintos.” In Jack’s diary, she was also referred to by the capital Greek letter Delta, probably hiding the name of Diotima, the priestess, in Plato’s Symposium, who introduced Socrates to the meaning of love.

While convalescing, Jack had been depressed but not idle. He wrote to Arthur, on July 17, 1918, that he has been preparing his earlier poems for publication, having them typed out, revising them, rejecting some, but not actively writing any new ones.

The “cycle of lyrics” was offered, first, to Macmillan, who rejected it, and then to Heinemann, who accepted it, with some revisions, in the first week of September 1918.

A week after telling Arthur, Jack told Albert.

Originally the title had been Spirits in Prison, a reference to Peter’s First Epistle which reports that Christ “went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” There can be no doubt that this was Jack at his arrogant and immodest worst, casting himself in the role of Christ, preaching to the misguided and ignorant souls who were confined by their adherence to “a phantom” of the good, to the established religion. Whether Albert saw it this way is not known–but he did not openly object; he did object to the title, however, because there was already a novel by Robert Hichens with the title A Spirit in Prison. He recommended a change, and so it became Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics.

Jack’s tenacity and perversity are equally well illustrated by the new title, however, for it came from Milton’s Paradise Lost, from the speech of Satan to his army, swearing eternal rebellion:

For this Infernal Pit shall never hold/Caelestial Spirits in Bondage, nor th’Abysse/Long under darkness cover. But these thoughts/Full Counsel must mature: Peace is despaird,/For who can think Submission! Warre then, Warre/Open or understood must be resolv’d,

Jack’s initial usurpation of the role of Christ, and then settling for that of Satan, is borne out by his description of the poems. Writing to Arthur Greeves on September 12, Jack said that the book was “mainly strung around the idea that I mentioned to you before–that nature is wholly diabolical and malevolent and that God, if he exists, is outside of and in opposition to the cosmic arrangements . . .”

Later, Warren found this “idea” anathema and wrote to Albert that “. . . it would have been better if it had never been published . . . Jack’s Atheism is I am sure purely academic, but even so, no useful purpose is served by endeavouring to advertise oneself as an Atheist.” But Jack was–or imagined himself to be–an Atheist.

Spirits in Bondage was published on March 20, 1919 under the pseudonym of Clive Hamilton. (Jack expected to remain in the army for some time, where poetry and poets were not necessarily appreciated). In truth, the poems are not very good and one is permitted to wonder why Heinemann wanted to publish them, although they did fall into the vogue of “soldier-poets.” Albert Lewis wrote “for a first book–and of poetry–written by a boy not yet twenty it is an achievement. Of course we must not expect too much from it.” The reviewers praised it mildly, but it did not sell very well, and Jack gave up the idea of being a lyric poet.

Between acceptance of the cycle and its publication, the war had come to an end on November 11, 1918. Jack was still not properly healed and was, somewhat to his surprise, discharged from the army because of his wound, getting back to Belfast, unannounced, on December 27, 1918. To his delight, Warren was there; he had arrived on Christmas leave on December 23.

Warren, Jack, and Albert were re-united, and Warren records that he drank champagne–“the first time I have ever had champagne at home.” After the festivities, Warren returned to his army post and Jack prepared to return to Oxford.

But the effects of the War lingered. Warren, in his diary entry for November 11, 1918, wrote, “Thank God Jacks has come through it safely, and the nightmare is now lifted from my mind.” The use of the word nightmare may seem metaphorical, but it had a literal counterpart, for ever since Jack had been in France, Warren would frequently wake up in the middle of the night, concerned with his safety. Was Jack still alive? Jack too was troubled for years with nightmares, “or rather the same nightmare over and over again.” He never wrote about the Great War.

* * * *


Going to Oxford did not cut him off from Arthur, but he made new friends- especially Owen Barfield and Neville Coghill–who allowed his vision of the imagination at least to have some validity. If the war gave him new insights into cruelty, Janie Moore contained his sexuality. She also gave him a home

* * * *

In late January 1919, Jack returned to University College, Oxford for the Lent Term (of eight weeks). “It was a great return and something to be very thankful for,” he wrote to Albert on January 27. Janie Moore was in Eastbourne.

He was now admitted to the university, since his war service excused him from taking Responsions again–he never had to pass algebra–and he could have proceeded to a degree in ‘Greats,’ the popular name for Literae Humaniores, devoted to philosophy and ancient history. But he thought he wanted a scholarly career, and, for him, that meant obtaining a fellowship at Oxford. He had confided this ambition to his tutor, A.B. Poynton, who had recommended that, instead of proceeding to Greats, he should begin the ‘Honour Mods’ course in Greek and Latin, taking its final examination in March 1920, and then proceed to Greats, taking its finals in June 1922.

In the 1919 spring vacation, Jack helped Janie Moore move from Eastbourne to Bristol, and at the beginning of the summer vacation helped her move again from Bristol to 28 Warneford Road, Headington, on the outskirts of Oxford.

Jack’s daily routine was to spend all morning either attending lectures or researching in the college library, to have lunch with Janie Moore in Headington, spending the afternoon with her, to return to college for dinner in Hall, and then to work in his rooms in the evenings. He still wrote when he had time, and still thought of himself as a poet (but not a lyric poet), and even envisaged a literary circle of some kind because his own kind of romantic poetry was out of fashion; “modernism, vers libre, and that sort of thing” was the current taste.

For five terms, starting in January 1919, Jack studied for Honour Mods, and he was able to report to his father on 4 April 1920 that he had passed his examinations, and quite well: “I did get a First after all.” (Basically, Oxford and Cambridge undergraduates were classified as achieving First, Second, or Third Class degrees; the number of Firsts was extremely small.)

In 1921 he competed for the Chancellor’s English Essay Prize, writing on the set subject of “Optimism.” Although he declined to admit the existence of God in the essay, it won the Prize, with a triumphal announcement on May 24, 1921. He had felt almost inspired while writing it:.

His religious beliefs at the time are reflected in a letter to a friend:

The trouble about God is that he is like a person who never acknowledges your letters and so, in time, you come to the conclusion either that he does not exist or that you have got his address wrong.

He also met W.B. Yeats in Oxford at this time and was considerably impressed.

Two years later, in June 1922, Jack sat for the Greats examinations, and on 4 August 1922, it was announced that he had been awarded First Class Honours; the following day he took his B.A.

He had been thinking about his future and had been encouraged to think of the possibility of staying at Oxford in some capacity. The alternative was to take a job, probably as a schoolmaster somewhere (although he could not offer ‘games’.) The future of Classics and Philosophy was uncertain, and Jack was counseled to stay at Oxford one more year and take a degree in English Literature, which was a newly-instituted degree subject, and normally a two-year course.

At that time, the Oxford Honours School of English Language and Literature was deeply committed to language study, and Anglo-Saxon (that is, Old English) was a requirement. This included not only grammar but also a detailed analysis of Beowulf. (Jack had had “a dream of learning Anglo-Saxon” since his Bookham days.) Next, Middle English was studied and then the development of the language into modern English. Much of Chaucer was read, some Gower and Piers Plowman, all of Gawain and the Green Knight, and, from later works, almost all of Milton’s poetry and some of his prose, a great deal of Shakespeare, and most of Spenser.

Jack took his Finals in June 1923, but in spite of all his gloomy forebodings, his oral examination or “viva” on July 10 was perfunctory, and he was awarded another First Class Honours degree.

In this period of intense academic work, from January 1919 to July 1923, Jack met many people and made a few good friends:

The first lifelong friend I made at Oxford was A.K. Hamilton Jenkin, since known for his books on Cornwall . . . My next was Owen Barfield. There is a sense in which Arthur and Barfield are the types of every man’s First Friend and Second Friend. The First is the alter ego, the man who reveals to you that you are not alone in the world by turning out (beyond hope) to share all your most secret delights. . . But the Second Friend is the man who disagrees with you about everything. He is not so much the alter ego as the antiself. Of course he shares your interests; otherwise he would not become your friend at all. But he has approached them all at a different angle . . . Closely linked with Barfield of Wadham was his friend (and soon mine) A.C. Harwood of the House, later a pillar of Michael Hall, the Steinerite school at Kidbrooke. He was different from either of us; a wholly imperturbable man.

In 1923, Jack met Neville Coghill, who read a paper on “realism” in one of his classes. Coghill was from Castle Townshend in County Cork, Ireland, and like Jack, planned to complete the English School course in one year. He had already noticed Jack because of a paper he had read on The Faerie Queene in which Jack, with infectious enthusiasm for the text, had championed Spenser’s ethical values. They had the same tutor, F.P. Wilson, and their studies ran on parallel tracks, so that they were able to share views on the common required readings, often on long country walks. They became friends for life. Jack “soon had the shock of discovering that he–clearly the most intelligent man in that class–was a Christian and a thorough-going supernaturalist.”

The pressure of academic work, heightened by Jack’ ambition to achieve a fellowship at Oxford, caused great strain, sufficient in itself to destroy a lesser man. But in addition to the academic program, Jack had to deal with his relationships with his father, his brother, and with Janie Moore and Maureen.

Jack had virtually no money of his own. Albert provided a yearly allowance of 85 pounds and he was generous enough to provide this, first, through Greats, second through the English degree, and third, until Jack was finally elected to a fellowship at Magdalen College in May 1925.

Although this sum would have been sufficient for a normal, single student, Jack helped to support Janie Moore and her daughter, Maureen. If Albert had known this, he would almost certainly have cut off the allowance, but Jack never told him of his domestic arrangements and repeatedly lied about his affairs and actions.

University regulations allowed Jack to live outside college from the beginning of his second year. He did so by moving into the same house as Janie Moore in Headington. From then on, Jack made his home with Janie Moore, with scrupulous attention to the external decorum required by the University. For the next eleven years they lived in rented houses–at least ten of them, before they eventually were able to purchase their own home, The Kilns, in 1930.

Jack was secretive in many ways, but Albert had no respect for the privacy of his sons, and he expected to see every letter that they received. If they did not offer, then he had no compunction in searching their rooms and reading anything he found. Shortly after Jack’s arrival in Belfast in August 1920, Albert asked him how much money he had in the bank, and when Jack replied that it was about 15 pounds, Albert read to him a letter, found in Jack’s room, in which the bank drew attention to the fact that his account was overdrawn.

They had a fairly loud and violent quarrel. Jack, according to Warren’s diary, “instead of defending himself, . . . weighed in with a few home truths about P [i.e., Pudaita]” That August was one of the unhappiest months of Albert’s life for he could not understand how Jack could have lied and then said “terrible, insulting and despising things.”

There were numerous reasons why Jack would have been secretive about his relationship. He did not want to cause anxiety and recriminations in his own family, he needed to seem respectable in the eyes of the university, and Janie Moore did not want her husband to discover the arrangement (that had all the appearances of adultery, whatever it actually was) for then she could be the respondent in the divorce courts which would deprive her of any financial support.

