C.S.Lewis

C.S. Lewis was one of the great thinkers of the 20th century, who connected to generations of readers not only through his children's stories, but through his science fiction and his clear-thinking Christian writing.

This page is my short, very incomplete tribute to this great writer. There are many pages on the web that will tell you the details of his life and writing. This is more of a personal appreciation, with a few trivia facts thrown in.

As with all my Great Creators, I'm interested in what made them have such wonderful imaginations.

Bruce Van Patter
Creative writing motivator

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His childhood:

While reading Lewis's autobiography, Surprised by Joy, I found some ingredients which I think helped to hold onto his innate creativity throughout his life. Here are four:

1. Freedom. Little Clive – called Jack – lived in a large manor with his older brother and his parents. In and around the house, Jack could roam freely; he and his brother played in the garden, they read, they wrote stories, they drew. They had the time and freedom to pursue ideas

2. Access to books. His house was overrun with books. Not only were bookshelves laden with them, but they were piles in the bedroom, the cloakroom, the cistern in the attic. All kinds of books. And Jack was allowed to read any he wanted. Reading books was like a journey of discovery. He writes, “I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass.”

3. A place to create. Tucked away in a corner of the attic, Jack had his own space, called "The Little End Room". There he kept his art supplies and posted his drawings. After his brother went off to school, he spent countless hours alone in his little attic studio. Because of a physical deformity – his lower knuckles in his thumbs could not bend – he shied away from sports. The internal world of the imagination was his refuge.

4. A focused imagination. In his lonely hours, though, Lewis had a purpose. He didn’t just want to dream about a magical land; he wanted to create one. That mythical place he called “Animal-Land”, and he set about populating it with talking beasts, filling it with adventure. Even as a young boy, C.S. Lewis knew that, as he puts it, “Invention is essentially different from reverie.” He was no daydreamer. “In my daydreams I was training myself to be a fool,” he writes, “in mapping and chronicling Animal-Land I was training myself to be a novelist.”

Some details from the childhood of C.S. Lewis

Lewis gave himself his nickname of "Jacksie" after the name of his dog, who was killed by a motorcar -- a rare thing in those days.

In a book about Tom Thumb that Jack had in his nursery, a large drawing of a beetle had cardboard horns that could open and shut like pincers. It so terrified him that he had a life-long dislike for insects after that. He wrote in On Three Ways of Writing For Children that his two biggest fears were insects and ghosts.

He and his brother, Warnie, often hiked the Holywood Hills. (Long before Narnia made it to Hollywood!)

His mother, Flora, died when he was just 9 years old. He writes about his mother's death in Surprised by Joy: “With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.” Within weeks of his mother's death, Jack was sent off to a far away school.

see some photos of the area of England where Lewis grew up.

When he was middle-aged and he and his brother had to sell their childhood home, they had to decide what to do with the trunk with all his animal toys he used to create Animal-Land. After much debate, they finally decided to bury the trunk in the garden. For all you would-be pirates, that would be buried treasure, indeed!


His books on Narnia:

I grew up with the Chronicles of Narnia. I've read and re-read my paperback copies of them so many times (as well as reading them aloud to my kids), they're barely hanging together. These are my line drawings inspired by the books. I'm a huge fan of he original line drawings by Pauline Baynes, and I've been saddened to see many of them stripped from recent editions. My work pales in comparison to hers: elegant, simple, beautiful work.

In his book of essays, Of Other Worlds, Lewis tells how the Narnia tales came to him:

"At first they were not a story, just pictures. The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: 'Let's try to make a story about it."

His good friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, hated The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He thought it was thrown together without any of the careful thought and planning that he had put into his Middle Earth. It had taken Tolkien seventeen years to finish The Lord of the Rings. Lewis told one friend he wrote all seven Narnia books in about a year's time.

The books of Narnia have sold more than 100 million copies and have been translated into about 30 languages.

Aslan is the Turkish word for lion.

So, now that Narnia is on the silver screen, it's interesting to read what Lewis thought about movies vs. books. He wrote in his essay, On Stories, that movies come up short: "...nothing can be more disastrous than the view that the cinema can and should replace popular written fiction. The elements which it excludes are precisely those which give the untrained mind its only access to the imaginative world. There is death in the camera."


an appreciation:

As someone who writes for both adults and children, I admire C.S. Lewis for the total integrity of his body of work. His writing flowed out of who he was. In everything he penned, whether it was a carefully constructed explanation of Christianity or a fantasy for children, Lewis was honest. He never talked down to his readers. Instead, he seemed to always anticipate the next question, then he'd answer it, explaining gently, guiding the questioner deeper into his mind and imagination. And if one follows further in and further up, one can find the mind and imagination of Lewis's Creator.


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text and illustration © 2005 Bruce Van Patter

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