On November 29, 1898, Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, to Albert and Flora Lewis. While he was a small boy, his mother died of cancer. Some believe this heartbreak is what led Lewis to become an atheist.
But Lewis’ voluminous reading and lively intellectual discussions with people of faith eventually caused him to doubt his denial of God. He began to wonder if there was more to life than he had thought.
Having read Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough, Lewis was struck by how different mythologies repeated the themes of a dying and rising god. These varied stories seemed to either anticipate or echo the New Testament story of the Jesus of the Bible. Lewis concluded that Jesus’ claims to be a king, His powers to heal, His wisdom, and His sacrifice, death, and resurrection were historically true and the ultimate story behind all stories.
Lewis saw that what makes the story of Jesus unique is that His miraculous life took place in real history. As he reflected on the historic reliability of the New Testament documents, Lewis found further reasons to recognize the reality of Jesus’ life. Over time, his atheism began to crumble and he eventually became a Christian.
As a professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Oxford University, Lewis wrote in a wide variety of genres: literary criticism, poetry, and formal defenses of the Christian faith. He also used a form of fantasy in writing the science fiction Space Trilogy (Out Of The Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) to illustrate Christian principles. In this Trilogy, he dealt with what he saw as the dehumanizing trends in modern science by dramatizing his arguments for moral absolutes that he had previously written about in The Abolition Of Man.
Lewis’ creative writing skills did not stop with these genres. He became interested in writing fantasy on a level that even a child could understand. This desire seems to have come from a combination of experiences. In 1939, he and his brother Warren agreed to take several children into their bachelor home during the bombing of London in World War II. This experience, along with the fact that he had once taken a special interest in a picture of a mythical faun carrying a bundle of packages in a snowstorm, became the seed thoughts of a children’s story filled with Christian symbolism and literary allusions. The result, almost 10 years later, was The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. Six other books exploring the fantasy world of Narnia would follow.
Lewis may not have intended to create seven children’s books, nor did he plan to include insights from the Bible in each. But by the time he finished The Chronicles Of Narnia, that’s what he had done.
Like his friend J. R. R. Tolkien, who wrote The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, C. S. Lewis believed that well-written fantasy could provide fresh insights into the meaning of life. As David C. Downing observes in his book Into The Wardrobe:
Lewis believed that . . . all readers . . . share deeply embedded images and meanings that are evoked in myths, legends, stories, and even dreams. For Lewis, a well-constructed story draws upon these universal images and meanings. Much of the thematic richness of the Chronicles derives from Lewis’ skill in drawing on mythic patterns—the god who dies and comes back to life, the voyage to the end of the earth, the flight to freedom, the rescue of captives from the underworld, the beginning and the end of all created things (p.34). On the basis of such observations, Lewis created Narnia, a parallel world that could be entered by several different means—a wardrobe, magic rings, or an enchanted horn.
He designed this side-byside existence so that the experience of time could be different than our own. In the world he created, a few days as we know them could span long epochs in Narnian time. As a result, the same children from our world could, in The Chronicles Of Narnia, witness the creation, the entrance of evil into the world, the rescue provided through a sacrificial death and resurrection, and the re-creation of a new world in its place.