It is also possible that Jack could not say what it was that bound them together. It had many components and changed over time, and to try to describe it to anyone else–or to answer the questions of others–would have been difficult even if the intimate things were set on one side. They chose to be together, in the way that they were, and perhaps we should just accept that. Clearly, Albert and Warren could not.

Janie Moore was a woman with a strong and demanding nature. She would order Jack around, send him on sometimes fruitless errands and give him many and frequent menial tasks to do, in spite of the amount of his academic work. She said that having Jack around was as good as having another maid. After her death Jack wrote;

I have lived most of [my private life] in a house which was hardly ever at peace for 24 hours, amid senseless wranglings, lyings, backbitings, follies and scares. I never went home without a feeling of terror as to what appalling situation might have developed in my absence. Only now that it is over do I begin to realize quite how bad it was.

If it was bad, why did Jack not terminate the relationship? The answer was probably that he owed Janie Moore too much–he says several times that she taught him to be generous and hospitable–but she also quieted the destructive sexual impulses he undoubtedly had, and initiated him into one whole dimension of himself. Since there was no formal arrangement–no marriage, no contract–what was to be dissolved? It would be hard to say, and the absence of formality would make it more difficult. And then there is the strong sense of loyalty that Jack always had. He had made an unspoken commitment to Janie Moore and nothing could dissolve it, even if it was unpleasant, hard to define, and had been entered into gradually and blindly. In 1930, Jack wrote to Warren:

I have definitely chosen and I don’t regret the choice. Whether I was right or wrong, wise or foolish, to have done so originally, is now only an historical question: once having created expectations, one naturally fulfills them.

Would he have been better off had he left? Certainly, he would have had more energies available for the many aspects of his university work, and he would have had better relations with Albert and Warren, but his was a strong nature and it needed a strong yoke. Perhaps he would not have been the good man he ultimately became without being domestically dominated, for the domination of another showed him that the forces within him could be mastered. He learned how to control them in himself, he learned how to control his feelings and his actions.

Warren never liked or approved of Janie Moore, but those who met her casually or socially at one of her teas, found her to be a charming and gracious hostess, even if it was disconcerting to discover that she was not Jack’s mother.

As already quoted, in Surprised by Joy, Jack says “one huge and complex episode will be omitted.” It is obvious that this refers to his relationship with Janie Moore, whose name does not appear in the book. It was certainly “huge,” lasting from 1917 to 1951, but it was also “complex.” The complexity forbids the making of any simple generalization about their relationship; it had several strands in it, binding them together in different ways, and undoubtedly those ways, and the strength of the bonds, varied through time. “All I can or need to say is that my earlier hostility to the emotions was very fully and variously avenged.” Whatever else this means, it tells that, some early biographers to the contrary, the initial relationship had a strong sexual component.

Finally, Jack said that he doubted “if it has much to do with the subject of’ [Surprised by Joy],” that is to say, with the story of his conversion. It is almost as if his “life” with Janie Moore and Maureen was sealed off from his “real life,” like a play that has begun and that must be played out to its conclusion, but which is curiously irrelevant to reality. His loyalty, quite apart from any other possibilities, required him to see the whole performance, to see the curtain come down, as it finally did in January 1951.

Janie Moore contributed nothing to Jack’s intellectual development. There is very little in his published diary, written at her request or behest, about the books he was reading, the writing he was doing, and no mention of the “Great War” he conducted–the continuing argument Jack had over supernaturalism–through the 1920’s with his friend Owen Barfield.

In 1922-3, Neville Coghill, describing Jack, reports that, unlike most men of his age, he “seemed to have no sexual problems or preoccupations, or need to talk about them if he had . . .” This intense and powerful aspect of him was obviously satisfied or fulfilled or, at least, brought under control, in the relationship with Janie Moore.

Although Janie Moore was the mother-mistress of Jack’s passion and was the center of his home, she was never a friend in the sense that Warren, Arthur Greeves, Owen Barfield, Neville Coghill, or Charles Williams were, nor yet in the sense that Joy Gresham was to be later.

Jack had put on weight since leaving the army: he was “a largish unathletic-looking man, heavy but not tall, with a roundish, florid face that perspired easily . . .[he] had a dark flop of hair and rather heavily pouched eyes; these gave life to the face, they were large and brown and unusually expressive . . . [There] was a sense of simple masculinity, of a virility absorbed into intellectual life.” Jack learned that he was nicknamed “heavy” by other members of his college, although this may have originated in the seriousness of his interests and the profundity of his arguments rather than in his bodily weight.

W.T. Kirkpatrick, the Great Knock, died in March 1921, and Jack wrote, “I owe him in the intellectual sphere as much as one human being can owe another. That he enabled me to win a scholarship is the least he did for me. It was an atmosphere of unrelenting clearness and rigid honesty of thought that one breathed from living with him.”

There can be little doubt that Jack was a brilliant student; he was also ambitious. Even if he had not been ambitious, he had to face the necessity of earning a living. His tutors thought that a university position would surely become available, and encouraged by Albert’s continuing financial support, he had taken another First Class Honours degree in English Language and Literature, but he was still without employment.

In the spring of 1923, Jack and Janie Moore moved to yet another rented house, Hillsborough (the tenth since 1919), which was in a very bad state of disrepair, remedied, in part, by Jack and Maureen. Janie Moore was ill with indigestion, varicose veins, and injuries suffered when a wardrobe fell on her during the move.

Janie’s brother, John Askins (known as Doc), had moved to Iffley near Oxford in 1922, and visited nearly every day. Deeply troubled, he and Jack had long conversations that always ended on the topic of immortality. He began to have serious mental illness (possibly the result of syphilis contracted as a young man), requiring attention through long hours of the night. He stayed with Jack and his sister for more than a month, inflicted with delusions and nightmares, “awful mental tortures . . . maniacal fits.” He was eventually sent to a hospital in Richmond, where he died on April 23, 1923 of a heart attack. Jack took this frightening experience as a warning of what excessive occultism and supernaturalism could do, and buried himself in the ordinary things of life.

Jack was depressed, a condition he suffered from even when things seemed to be going well, and, in order to save money, he gave up smoking and the household managed without a maid. He suffered from headaches, indigestion, insomnia, and felt that his prime, his creative years were being lost and he would never write the great poem or prose work of which he deemed himself capable.

To supplement his meager income, Jack graded school examination papers and tutored a student at University College. Then, in May 1924, almost a year after he had completed his English degree, he was offered a one year appointment to replace University College’s philosophy tutor, E.F. Carritt, who was going on leave. It entailed both giving lectures and conducting tutorials, all for 200 pounds a year. Jack accepted.

Jack’s lectures, given twice a week, were on the self-chosen topic, “The Moral Good – its place among the values.”

During the 1924-5 academic year, Jack slept at Hillsborough at weekends and during vacations and at University College during term. He would give tutorials in the morning, go to Hillsborough for lunch, do odd jobs or take a walk, and return to college in the late afternoon for more tutorials. He dined formally in college, enjoyed the conversation of the Senior Common Room, and then retired to his rooms where breakfast would be brought in the morning.

He gave up philosophy for English, but with few regrets:

I have come to think that if I had the mind, I have not the brain and nerves for a life of pure philosophy. A continued search among the abstract roots of things, a perpetual questioning of all the things that plain men take for granted, a chewing the cud for fifty years over inevitable ignorance and a constant frontier watch on the little tidy lighted conventional world of science and daily life–is this the best life for temperaments such as ours? Is it the way of health or even of sanity?

He continued to apply for positions (which were employments) and also for Oxford fellowships (which would make him part of the college corporation). His last application was for a fellowship in English Language and Literature at Magdalen College; he did not expect to be successful but thought he should at least try. It turned out that since he could teach both English and philosophy, he was the preferred candidate and was elected.

* * * *


Backed by a brilliant academic record, Jack’s intellectual powers and the knowledge acquired through their exercise were ready for use, and his election to a fellowship at Magdalen College gave him the opportunity they required. It also gave him new friends and colleague–especially J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson–whose views on myth and imagination greatly affected him. He grappled intellectually with religion, particularly with Christianity, but found that reason could only take him to a belief in God, to theism. It was the imagination and the function of myth that took him beyond theism to Christianity.

* * * *

On May 20, 1925, Jack sent a telegram to Albert: “Elected fellow Magdalen. Jack.” Albert wrote in his diary: “I went to his room and burst into tears of joy. I knelt down and thanked God with a full heart. My prayers have been heard and answered.”

Jack wrote to Albert thanking him for the generous support of the previous six years, attributing his success to the combination of English and philosophy that he could offer. It must be realized that English was, at that time, a new subject at Oxford, and there was some uncertainty about students wanting to read it.

His income would be good: 500 pounds a year, with rooms in college, a pension, and a dining allowance. The days of poverty were over, but Jack never lived lavishly. He never owned a watch (at lectures, he borrowed one from a student) or a decent fountain-pen, and in the following years, he gave away thousands of pounds to people in need. His only luxuries were beer, whiskey, and tobacco–the first and last being almost necessities.

Jack spent the next thirty years of his life at Magdalen College, Oxford. It is certainly one of the most lovely colleges in either Oxford or Cambridge, and he found it “beautiful beyond compare.” The buildings were part medieval and part eighteenth century, and Jack’s rooms were in the latter, in New Buildings (erected in 1733).

As a tutor, Jack was, to begin with, too demanding of his students, some of them finding him exacting, harsh, and contentious; but it did not take him long to become gently respectful and more sympathetic. He treated his students genially, with both courtesy and cheerfulness. One of them wrote:

He was personally interested in his pupils and permanently concerned about those who became his friends. Though he was a most courteous and considerate person his frankness could, when he wanted, cut through the ordinary fabric of reticences with a shock of sudden warmth or sudden devastation, indeed of both at once. No one knew better how to nourish a pupil with encouragement and how to press just criticism when it was needed, without causing resentment.

His wide learning, the breadth of his reading, was universally acknowledged. He had a prodigious memory, quoting at length from many authors, and also reading or reciting poetry with special attention to the meter and with infectious excitement.

Jack’s writing at this time was chiefly concerned with the scholarly The Allegory of Love (which he referred to as The Alligator of Love) and the space trilogy novels, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, but, in the early days of his fellowship, he was also completing his long narrative poem Dymer.

Of all his works, this took the longest time to write–close to ten years. The first version was written in 1916, in prose and with the title The Redemption of Ask. It was written again, in verse–the first four cantos in 1922 (with incredible spontaneity, it seems) and the other five cantos in 1924 and 1925.

Dymer is, perhaps, the most personal of Jack’s writings and it is based on a myth that Jack reported he had known from the time when he was about seventeen, although he did not read of it, nor dream it, nor invent it; it was just in his mind. It is the “story of a man who, on some mysterious beast, begets a monster, which monster, as soon as it has killed its father, becomes a god.”

The writing of the poem seems to have been the working out in Jack’s mind, in both his reason and his imagination, the connection between fantasy and reality. He had long been troubled about the intensity of his imagination (often fearing insanity), and about his retreat into self-inflating fantasies of love, lust, cruelty, and heroism. He knew that he withdrew from life in these fantasies, and condemned them and himself as self-indulgent.

The manuscript was offered to Heinemann, who rejected it, and then to J.M. Dent and Sons who accepted it. It was published, with the nom-de-plume of Clive Hamilton, on September 20, 1926 and received quite favorable reviews. The public did not share the reviewers good opinions, and very few copies were sold.

Even when an avowed atheist in 1916, Jack was concerned with redemption, as the original title of his myth attests, but the publication of Dymer seems to mark the beginning of a belief in a power outside himself. It was not a formed belief, not defined or even, perhaps, definable, and the power itself was vague and nebulous, but it was evidently there.

The Christmas of 1926 was the last one that Jack, Warren and their father spent together, for in April 1927 Warren was posted to China and did not return for three years. In the next two Christmas holidays, Jack visited Albert alone.

It is perhaps easy for an observer to look back on Jack’s early life and see hints and adumbrations of his final conversion to Christianity, but it was a long and tortuous process. Warren wrote that his conversion “was no sudden plunge into a new life but rather a slow steady convalescence from a deep-seated spiritual illness of long standing.”

The years from 1925 to 1931 were a period of remarkable progress. Election to the Magdalen fellowship gave him financial security; the nature of his teaching and research satisfied his rational and professional needs; his friends, colleagues and the beauty of Oxford gave him congenial surroundings. But Jack did not settle down comfortably into a secure and pleasant life. He was still restless, his energies were not unified, and he still experienced glimpses of Joy from time to time and remembered its origin in his sense of longing. Longing, but for what?

Church worship had never been very meaningful for either Jack or Warren. As children they had attended St Mark’s Church in Dundela regularly and had heard the rabid preachings of their grandfather, but they were offered only “the dry husks of Christianity.” They both hated church services and formed a low opinion of Christianity. At school, Jack had attended services because they were compulsory, but at Great Bookham, with Kirkpatrick, he seems not to have gone to church at all. Army church parades did not make Christianity more attractive, and the experiences of war only confirmed in Jack his atheism, or, at least, his belief in a malign god.

Nor were Jack’s intellectual activities able to provide satisfaction for his longing. He could never regard them as “purely academic,” that is, as taking place in isolation and remote from his everyday life. They had, in some way, to make a difference to how he lived. Ideas were never simply thought, they were also felt. But the prevailing and fashionable schools of philosophy did not permit any such fusion of thought and feeling, and the best they could offer was some form of Hegelian subjective idealism, irreconcilable with and distant from daily living. Most tutors, by their attitude, encouraged their students to be skeptics. Jack, however, began to meditate on the Hegelian Absolute (a thing held to be impossible to do), and on the supreme Spirit,–that is, on the ultimate reality of which, according to idealists, everything else is a mere expression– and he later wrote that it “is more religious than many experiences that have been called Christian.”

In 1924, he was influenced by Space, Time, and Deity, by Samuel Alexander, and especially by his distinction between enjoyment (the experience of something) and contemplation (the thinking about it). Jack related this to his idea of Joy:

I saw that all my waitings and watchings for Joy, all my vain hopes to find some mental content on which I could . . . lay my finger and say, ‘This is it,’ had been a futile attempt to contemplate the enjoyed.

And this was impossible. He came to think that Joy must be the desiring of something outside the self. But what was it?

He was perplexed and wrote in his diary on January 18, 1927 that he was

thinking about imagination and intellect and the unholy muddle I am in about them at present; undigested scraps of anthroposophy and psychoanalysis jostling with orthodox idealism over a background of good old Kirkian rationalism. Lord, what a mess! And all the time (with me) there’s the danger of falling back into most childish superstitions, or of running into dogmatic materialism to escape them.

Anthroposophy is mentioned because two of his closest friends, Owen Barfield and A.C. Harwood, had joined Rudolf Steiner’s movement in 1922, of which he wrote:

I was hideously shocked . . . For here . . . were all the abominations . . . gods, spirits, after-life and pre-existence, initiates, occult knowledge, meditation.

It was over this that there began his long argument with Barfield, The Great War, as they termed it. Through their conversations, Jack gave up realism–the idea that our sensible world is self-explanatory and is all that there is–and moved closer to what he had always disparagingly referred to as “supernaturalism.”

While Jack had studied Freud, he disliked and distrusted psychology, and thought analysis in terms of the “latest perversions” simply morbid. He also had no regard for occultism and introspection, and was frightened by what had happened to Doc in 1923. What he needed, whether he knew it or not, was a religion with an objective, traditional morality.

By 1926, he had been intellectually driven to becoming a practicing theist, a believer in God. But this God had nothing to do with Christianity, about which he said “that [it] was very sensible apart from its Christianity.” He did not want to have his life disturbed, he was fearful, but his longing continued.

A 1926 conversation with T.D. Weldon, an atheistic and uncongenial colleague, gave Jack serious pause. Weldon observed that there was good evidence for the historicity of the Gospels, and so Jack began to study them very carefully. Weldon referred to J.G. Frazer’s discussion of the “dying God,” and remarked, “It almost looks as if it really happened once.” Jack examined the evidence over and over again and found it unexpectedly supportive of the Christian claims. He also began to attend church or college chapel regularly, because, he said, he wanted to show that he was a theist. His honesty required this of him

But it was not easy. He later described part of the process:

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I had greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most obvious and shining thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms.

To admit that God was God was one thing–that made Jack a theist; but to admit that Christ was the Son of God was something else–it would have made him a Christian, and he could not do it.

One stumbling block for Jack was the preservation of his freedom. He reports that going up Headington Hill on the upper deck of a bus, he was suddenly aware of being offered a completely free choice. He could either reject God or accept Him. In such a situation, when it is quite clear what one ought to do, Jack realized that freedom and necessity almost came to the same thing. He later wrote:

The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.

But the conversion was to theism, not to Christianity.

Warren was still in the army, posted to Shanghai. Albert had retired from practicing law in May 1928 and was lonely. In August 1929, he was seriously ill. Jack visited him for a month and, being assured after an operation that he would live, left for Oxford, only to be immediately called back to Belfast. He returned, but Albert had died the previous afternoon (September 24, 1929). He wired Warren.

Jack felt a great deal of shame at how he had deceived and belittled his father, and determined to change himself and get rid of his need to do it. He also had a strong feeling that Albert was somehow still alive, helping him–a feeling that strengthened his still vague and unfounded belief in a personal immortality.

In January 1930, Jack wrote to Arthur Greeves that he was alarmed at the discovery that pride was his besetting sin, “. . . Pride . . . is the mother of all Sin, and the original son of Lucifer.”

And in March 1930, Jack wrote to a friend that his outlook was changing:

It is not precisely Christianity, though it may turn out that way in the end. I can’t express the change better than by saying that whereas once I would have said “Shall I adopt Christianity?” I now wait to see whether it will adopt me: i.e., I now know there is another Party in the affair–that I’m playing poker, not Patience, as I once supposed.

Warren finally returned from Shanghai, arriving in England in April 1930. To Jack’s astonishment, he reported that he had been thinking of becoming a Christian and had attended church regularly. It seemed possible that Warren might be cured of his indolence and alcoholism, while Jack would find a sure foundation for being a writer and teacher. But there were many things about Christianity that bothered them both.

On September 19, 1931, Jack invited J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson to dine with him at Magdalen. After dinner they went outside, into Addison’s Walk in Magdalen and talked about myth. Jack, who readily acknowledged his love for reading and thinking about myths, could not suppose them to be true. Tolkien differed. Myths originated with God, he said, and they preserved, sometimes in a disguised or distorted form, something of God’s truth. If this is so, Tolkien continued, then writing myths, telling or re-telling myths, might well be a way of doing God’s work. As Tolkien talked, there was such a sudden rush of wind, in an otherwise still evening, that all three of them felt a kind of ecstasy; Jack felt it to be a message from God, although his reason cautioned him not to be carried away. Tolkien told Jack that to find out the importance of the Christian story for his own life he would have to accept it.

Tolkien left at 3 a.m. and Dyson continued the conversation, maintaining that Christianity works for the believer, bringing peace, and the possibility of becoming a new person.

The final act of Jack’s conversion took place nine days later, on September 28, 1931. Jack was being taken to Whipsnade, a pioneer open air zoo, by Warren in the sidecar of his motorcycle:

When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.

There was no emotional or intellectual activity, it just happened.

It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.

Soon after, on October 1, Jack wrote to Arthur Greeves;

I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ . . . My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a great deal to do with it.

Jack received Communion for the first time since his boyhood, at Headington Church on Christmas Day 1931. Quite remarkably, Warren, who was then back in Shanghai, also received Communion, after many years, on the same day. Initially, Jack continued his childhood practice of receiving Communion only on the great holidays, like Christmas and Easter, but soon after he wrote to Warren that he was receiving Communion once a month, and from about 1948 onwards he received Communion once a week.

* * * *


Christianity gave Jack a new foundation for his life and, with his searing honesty, it changed the meaning of all that he did. He began writing Christian apologetic books, his home life changed, especially when Warren, now a Christian, returned to England to live with him.

* * * *

Conversion gave Jack a new stability and a point of view from which he could see things differently and more clearly. When he became a theist he had begun a prose account of the change, but gave it up, probably because he saw that he was still changing. In 1932 he began a verse account of his conversion to Christianity, but gave that up as well; he finally finished a prose account, a book called The Pilgrim’s Regress. It took two weeks to write during a holiday in Ireland in August 1932.

The book was an allegorical account of Jack’s return to “Mother Kirk,” after all the experiences, temptations, and false philosophies he had met during his life. It tells of his search for Joy, for what is spiritually highest, God, and contrasts it with all the false joys met on his journey. As published, it bore the subtitle An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason, and Romanticism. For Jack, “Romanticism” meant, in part, the desire for Joy, the longing for what is spiritual.

The book was accepted by J.M. Dent in December 1932. Jack drew maps of the journey for the endpapers and the book was published in May 1933 to mostly favorable reviews.

Warren was in England from April 1930 to December 1931. Soon after his arrival, he and Jack visited Little Lea, selecting some items of furniture to keep and arranging for the disposal of the rest. Albert had kept most of the papers connected with the family, including many of the letters written to him by his sons. Warren proposed that he should edit these papers, type them and produce a family history from 1850 to 1930. Jack agreed and eventually there were eleven thick volumes constituting The Lewis Papers.

After considerable discussion, it was decided that Warren, who expected to retire in 1932, would live with Jack and Janie Moore in a house financed by the sale of Little Lea. The money realized was less than expected and so additional money was provided through Janie Moore from the Askins trust fund.

In July 1930, they bought a house, called The Kilns, in Headington Quarry, about three miles from the center of Oxford. The property of eight acres was in Janie Moore’s name but, to safeguard their interest, she made a will leaving the house to Jack and Warren for their lifetimes. After the death of both brothers, the house would become Maureen’s property.

They moved in during the second week of October 1930.

Considerable improvements were made; two ground floor rooms were added to serve as studies for Jack and for Warren. And until 1939 they had servants–a gardener, Fred Paxford, one or two maids–and a variety of dogs and cats. Paxford’s knowledge of gardening was extensive, and under his direction and with his help, the property was improved. Trees were planted, an orchard established, ditches cleaned or filled, fences erected, the pond cleared, and brambles cut away.

Warren was back in Shanghai by early 1932. Alcoholism was still his besetting vice, but Jack took a very lenient and loving view of it, because:

while his idea of the good is so much lower than mine, he is in so many ways better than I am. I keep on crawling up to the heights and slipping back to the depths, he seems to do neither.

Beginning in 1931, the brothers took holidays together for several years, enjoying the scenery and each other, until 1939 when, on their last joint holiday, they visited Malvern. It was during one of these holidays, this time with Janie Moore and Maureen, that Jack first conceived of a book that ten years later appeared as The Great Divorce.

In 1925, his tutor, F.P. Wilson, had suggested that Jack write a book on certain aspects of medieval thought. This was the origin of The Allegory of Love, begun in 1927 and worked on intensively between 1933 and 1935. As a work of literary criticism and history, it was a masterpiece, only equaled by Jack’s volume in the Oxford History of English Literature. He sent the manuscript to the Clarendon Press on September 18, 1935 and heard on October 29 that the press had accepted it. By Christmas the book was in proof, and it was published on May 21 the following year.

Originally called The Allegorical Love Poem, Jack wrote of it:

The book as a whole has two themes: 1. The birth of allegory and its growth from what it is in Prudentius to what it is in Spenser, 2. The birth of the romantic conception of love and the long struggle between its earlier form (the romance of adultery) and its later form (the romance of marriage.)

The reviewers were, without exception, enthusiastic, and the book became a source of excitement and intellectual ferment. Medieval literature hitherto little known became significant. The book is characterized by Jack’s moral approach to literary criticism– particularly appropriate in dealing with authors who were, at bottom, moralists themselves.

During the 1930’s, one of Jack’s delights was the regular Thursday evening meeting of a group of friends who assembled in his rooms to read aloud their own writings and those of others, and then to discuss, criticize, encourage and laugh, all lubricated by hot tea–or wine or beer. The meetings had no formal agenda, there were no by-laws, and no officers. Jack called them the Inklings, and one joined by invitation.

One of the first “members” was J.R.R. Tolkien, who, later, in 1935, was elected Bosworths Professor of Anglo-Saxon. He was a champion of the study of Anglo-Saxon (or Old English) and Middle English, and also of the Icelandic Eddas and Sagas. He had formed a group of dons to read and translate the latter–a group known as the Coalbiters. In 1929 Jack was invited, with Neville Coghill, to attend and he soon learned that he shared with Tolkien a love of “northernness” and a delight in the Norse mythology. Tolkien and Jack began to have regular meetings, and out of them the Inklings was formed.

Some of the other “members” were, Warren (1933), then Hugo Dyson and Robert E. Havard (the personal physician of Jack and Warren, known as Humphrey), Adam Fox, Neville Coghill, Charles Wrenn, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and, later, John Wain. The meetings were often small, only three or four, perhaps, but invariably, after Warren had made tea, Jack would ask, “Well, has nobody got anything to read us?”

The same people would meet, as they were available, during the week, first on Tuesdays but later (when Jack was at Cambridge) on Mondays. They met before lunch at the pub The Eagle and Child, always known, however, as The Bird and Baby. They would drink beer for an hour or so and talk. In 1962, when the pub was remodeled, the meetings moved to The Lamb and Flag.

The evening meetings of the Inklings effectively ended after fifteen years when, on a demoralizing night in October 1949, nobody turned up. The Inklings had helped a number of writers and thinkers, but above all, perhaps, it had given Jack a circle of congenial friends who supported him by their very presence. This did much to alleviate the isolation he felt at the beginning of his career, and the opposition to his views by the dominant “inner circle” at Magdalen (which was intensely political) and by the “moderns” in the Oxford English School (who wanted to subvert the established curriculum for which Tolkien and Lewis had argued).

In the late 1930’s, Jack and Tolkien (who was a staunch Roman Catholic) agreed that what we would now call science fiction needed to be written from a Christian point of view, and so it was decided that Tolkien would write a “time-journey” and Jack a “space-journey.” Tolkien produced the first part of a story called The Lost Road, although it was rejected by his publisher; Jack wrote Out of the Silent Planet.

After being refused by two publishers, Out of the Silent Planet was accepted by The Bodley Head and appeared in the autumn of 1938. It had about sixty reviews, which was quite remarkable, although only two reviewers recognized the underlying Christian theology. Most thought it imitation H.G. Wells–who was deemed the superior writer.

Reflecting on the response of the reviewers, Jack suddenly had the idea that gradually became a more conscious principle in him:

. . .[I]f there was only someone with a richer talent and more leisure I think that this great ignorance might be a help to the evangelisation of England; any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under the cover of romance without their knowing it.

This intent was not often explicit, but he slowly realized that he had the power to evangelize through popular books in which the Christianity was only implicit.

The Allegory of Love had been very successful and this prompted Jack to send two more academic works to the Oxford University Press in 1939, Rehabilitations and The Personal Heresy: A Controversy. The former was made up of essays on literary or linguistic subjects, with some interesting discussions on the curriculum of the Oxford English School, which stimulated discussion among Oxford dons.

The other book, The Personal Heresy, consisted of six essays, which were exchanges between Jack and E.M.W. Tillyard. Jack’s view was that “all criticism should be of books not of authors.” This was a direct challenge to Tillyard who had said in his book on Milton, that the real subject of Paradise Lost is “the state of Milton’s mind when he wrote it.” Reviewers deplored the biographical approach to literature and literary criticism, but were quick to add that it could be pleasurable. This joint-authored book did not sell well, but it was influential in the teaching of literature.

A few months later, in September 1939, World War II broke out.

Jack had no doubt about the rightness of going to war against Nazi Germany. He was a Christian (but not a pacifist) and thought that England should meet its treaty obligations to Poland. There was no alternative and he did everything he could to help the war effort.

Warren, of course, as a retired regular army officer, was in the reserve and had been called up several weeks before hostilities began and sent to France. Warren’s departure was a cause for sorrow, not least because Jack was troubled about his drinking heavily when under stress. Few details are known of what Warren did in the eleven months he served, but he was evacuated from Dunkirk, sent to hospital in Wales, and discharged in August 1940.

 Jack was good for morale; he was cheerful throughout the war, no matter what sadness there was in his personal life. He wanted to be active, and so volunteered to be an instructor of cadets, but his offer was refused. The recruiting office suggested that he should join the Ministry of Information, but since this involved propaganda and the telling of lies, he declined. Instead, he joined the Oxford City Home Guard Battalion, a volunteer force of part-time soldiers.

Another way to help the war effort was to take in evacuees, that is, children who had been removed from the war-time dangers of city living. The Kilns provided shelter for a number of girls. Their presence benefited Jack, who had always been shy and ignorant of children, and he learned how to relate to them and to have affection for them. Without this learning, The Chronicles of Narnia might never have been written or written so well.

When Jack was invited to give talks to those serving in the Royal Air Force in the winter of 1941, he agreed, although he was doubtful about his effectiveness. All through the summer vacation of 1942 he dedicated every weekend to travel and talks and then, by request, continued throughout the rest of the war.

The Problem of Pain was written during the first six months of the war at the invitation of the publishing firm Geoffrey Bles, and it was published in October 1940. It was part of a series of books on popular theology, and it received very favorable reviews and became an immediate best-seller, being reprinted nine times in the following three years. Jack did not think that he was being original, but “believed himself to be re-stating ancient and orthodox doctrines,” without any sectarian or denominational content. The book was simply Christian. The book was written in plain ordinary language. Jack wrote:

Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test. If you can’t turn your faith into it, then either you don’t understand it, or you don’t believe it.

* * * *


Janie Moore, who was hostile to Christianity, became less significant, if more tiresome, until her death in 1951. Jack’s wide vision of reason and imagination working together produced remarkable results, in both scholarly and religious writings. After The Screwtape Letters appeared he gave the famous radio talks, later to appear as Mere Christianity. The Socratic Club was founded. he wrote science fiction, and met Charles Williams. He also began the Chronicles of Narnia.

* * * *

In July 1940, in a letter to Warren, Jack described an idea for a book called As One Devil to Another. The book was written quickly and the thirty-one chapters, in the form of letters, were completed by February 1941. They were sent to a Church of England weekly paper, The Guardian, primarily because its editor had already agreed to publish Jack’s paper Dangers of National Repentance.

The letters were published in The Guardian, starting in the beginning of May 1941. Jack had his fee (a mere 62 pounds) paid to a charity. The Screwtape Letters, as they came to be called, were immediately successful and Geoffrey Bles bought the book rights.

The book appeared in February 1942 and Jack was deluged with mostly appreciative comments. To handle the correspondence, Warren took on the task of dealing with routine letters and became a close assistant to his brother. Screwtape was successful from the start, so successful that the first edition of 2000 copies was sold out before publication and it was re-printed eight times by the year’s end. It was published in US the following year. In short order, Jack was famous and money was flowing in from royalties. Owen Barfield set up the Agape Fund, a charitable trust, into which two-thirds of all royalties were paid to help the poor.

Charles Williams reviewed Screwtape, using the form of a letter to “My dearest Scorpuscle;” he signed it “Snigsozzle,” and added a postscript: “You will send someone to see after Lewis?–some very clever fiend?”

In October 1940, Jack asked the Cowley Fathers (Church of England priests of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist) to appoint a spiritual director who would hear his confession and give him advice. Being successful with Screwtape while imitating a devil made him more conscious of needing such ghostly comfort; he felt corrupted by writing Screwtape. In the Preface to the 1961 edition, Jack wrote:

The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp. The world into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst, and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness and geniality had to be excluded. It almost smothered me before it was done.

Jack hated radio (as he later hated television), but in 1941 his help was sought by the religious broadcasting division of the B.B.C. Jack realized that through radio he could reach a large number of people–at least a million–most of whom would never read anything he wrote, and he agreed to give four talks of fifteen minutes each, on Wednesday evenings in August 1941.

Jack knew that the New Testament had been written for people who took it for granted that there was a natural law, an objective right and wrong. Such people, when they disobeyed the law, knew what they had done, and felt guilty. This was not true for the modern world; a sense of guilt was unfashionably “Victorian,” and belief in natural law had largely disappeared. Jack wanted to help his audience to recover that implicit background to the Christian scriptures. The live broadcasts were billed as Right and Wrong: A Clue to the Meaning of the Universe? and they were very successful. Jack’s voice, down-to-earth yet educated, commanded attention, and people listened.

Immediately after the first talks, Jack was flooded, either directly or via the B.B.C., with letters. It was proposed that he should give another talk to discuss listeners’ objections and to answer their questions. This, instead of satisfying his correspondents, only produced another flood of letters, including “many from serious inquirers whom it was a duty to answer fully.” The latter he answered in longhand (using a pen with detachable nib and a bottle of ink), while Warren gave invaluable help by typing formulaic letters to the others.

As might be expected, the B.B.C. asked Jack to give another series of talks, on What Christians Believe. In them, he tried to set forth, rationally and understandably, what all Christians (regardless of denomination or sect) believed, without involving the controversies between various “kinds” of Christianity.

In July 1942, Jack’s two series of radio talks were published in one volume under the title Broadcast Talks, and it immediately became a best-seller. Two months later, Jack began a third series of talks, Christian Behaviour, in which he devoted most of his time to the Christian virtues of faith, hope, charity, and forgiveness, and very little to sin. Avoiding the negative and critical, he gave positive advice, practical advice, grounded in his own life experience.

His final series of seven talks for the B.B.C., in early 1944, was called Beyond Personality: The Christian View of God, culminating in The New Men. This series was published as Beyond Personality, and, again, sold extremely well. Finally, all the talks were published together in 1952, in the volume Mere Christianity–the title borrowed from the Puritan theologian, Richard Baxter (1615-1691).

The popularity of the talks was such that it was inevitable that Jack would be asked to give more. He refused on the grounds that he had said all that he could usefully say, and, besides, the amount of correspondence was overwhelming.

The public response was totally favorable to the talks and to their printed versions, but the critics were mixed. The positive ones stressed Jack’s clarity, his ability to make theology attractive and exciting, the simplicity of his expression; the negative ones accused him of being vague, pantheistic, puritanical, and of oversimplifying. The talks, however, made a definite contribution to Britain’s morale at a critical time of the war.

In January 1942, the Oxford Socratic Club was founded. Students complained that they had nowhere to discuss their religious questions; they needed an organization to bring them together and in which beliefs and doubts could be aired. After a preliminary meeting at which churches and organized religion came under severe attack, it was decided that Oxford needed an “open forum for the discussion of the intellectual difficulties connected with religion and with Christianity in particular.”

The Oxford Socratic Club was to be that open forum. Jack, because it was known that he had been an atheist, was invited to be president and, as a senior member of the university, to effectively sponsor the club. He accepted with great enthusiasm, believing that the club was “long overdue.” He helped devise a policy and a program, insisting that it should not be Christian but, rather, a candid consideration of “the pros and cons of the Christian religion.”

The Club soon became the second-largest society in the university and attracted famous and gifted speakers. At meetings, somebody read a paper, either Christian or not; this was followed by an opposing speaker, after which the meeting was open to discussion, although Jack usually began with an attack on the unbeliever.

Jack’s energy was great but the Club depended too much upon him, and when he left Oxford in 1954, the membership declined. It finally disbanded in 1972.

The wholehearted commitment to Christianity did not always increase Jack’s popularity and status. It had become a convention in Oxford that one’s religion was a private matter, personal and properly unobtrusive. Jack’s enthusiasm and energy and his evangelical sense, and his desire to bear witness to his belief, to be honest, violated this convention. Many dons (not all, however) gave the appearance of complete indifference to Christianity, and, in their supposed superior wisdom, deemed a discussion of it to be in bad taste and also pointless, “these things are really undecidable, don’t you think?” Jack was quite prepared to talk about Christianity, but, more than that, he would discuss any and every subject from a Christian point of view, and not only at the Socratic Club, but also at dinner, and in the Senior Common Room afterwards. This made some members of the university uncomfortable; and it made others downright hostile.

Proselytizing, radio broadcasting (on a subject “not his field”), his success, and his fiction, alienated many. It was not acceptable Oxford behavior.

Jack came to feel increasingly isolated in Magdalen, and he came to hate the destructive and totally uncharitable machinations of his politically minded colleagues and “the inner circle.” It was this that caused him to write That Hideous Strength (1945).

Given Jack’s energy and combative nature, it is not, perhaps, surprising that his output of Christian apologetics did not diminish. In addition to other minor writings, between 1942 and 1946, he wrote Beyond Personality, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength, The Abolition of Man, The Great Divorce, and a draft of Miracles. And, of course, his more scholarly work continued–his teaching and the supervision of students, and his book, A Preface to Paradise Lost, published in 1943. It was dedicated to Charles Williams.

Charles Williams was an editor at the London office of the Oxford University Press and he and Jack had had occasional meetings, after the latter had written to Williams with praise for his novel The Place of the Lion. But the war caused the evacuation of the OUP to Oxford and so, from September 1939 to May 1945 they met regularly, usually twice a week with other Inklings and at The Bird and Baby.

Williams was a member of the Church of England and wrote novels–spiritual thrillers– but, more importantly to him, Arthurian poems. Jack rated the latter very highly (although most people found them obscure), and worked on a study of them; Arthurian Torso, he wrote, was among “the two or three most valuable books of verse produced in this century.” He prized the poems for “the soaring and gorgeous novelty of their technique and for their profound wisdom.”

Jack was captivated by Williams’ talk. He was excited and enthralled by his imaginative speculation and by his wide-ranging and encompassing ideas in Romantic Theology, such as the Way of Affirmation which transformed earthly delights into a Christian vision, and his theory of substitution by which one person’s suffering could be offered for the benefit of another. And they shared a passion for the poetry of Milton and Wordsworth. Jack called him “my friend of friends.”

 A book of essays to be presented to Williams was initiated, but it became a memorial, for

Charles Williams died, unexpectedly, in May 1945 and was buried in St. Cross Churchyard, Oxford with his own words “Under the mercy” as his epitaph. Jack was deeply grieved, but the loss strengthened his faith and for a few days afterwards he was acutely aware of Williams’ presence; these feelings slowly faded but they recurred from time to time. He wrote:

The odd thing is that his death has made my faith stronger than it was a week ago. And I find all that talk about “feeling that he is closer to us than before” isn’t just talk. It’s just what it does feel like . . .

Jack liked his space-travel story Perelandra (1943) the best of all his novels. The story is that of Genesis, and also, of course, of Paradise Lost, with the underlying assumption that happiness for human beings depends on their wills, their whole natures, being in a state of joyful and total submission to God. An unfallen woman, the Green Lady, is subtly tempted and Ransom, the hero of Out of the Silent Planet, has to preserve and protect her.

Although a few reviewers thought Perelandra too theological, it was, in the main, well received. One thought that Jack “should read more Verne and less Aquinas,” but another claimed that the book was the outcome of “the poetic imagination at full blast.”

On the other hand, A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942) was greeted with much hostility from fellow academics. While it was consonant with Charles Williams’ view of Milton, Lewis from the 1930’s had been developing an original approach that involved both an exposition of the theology and an explication of the style and form of an epic poem. Without understanding these, it is impossible to appreciate Paradise Lost. The aversion resulted from the not mistaken perception that Jack was concerned with morals–his own and his readers’. Hostile critics or not, the book made a powerful impact and radically changed the interpretation of Milton.

In 1942, Jack made a careful and searching study of the ethics of religions other than Christianity. He also investigated the secular ethics of various philosophical systems. His students made him aware that there was a prevailing view in school textbooks that all literary and moral values are subjective. He was so horrified that he took the occasion of three lectures at Durham University to assert the objectivity of values and the natural law, which together he referred to as the Tao. The lectures were published in 1943, but were not well received. A second edition appeared in England in 1946, and a US edition in 1947, but it took a long time for reviewers and readers to realize the importance of The Abolition of Man.

If ever scientists who saw their purpose as power over nature succeeded in their enterprise, Jack thought that man would, indeed, be abolished and so he wrote the mythological counterpart of the philosophical Abolition of Man. This was the last of his space-travel novels, That Hideous Strength. It depicts a world in which the men of science who are tinged with black magic are opposed by a small group of creative nonconformists, under the leadership of Ransom. Above and beyond them are supernatural powers, including those of a re-awakened Merlin.

The critics did not like the book, objecting to its construction, the moralizing, the mixing of imaginative worlds, and the presence of the supernatural; it was called “intellectually overstuffed.” The public differed and That Hideous Strength has been the most popular of Jack’s novels. A shortened version was published in the US under the title of The Tortured Planet.

Even while writing That Hideous Strength, Jack had begun another book, The Great Divorce. It was originally published in fourteen weekly installments in The Guardian, from November 10, 1944 to April 14, 1945. With George MacDonald as guide, a number of people are on holiday from hell, and experience heaven; if they prefer it they may stay–they are free to do so–but they must surrender some vice that prevents them from the experience of real joy.

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.” Without that self-choice there can be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.

It is between these and their habitations, heaven and hell, that the great divorce exists.

Also, in the summer of 1943, Jack had begun another book, Miracles: A Preliminary Study; it was finally published in 1947. It dealt with the fact that many people rejected the Gospels because they could not accept the miracles in them. Jack’s argument depended on a distinction between naturalism and supernaturalism; within naturalism, reason cannot explain itself, and, therefore, it requires for its existence a supernatural reality. This was elaborated in Chapter III and constituted the basis for a proof of the existence of God.

The fashion of philosophy in Oxford in 1948, however, was different from that of the 1920’s when Jack had taken his First Class Honours degree. Hegel and Hegelianism had vanished and logical positivism and linguistic analysis were supreme. Jack had not really kept up with these developments in philosophy, and, as far as he could see, they precluded what he considered to be philosophical thinking. But at a meeting of the Socratic Club on February 2, 1948, G. E. M. Anscombe (a Roman Catholic, and later professor of philosophy at Cambridge) read a paper criticizing Jack’s argument that naturalism is self-refuting. Jack replied and a tremendous debate followed. Opinions differed about who won, but Jack felt defeated and thought that his proof for the existence of God had been refuted. He revised the third chapter of Miracles before it was re-published as a paperback in 1960.

While he wrote two more devotional books, Jack never wrote another theological book, having the opinion that the modern fashion of philosophy made discussion of morals impossible. He did not wish to participate in the negativism of logical positivism, and was scarcely trained to do so. The debate humiliated him, a fact that he fully recognized and accepted, although it caused him much pain. But as he had told Arthur, pride was his besetting sin.

The war had taken its toll. Janie Moore was exhausted and, in fact, spent most of 1947 in her bedroom because her varicose veins had almost deprived her of the use of her legs. She became more autocratic and more demanding, causing Jack more work and more frequent interruptions in his work. Warren’s alcoholism was getting worse; his drinking bouts became more frequent and he was often admitted to hospital.

When Warren was away in hospital, Jack suffered because he lost his secretary and administrative assistant. In the summer of 1949, Jack himself went into hospital with what was called “a severe infection.” Their doctor, Havard, told Warren that Jack was exhausted and needed a long holiday away from The Kilns. The arrangements were made for Jack to go to Ireland (“I’m coming home,” as he wrote Arthur), but Warren immediately started drinking heavily again and the trip was canceled. There was no holiday, and Jack was sick again that fall. Warren recovered enough to spend a month in Ireland, but without Jack.

In January 1950, Janie Moore’s ancient dog, Bruce, died. His walks had become an obsession with his mistress, and Jack was continually being required to take him out. Warren wrote “. . .the penultimate gate of poor Jack’s prison is down at last.”

The ultimate gate soon opened. In April 1950, Janie Moore was taken to Restholme, a nursing home in north Oxford. Jack visited her nearly every day, but she was scarcely coherent (she was 78 years old), and could be very grumpy and blasphemous; all Jack could do was to suffer and pray.

On January 12, 1951, Janie Moore died of influenza. Warren reacted by getting so drunk that he could not attend the funeral. Some months later her husband, “The Beast,” died in County Wicklow, Ireland.

Jack described the following year as the happiest of his life, even though it began with his failure to be elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford. He planned a holiday in Ireland with Arthur at Crawfordsburn, about ten miles from Belfast, near home. “I now know how a bottle of champagne feels when the wire has at last been taken off the cork and it’s allowed to go POP!”

Academic work continued, despite it all, and especially on his volume, commissioned in 1944, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, in The Oxford History of English Literature series which had the unfortunate acronym of OHEL–or “the O Hell,” as Jack called it. His honesty prevented him from giving an opinion on a book he had not read, and so his reading (much of it in the Duke Humphrey room of the Bodleian Library) was enormous. The first draft was completed in 1952, revisions, bibliography and chronological tables took another year, and the volume appeared in the fall of 1954.

It was–and is–a remarkable work. He refused to subscribe to accepted opinions, to conventional orthodoxy, to hypocrisy, to literary fashions, and set out his own opinions in a fearless and forthright manner. What was remarkable was that they were HIS opinions, and there was nothing secondhand about his sometimes startling views.

For friends, he summarized the first chapter, New Learning and New Ignorance:

I think I have succeeded in demonstrating that the Renaissance, as generally understood, never existed . . . There was nothing whatever humane about humanism. The humanists were intolerant and Philistine. There is not a humanist philosopher of any importance . . . I have given only five pages to Donne. His place is that of a minor poet.

After putting the humanists in their place, Jack interprets the Puritans anew, asserting that, rather than gloomy or terrifying, their doctrine of salvation by grace is full of joy. The teaching of Calvin

was the creed of progressives, even of revolutionaries . . . The fierce young don, the learned lady, the courtier with his intellectual leanings were likely to be Calvinists. He was a dazzling figure, a man born to be the idol of evolutionary intellectuals.

With such unconventional and independent judgments, the book could not be expected to receive only favorable reviews, and Jack was disappointed by its reception. Reviews in popular papers were mostly good, while the academic journals usually objected to its radical approach and the reassessment of humanism (of which, it must be said, they thought themselves heirs).

The book was exciting and stimulating–if, in the opinion of Oxford tutors, dangerous– and it has been the best seller of all the books in that Oxford series. In this same period of turmoil at The Kilns and of profound academic writing, Jack was also engaged in writing the Narnia stories.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was published in the fall of 1950 and in every following year, until 1956, a new Narnia book was published. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was written in two months, January and February 1950; The Horse and His Boy was finished by the end of July, and The Silver Chair was begun in the Christmas vacation of 1950 and finished by the beginning of March 1951. The remaining two, The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle, were written more slowly and were finished in 1953.

As each volume of The Chronicles of Narnia appeared, the reviews became more uniformly approving, and the response of children overwhelming. The frightening incidents are not so frightening that children cannot enjoy them, and Jack was such an excellent story-teller that they take the moralizing in their stride

Jack wrote, “All my seven Narnian books, and my three science fiction books, began with seeing pictures in my head,” pictures of a wide variety of human, animal, and mythological creatures. His imaginative world was both natural and supernatural, with continuing interaction between the two. Together they constitute one world, a world filled with diversity celebrating with joy its own diversity.

The Chronicles accept without question what Jack called the Tao, the traditional moral code, although they do not preach it but simply exemplify. But, perhaps most importantly, they freed children’s minds from what adults call “realism,” for it had been fashionable to insist that children’s stories should be grounded in the social and economic circumstances of their readers. This was the political correctness of socialistic times, when energies were supposed to be harnessed to carrying out a laid down agenda for social reform and not dissipated in fancy and fantasy.

Underlying them all is Jack’s own theological position, his Christianity. Bede Griffith wrote:

The figure of Aslan tells us more of how Lewis understood the nature of God than anything else he wrote. It has all his hidden power and majesty and awesomeness which Lewis associated with God, but also all his glory and the tenderness and even the humor which he believed belonged to him, so that children could run up to him and throw their arms around him and kiss him. There is nothing of ‘dark imagination’ or fear of devils and hell in this. It is ‘mere Christianity’.

* * * *


The living of a Christian life was a full-time occupation for Jack. His personal devotions, although little publicized, were remarkable for their extent and intensity. He completed his volume in the Oxford History of English Literature, continued Narnia, wrote Surprised by Joy, and became professor at Cambridge, and he met a new kind of friend, Joy Gresham. They shared intelligence and humor, as well as a deep sense of Christian commitment, and they fell in love and were married. That Jack could share, fall in love, and marry, is a testament to his Christian maturity. His life was fulfilled and he knew it. Joy’s death, after a period of intense grief, only confirmed his spirituality, and his own death was softened by the love that he and his brother had for each other.

* * * *

In 1955, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life appeared. It had been in process since 1948, perhaps even earlier, and had taken so long to write simply because the pattern of his life only became clearer as Jack reflected on it. As an autobiography, understood as a recital of all of the events of and influences upon a life, it is less than satisfactory, but that is not what it pretended to be. Jack told the story of his conversion, and his earlier life is more important than the later, and he was ruthlessly selective: he confined himself “strictly to business and omit[s] everything else (however important by ordinary biographical standards) which seems, at that stage, irrelevant.”

The public reaction was, initially, not good. The reviewers were disappointed, and the reviews disappointing–some because there was no salacious detail, some because it was not an autobiography, some because it did not try to convert anyone, nor even tell them how to convert themselves. But Jack had not given them a lot to go on. Janie Moore did not get mentioned, his childhood writings are slighted, and there is little about his own sexual-sadistic obsessions. As Humphrey Havard said, the book should have been called “Suppressed by Jack.”

It is, however, a fascinating story and a marking point in Jack’s life. He wrote it partly to get free “from the past as past by apprehending it as structure.” It tells, with incredible honesty and clarity, how Jack was surprised by Joy–and by God.

After the death of Janie Moore in 1951, Jack’s freedom increased. Professionally, he was no longer tied to Oxford (for he could now move) and he could associate more closely with women, such as Ruth Pitter, if he chose to do so.

In January 1950, Jack had received the first of many letters from an American woman, Joy Davidman Gresham, who in 1952 arrived in England with the purpose of seeing him. She wrote to him from London, inviting him to lunch with her and Phyllis Williams (her London friend), at the Eastgate Hotel in Oxford in early September. Jack agreed, and later invited them to lunch with him in his rooms at Magdalen; Warren was invited but withdrew, and George Sayer was asked to make up the fourth.

Joy Davidman was born in 1915, and educated at Hunter College and Columbia University in New York City. She became a Communist in 1938 and her book of free verse, Letter to a Comrade, won the Yale Poetry Award the same year. She gave up teaching English to become a full-time writer and published a novel, Anya, in 1940. In 1942, at a Communist Party meeting, she met William Lindsay Gresham, six years older, divorced and an atheist. He was also an alcoholic. They were soon married and had two sons, David (born 1944) and Douglas (born 1945). Soon after, they became disillusioned with Communism.

They lived on their farm in New York State, near Staatsburg, with Bill working as a magazine editor in New York City. One day he phoned Joy to say that he thought he was going mad; he could not tolerate his office and could not come home either–he hung up and then simply disappeared. Joy was beside herself, unable to find her husband anywhere. “All my defenses–the walls of arrogance and cocksureness and self-love behind which I had hid from God–went down momentarily. And God came in.” She became aware that God loved her, and found herself kneeling in prayer.

Bill reappeared in due course and was deeply moved by Joy’s experience, so much so that they began to study theology. In 1948, Bill attended the local Presbyterian church with Joy, and he prayed for release from his alcoholism, and for three years he was teetotal. Joy had been deeply impressed with the writings of C.S. Lewis and, after making inquiries of Father Victor White and Chad Walsh, decided to write to him in an attempt to settle some of her religious doubts.

In 1952, Joy’s cousin, Renee Pierce, from Florida came to live with them. She was five years younger than Joy, with two children, and seeking to escape an alcoholic husband; she agreed to look after Bill, David, and Douglas while Joy went to London. Joy wanted to ask Jack about her marriage and about a book she was writing on the Ten Commandments. She arrived in London in August 1952.

After their Magdalen lunch and a tour of the College, Jack decided he liked Joy and, after more lunches, invited her to be a guest at The Kilns for two weeks; she accompanied Jack and Warren on walks, drinking beer and eating bread and cheese in pubs.

Joy stayed on in London, but she and Jack did not meet again until December 6, 1952. Jack gave her a copy of A Preface to Paradise Lost, in which Joy wrote a poem:

I read it over fish and chips/And now I read it with my beer –/f wandering Trojans and their ships/And lightless hell aflame with fear;/As Housman said there’s power in malt/And likely it’s not Milton’s fault –/But Jack can do more than Milton can/To justify God’s ways to man!

Over that Christmas, Joy spent two weeks at The Kilns with Jack and Warren, cooking their turkey dinner, and enjoying long walks and pub crawls. They read each others’ unpublished writings–and Jack wrote a preface to Joy’s latest book Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments.

Towards the end of her stay, a letter arrived from Bill Gresham saying that he and her cousin, Renee, were in love, and asking for a divorce.

Joy discussed the letter with Jack. He said that she should divorce Bill, but she was initially opposed to this on theological grounds. She later changed her mind, went back to the US in January 1953, arranged a divorce (which was not completed until August 1954) and returned to England in April 1953 with her two sons. She lived in Belsize Park, London, and the boys were enrolled in a well-established prep school, Dane Court, (for which Jack paid the fees through his charitable trust.)

The next December (1953), Joy and the two boys were invited to spend four days at The Kilns. Jack enjoyed it, but found the boys exhausting. Before they left, he gave the boys the typescript of The Horse and His Boy and said that he would dedicate it to them when it was published–which he did.

Between that visit and August 1955 Jack did not see much of Joy. Once or twice he was in London, and she was invited to Oxford on a few occasions, to lunch and meet some of his friends. Most of his friends did not like Joy: with all her intelligence, she was too outspoken, vulgar, and abrasive. Her virtues–her kindness, generosity, humor and affection–were hidden by her brusque New York manner. Many of Jack’s friends knew little or nothing about his friendship with Joy, and even those who did know had little understanding of the kind of person Joy was. They were also, almost on principle, protective of Jack.

A group of Jack’s admirers in Cambridge persuaded the English Faculty there, in 1954, to create for him a professorship of Medieval and Renaissance Studies. He was deeply affected by the kindness and respect that this showed, but he was not sure about leaving Oxford which he had entered as a student 37 years before. He loved Oxford, and he could not sell The Kilns in order to buy a house in Cambridge (he and Warren only had a life interest in it), and there was no reason for Warren to move. And if Jack left, would Warren collapse?

Cambridge offered a solution. He would live in Cambridge from Monday afternoon through Friday, and on weekends and in all vacations he could spend his time in Oxford or anywhere else. To this Jack agreed and he actually moved to Cambridge in January 1955.

His Cambridge inaugural lecture (published as De Descriptione Temporum), was delivered on November 29, 1954 to an audience so large that a party of his Oxford friends had to be seated on the platform behind him–the hall was full to overflowing. Unknown to Jack until later, Joy Gresham was present; she wrote, it had “as much fuss . . . as a coronation.” The theme of the inaugural was Jack’s belief that the great divide in culture and civilization had occurred between the time of Jane Austen and the present day. It was the machine that had altered “man’s place in nature” and provided a new myth, that the new is better. Not without some irony, Jack described himself as a dinosaur, one of the Old Western Men, and this caught the imagination of many in the audience.

Jack had rooms at Magdalene College, Cambridge, but they were paneled in dark wood and sparsely furnished. They needed attention (in spite of his ascetic leanings) and he obviously had to vacate his rooms at Magdalen, Oxford. In all of this Joy was a tremendous encouragement, and she came to help him with the actual move.

Jack found Cambridge quieter and smaller than Oxford, the fellows of Magdalene were friendly and courteous, and the atmosphere was relaxed. He had plenty of time to write, but to his utter dismay he could not find an idea to write about, no pictures presented themselves to his mind; he had nothing to say.

Joy, when she found out that Jack “couldn’t get a really good idea for a book,” affectionately tried to help him. They sat down and talked–“kicked a few ideas around until one came to life. Then we had another whiskey each and bounced it back and forth between us.” It did not take long for this to produce a result and, by the end of the following evening, Jack had written the first chapter of a book, which, by the end of the month was three-quarters completed, turning into what came to be called Till We Have Faces.

Joy later admitted in a letter that she could not “write one tenth as well as Jack” but “I can tell him how to write more like himself! He is now about three-quarters of the way through his new book . . . and says he finds my advice indispensable.”

In August 1955, Joy, the two boys, and Sambo, the cat, moved from London to 10 Old High Street, Headington. Jack insisted on paying the rent.

The next month, Jack discussed with Arthur, during a holiday in Ireland, his relationship with Joy. He was considering marrying her in a registry office–that is, in a civil ceremony –so that she and the boys could stay in England. It would not be a “real” marriage. “The ‘reality’ would be, from my point of view, adultery and therefore mustn’t happen. (An easy resolution when one doesn’t in the least want it!)”

The following April, Jack told George Sayer that he had decided to go through a civil marriage ceremony with Joy. It would be simply legal, a pure formality, and should be kept secret, lest people misunderstand. Somewhat unrealistically, perhaps, Jack insisted that this civil marriage would not alter the relationship with Joy. He admitted that he liked and admired her, but he denied that he was in love with her. The marriage took place on April 23, 1956. Even Warren did not know about it.

In June 1956, Joy was suddenly and unexpectedly taken ill. She was diagnosed as having fibrositis. Then, at the end of October, Joy suffered a fall. Taken to hospital, it was discovered that she was suffering from cancer; the left femur was weakened and had been broken in her fall, she had a malignant tumor in her left breast, as well as secondary sites in her shoulder and right leg. During the next month she had three operations to remove the cancer.

Joy’s illness and suffering made Jack aware of his love for her. Writing to Arthur, Jack said, “. . . [I]f she gets over this bout and emerges from hospital she will no longer be able to live alone so she must come and live here. That means (in order to avoid scandal) that our marriage must shortly be published. W[arren] has written to Janie and the Ewarts to tell them I am getting married, and I didn’t want the news to take you by surprise.”

On Christmas Eve 1956, the London Times carried a notice: “A marriage has taken place between Professor C.S. Lewis of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and Mrs. Joy Gresham, now a patient in the Churchill Hospital, Oxford. It is requested that no letters be sent.”

Jack and Joy both wanted an ecclesiastical ceremony, but, although Jack may have come to believe that Joy’s marriage to Bill Gresham was invalid (since Bill’s first wife was still alive) and that therefore she was free to marry, the Bishop of Oxford said that the official Church of England’s position was otherwise and refused to give permission for any of his priests to marry them

To comfort Joy, Jack asked one of his former students, the Reverend Peter Bide, who had a reputation as a healer, to come and lay his hands on her and to pray for her. During his visit, they discussed the impediments to marriage, and Bide agreed with Jack that it would be right to conduct a religious ceremony and promised to perform the ceremony the day after he had laid his hands on her and said prayers for her recovery.

And so, on March 21, 1957, as Warren records in his diary, “At 11 a.m., we all gathered in Joy’s room at the Wingfield–Bide, J., sister, and myself, communicated, and the marriage was celebrated. I found it heartrending, and especially J’s eagerness for the pitiable consolation of dying under the same roof as J.; though to feel pity for anyone so magnificently brave as Joy is almost an insult. She is to be moved here [The Kilns] next week and will sleep in the common room, with a resident hospital nurse . . . There seems little left to hope but that there may be no pain at the end.”

Joy returned to The Kilns and what seemed a miraculous transformation took place, for within a month, by the end of April 1957, she could move about the house.

But by midsummer, Jack himself was suffering great pain due, according to the doctors, to osteoporosis. Jack wrote: “The intriguing thing was that while I (for no discernible reason) was losing the calcium from my bones, Joy, who needed it much more, was gaining it in hers. One dreams of a Charles Williams substitution! Well, never was gift more gladly given; but one must not be fanciful.”

Jack, his weakened spine protected by a surgical brace, continued in pain and at times he could scarcely walk.

As Joy continued to improve, she became more active, doing secretarial work and helping Warren with his writings about 17th century France, a subject in which, to his surprise and delight, she was both interested and knowledgeable. Warren had made a careful study of France under Louis XIV and in 1953 had published The Splendid Century, followed by The Sunset of the Splendid Century (1955); he later published five other very well-written and sound contributions to the field of French history.

Joy was well for the whole of 1958, walking, with a limp, but for distances of up to a mile. She investigated the estate and had flower beds dug and planted. She also improved the Kilns—the exterior was painted, the interior re-decorated, and the radiators were re-connected with a functioning boiler. Jack, who had always lived economically and, like his father, was afraid of bankruptcy, was not comfortable spending a large amount of money on such things as curtains, carpets, and furniture, so there was a limit to the improvements Joy could make.

By April 1958, Jack’s osteoporosis was much better and he asked his doctor if a man of his age and health could have sexual intercourse, to which the doctor replied, yes, “if you are careful and sensible.” The marriage of Jack and Joy was consummated at this time, and Joy told a correspondent that Jack was a “wonderful lover.” Jack told Coghill in the summer of 1958, “I never expected to have, in my sixties, the happiness that passed me by in my twenties.”

That summer, they went to Ireland by plane. It was Jack’s first flight and he prayed throughout take-off; but he was enchanted by being in and above the clouds. Arthur met them at the airport and drove them to Crawfordsburn and later to Donegal.

To George and Moira Sayer, Jack gave the impression of a very happy married man, in love with someone he could respect and admire; he said “intellectually I often feel her inferior.” Their relationship was very natural, with no striving to be anything other than what they were.

Jack’s friends were not as confident about his marriage as he himself was. In the opinion of Tolkien, “a strange marriage” to a “sick and domineering woman,” together with Warren’s alcoholism, was too much for Jack.

The following year (1959), they vacationed again in Ireland in June and July. Joy seemed very well, but in a routine check-up at the hospital after their return, it was discovered that the cancer was back. Even with drugs and radiation therapy the outlook was not good:

The doctors say there is some hope of her being able to live without pain for a year or two. Well, we’ve enjoyed the fruits of a miracle. I am not sure it would be right to ask for another. Nor do I think it would be given if I did. They tell me that there is no example on record of anyone who was granted the same miracle twice.

So wrote Jack in November. Joy herself was under no illusions; with her usual sense of humor (grim though it was), she wrote, “I’ve got so many cancers at work on me that I expect them to start organizing a union.”

In spite of pain and unpleasant side effects from the therapy, Joy followed the usual pattern of their lives with both cheerfulness and courage. She had always wanted to go to Greece and so, during the Easter vacation of 1960, she and Jack went on an eleven day trip with Roger and June Lancelyn Green. They saw all the famous sites–and went to a Greek Orthodox Cathedral for a service–but nearly “lapsed into paganism in Attica.” At Delphi “it was hard not to pray to Apollo the Healer.” Both Jack and Joy had read about Greece and its heritage for a very long time, and they were delighted at being able to see the land. The trip was huge success.

But Joy had suffered and she had to go the hospital frequently. She had breast surgery, with results better than expected, and was home on May 2, although confined to a wheelchair. On June 20 she was taken ill again and went to the Acland Nursing Home, for the last time, Warren feared. But he was wrong. Joy returned to The Kilns on June 27, and went out to dinner with Jack on July 3. She died on July 11. Jack wrote:

At quarter past six on Wednesday morning, my brother, who slept over her, was awakened by her screaming and ran down to her. I got the doctor who fortunately was at home, and he arrived before seven and gave her a heavy shot. At half past one I took her into the hospital in an ambulance. She was conscious for the short remainder of her life, and in very little pain, thanks to drugs; and died peacefully about 10.15 the same night.

In A Grief Observed, Jack wrote, “She said not to me but to the chaplain, ‘I am at peace with God.’ She smiled but not at me. Poi si torno all’ eterna fontana.” But she had already said to Jack, “You have made me happy.”

In their marriage, Jack learned that Coventry Patmore was right: “Heaven becomes very intelligible and attractive when it is discerned to be–Woman.” His marriage to Joy was a Christian marriage, and it was only through it that Jack felt that he had attained both maturity and manhood.

After Joy’s death, Jack prayed that God would take away the life-long powerful sexual drive that had plagued him, and he told Dom Bede Griffith he was now free of it.

Jack wrote three books during his marriage to Joy and they all owe something to her and to their relationship.

The first is the novel Till We Have Faces, which was published both in England (September 1956) and the US (January 1957). It is Jack’s final attempt to re-tell the classical Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, with which he had struggled on at least three occasions–one in couplets, one in ballad form, and one as a masque–as an undergraduate. For his purpose, Jack introduced a new character as the narrator of the story, Orual, queen of Glome. She is the ugly but passionate sister of Psyche; and although she longs to love and to be loved, both are impossible because of her jealous possessiveness.

The story is that of her redemption.

The title (not the one that Jack originally proposed) comes from Orual’s speech almost at the end of the book:

Often when he was teaching me to write in Greek the Fox would say, “Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.” A glib saying. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face, till we have faces?

After discussing the book with Jack, as it was being written, Joy had edited and typed it . But its reception was disappointing. Reviewers praised it–“a masterwork,” and “love is . . . given wings again”– but the public did not buy it. Later it became much more popular, and Jack was in two minds about his best novel–was it Till We Have Faces or Perelandra?

The second book, Reflections on the Psalms appeared in the fall of 1958. It was written at the suggestion of Jack’s friend, the theologian Austin Farrer, and was strongly supported by Joy who again offered to edit and type the manuscript. Much of its content was deeply discussed with both of them during the summer vacation of 1957.

Pre-publication orders ran high (11,000 copies) but the reviews were lukewarm, mostly because it was not a work of scholarship–which it explicitly said it wasn’t. It was not intended to be an instruction, but rather a comparing of notes, and Jack says, in the Preface (which he suspected the reviewers had not read) that he was writing “as one amateur to another.”

At the beginning, Jack dealt with some of the aspects of the Psalms that modern readers find repulsive–the anticipation of judgment day, the frequent cursings, delight in the destruction of enemies, the absence of immortality, and the insistent self-righteousness. He then described the pleasures he got from reading the Psalms. “The most valuable thing the psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God which made David dance.”

The third book was The Four Loves. It originated in a request for some tape recordings by an American Christian organization. After discussion with Joy, he agreed and chose the subject which was occupying his thoughts and which would “bring in nearly the whole of Christian ethics.” It was contained in the four Greek words storge, philia, eros, and agape, translated as Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity. After the talks had been recorded, it was objected that Jack had brought sex into them, at which he laughed and said, “How can anyone talk about Eros without bringing it in?”

Jack had retained the right to turn the talks into a book, which he did by midsummer 1959, and it was published in March 1960 as The Four Loves. The book was agreeably reviewed, although some reviewers did not realize that it was a work of Christian apologetics and seemed oblivious of the fact that, for Christians, God is love.

Shortly after this, Jack was invited to join a committee to revise the translation of the psalms as they appeared in the Book of Common Prayer, and he later was consulted on various points of translation in the New Testament of the New English Bible which appeared in 1961. 

A Grief Observed was published by Faber and Faber in 1961 under the pseudonym of N.W. Clerk. It did not sell very well, which, given its content, is understandable. Jack had published poems in Punch and elsewhere with the initials N.W.–which stood for the Anglo-Saxon Nat whilk, meaning “I know not whom,” that is, anon. The only persons who were told of the book’s existence were Roger Green and Jack’s agent. In 1964, after Jack’s death, the book was re-issued under his name and found its public, the public for whom Jack had written the book, the bereaved.

It is, naturally, the most intimate and personal of all his books–although Jack’s writings always tell us something about him– and it is the great testament to his relationship with Joy. He had lost Joy, and with her he had lost all his creativity; he could not think or write or even pray in his own words. He merely repeated the established and often childish prayers that are known to all.

This was clearly an impediment to his spirituality, something that Joy herself would not have wanted, and so he began a close analytic study of his grief, what it was like and how it worked in him. The intense search for understanding helped him control his grief.

He discovered that Joy was more real to him than in life–her death was “not the interruption of the dance, but the next figure,”–and that he did not need to remember her how she was, but to see her, mystically, as she is. One night Jack had an experience of Joy that was “just the impression of her mind momentarily facing my own,” and he says, banishing all sentimentality, “there was an extreme and cheerful intimacy.”

In his typical robust way, Jack said “I know the two great commandments and I’d better get on with them.” And he felt close to God again.

 In October 1960, following Joy’s death in July, Jack was back in Cambridge, following his usual routine, traveling to The Kilns at weekends and meeting friends every Monday morning. The changes were, perhaps, not obvious: he depended on his friends more and although he sometimes took the slow train–the “Cantab Crawler”–to Cambridge, he was more often driven there.

In the study of literature, Jack was opposed to the reading of criticism before (and even instead of) the works themselves, and his next academic book was An Experiment in Criticism, in which he argued for looking at the books from the point of view of the reader. It was not as polemical as most of his critical books, but it is probably the most influential, although it was not very well received on its publication by the Cambridge University Press in 1961.

In it, he wrote:

Literature enlarges our being by admitting us to experiences not our own . . . in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself . . . Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself: and am never more myself than when I do.

Within five years An Experiment in Criticism was referred to as “a now classic broadside.”

In June 1961, Jack became ill and after belatedly consulting his doctor, was diagnosed with a seriously enlarged prostate and surgery was scheduled. But it turned out that Jack’s health was not good enough to withstand an operation. A strict regimen was prescribed and he agreed to all but one item. “If I [gave up smoking], I know that I should be unbearably bad-tempered. What an infliction on my friends. Better to die cheerfully with the aid of a little tobacco, than to live disagreeably and remorseful without.” But he was forbidden to return to Cambridge in the fall of 1961.

During that fall and the ensuing winter, Jack rested and read voraciously, but he needed blood transfusions (“For the first time I feel some sympathy for Dracula. He must have led a miserable life”). His great consolations were his religious experiences and his feeling of closeness to Joy. He also took satisfaction in putting his papers and lectures in order, and out of this activity produced what was later published as The Discarded Image (1964).

He gradually improved and in April 1962 returned to Cambridge, but he began to realize that he would probably never be well enough to undergo the necessary surgery. He sent to Geoffrey Bles Ltd., his publisher, the manuscript of Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, although it was to be published posthumously

Late in June, Jack was feeling very weak and needed long periods of rest. His doctor said that he was suffering from renal failure–his kidneys were permanently damaged–and, after admission to the Acland Nursing Home, he had a heart attack on July 16. It seemed that he was dying, and the next day, while in a coma, was given the sacrament of extreme unction, but, in a very strange manner, immediately after the anointing, he woke up, opened his eyes, and asked for a cup of tea, as if everything was normal. His condition improved, his heart became steady, and it seemed that he was out of immediate danger.

Warren knew nothing of all this. He had gone on holiday to Ireland and, getting drunk again, was in the hospital of Our Lady of Lourdes at Drogheda. As Jack suspected, he had not opened a single letter with an Oxford postmark.

Jack returned to The Kilns, with a nurse, Alec Ross, in early August. A 31-year old American teacher, Walter Hooper, attending a summer school at Exeter College (from July 1 to August 9, 1963), volunteered to help with correspondence, and Jack spent the morning writing letters; a lunch (supposedly, but not actually, low protein) was followed by a nap until about four o’clock tea-time. Then he read or wrote until dinner, and went to bed about ten o’clock. In spite of the doctor’s orders, he still smoked and drank his strong tea.

He did not expect to live long and wrote a letter of resignation to Cambridge in early August 1963. Hooper left his lodgings in Oxford before the end of August to go back to the US, and Jack was without secretarial help (as he says in a letter dated August 30) until the final return of Warren from Ireland.

Before the end of September Warren arrived, and although he found it hard to face his brother’s impending death, he settled down and enjoyed with Jack the companionship that they had known in earlier days. Warren wrote that they talked of the past,

cheerfully reminiscent, but not such as will bear repetition for it was only of long-forgotten incidents in our shared past. When such were recalled the old Jack, whimsical, witty, laughter-loving, would for a minute or two come back to life again and we would be almost gay together. In fact these were more often than not pleasant days, for as the end drew nearer, more and more did we recapture our old schoolboy technique of extracting the utmost from the last dregs of our holidays. It was only when I went to bed that the horrible fear recurred each night–shall I find him alive in the morning?

“Don’t think I am not happy,” Jack wrote in a letter,” I am re-reading the Iliad and enjoying it more than I have ever done.” And, in another letter,

Yes, autumn is really the best of the seasons: and I’m not sure that old age isn’t the best part of life. But, of course, like autumn it doesn’t last.

He did very little, occasionally going out for a drive with a friend, but he was well enough on Monday, November 18 to visit The Lamb and Flag for the regular Inklings meeting. But over the next few days, Jack found it difficult to keep awake (apparently the effect of uremia). On November 22, Warren reported,

After lunch [Jack] fell asleep in his chair: I suggested that he would be more comfortable in bed, and he went there. At four I took in his tea and found him drowsy but comfortable. Our few words then were the last: at five-thirty I heard a crash and ran in to find him lying unconscious at the foot of his bed. He ceased to breathe some three or four minutes later.

He would have been sixty-five the following week.

Jack’s funeral at Headington Quarry church was attended by a few close personal friends, including George Sayer, Owen Barfield, A.C. Harwood, the Tolkiens, father and son, Austin Farrer, Colin Hardie, Humphrey Havard, John Lawlor, Peter Bayley, J.H. Dundas-Grant, Maureen and her husband Leonard Blake, Peter Bide, Douglas Gresham, Leonard and Maude Miller (who had been housekeepers at The Kilns), and Fred Paxford. Magdalen College and Oxford University were also represented. Warren was not there; he could not bear the anguish and had drunk himself into a stupor.

Jack’s estate was not large–about 38,000 pounds-because he had given away or put into the Agape Fund most of his literary earnings (which were, of course, considerable). His will named Barfield and Harwood as executors and trustees of the estate. After a few legacies, the remaining assets were left in trust for the completion of the education of David and Douglas Gresham, then in trust to Warren for life, and then to David and Douglas.

* * * *


Around 1930, Jack had written a short poem:

Set on the soul’s acropolis the reason stands/A virgin, arm’d, commercing with celestial light,/And he who sins against her has defiled his own/Virginity: no cleansing makes his garment white;/So clear is reason. But how dark, imagining,/Warm, dark, obscure and infinite, daughter of Night:/Dark is her brow, the beauty of her eyes with sleep/Is loaded, and her pains are long, and her delight./Tempt not Athene. Wound not in her fertile pains/Demeter, nor rebel against her mother-right./Oh who will reconcile in me both maid and mother,/Who make in me a concord of the depth and height?/. Who make imagination’s dim exploring touch/Ever report the same as intellectual sight?/Then could I truly say, and not deceive,/Then wholly say, that I BELIEVE.

 This search for concord, this longing for reconciliation, is the story of Jack’s life. The poem was written when he understood what he longed for, reconciliation, but before it had been achieved.

In his early years, while his reason was developing, his honesty tried to keep it pure. His imagining was dark, however, and became inhabited by ghoulish fantasies; fearful, he rebelled against “her mother-right,” trying to deny the power and validity of the imagination. And yet, there was always Joy to remind him, to save him from abandoning Demeter altogether.

By 1926, Athene had brought him to theism–as far as she could take him–but the 1931 conversations with Tolkien and Dyson about myth were needed to complete the understanding of imagination towards which he had been moving. Imagination was the only valid way to reality, which was embodied in its works, especially in myths.

From then on, there grew in him “a concord of the depth and height,” signaled finally by his understanding in Surprised by Joy and by his love for and marriage to Joy Gresham. He could truly say “I BELIEVE.” Faith and love had finally reconciled reason and imagination.