A person and his outlook on life are shaped by a combination of his parents and upbringing, his educational opportunities and career choices, and his relationships with other people and his God. C.S. Lewis was a very complex individual, a prolific author whose life experiences fill the pages of his books, giving readers insights into his mind and heart. Lewis’ childhood and early teen years provided fertile ground for the imagination and creativity that permeate many of his books, including Surprised by Joy, The Discarded Image, and The Abolition of Man.
Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, on November 29, 1898. Lewis' father was a passionate attorney and his somewhat reserved mother came from a long line of ministers. His older brother by three years, Warren, was nicknamed Warnie by Lewis. Lewis assumed the name of Jacksie when he was four years old, after the death of his dog who was named Jacksie. This nickname was later shortened to Jack, the name by which he was known his entire life.
Lewis and his brother grew up in a large, comfortable manor house. They freely roamed the entire estate: they played in the garden, they read, they wrote stories, and they drew. They had the time and freedom to pursue ideas.
There was no sibling rivalry between the brothers, and they shared their deepest secrets with each other. The tranquility and sanctity of the Lewis home was shattered, however, with the death of Lewis’ mother when he was nine. It was about this time that Lewis’ father became distant and was unable to listen to or communicate with his sons, especially Lewis. The rest of Lewis’ life seems to have become a search for the security and "settledness" he had taken for granted during his peaceful childhood.
The Influence of Books
As a child, Lewis was surrounded by books. The house was overrun with them—the bookshelves were laden with them, there were piles in the bedroom, the cloakroom, the cistern in the attic. Books of all kinds could be found at every turn, and Lewis was allowed to read any of them he wanted. Reading was like a journey of discovery. Lewis wrote, “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.”
Commenting on his love of reading, he said, “On a Saturday afternoon in winter, when nose and fingers might be pinched enough to give an added relish to the anticipation of tea and fireside, and the whole weekend’s reading lay ahead, I suppose I reached as much happiness as is ever to be reached on earth. And especially if there were some new, long-coveted book awaiting me.”
Lewis often commented that he often lived “almost entirely in [his] imagination.” I think what he meant was that he spent much of his time looking at, listening to, and reading highly imaginative works and being caught up on the powerful impressions created by them.
A Place of His Own
Not only did Lewis have the freedom to read whatever he wanted, he also had his own special place to which he could retreat to pursue his creative talents. Located in a corner of the attic, he called it “The Little End Room.” It was here that he kept his art supplies and posted his drawings. After his brother went off to school, Lewis would spend countless hours alone in his little attic studio. Lewis had a physical deformity—his lower knuckles in his thumbs could not bend—so he was not good at games requiring manual dexterity. He shied away from sports and turned to the internal world of imagination for refuge. How grateful the world should be that young Lewis was not gifted cricket player!
Because influenza was rampant in the early 1900s, the Lewis brothers were kept indoors and forced to entertain themselves. Drawing was one of their pastimes. Lewis, his brother and father all started out drawing pictures of boats together. Inspired by the Beatrix Potter’s books, Lewis soon advanced to creating a mythical world of his own called “Animal-Land,” which he populated with talking beasts who had wonderful adventures. He wrote descriptions of the animal society, complete with details about the country’s economics, politics/government, and history, as well as creating illustrations of buildings and characters. Warren’s drawing changed from boats to a fascination with the country of India. Over time, Lewis began to include some of his brother’s India drawings with his own so they could “play” together; he created Boxen, a place where their two imaginary worlds interacted.
Envisioning these imaginary worlds required extensive creative thought. Even as a young boy, Lewis knew that, as he put it, “Invention is essentially different from reverie.” He was no daydreamer. “In my daydreams I was training myself to be a fool,” he wrote, “in mapping and chronicling Animal-Land I was training myself to be a novelist.”
Lewis explained that his fiction books all started out as images: “All my seven Narnian books, and my three science fiction books, began with seeing pictures in my head. 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. …One day…I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’”
And what a story he made! Lewis' imagination was nurtured throughout his childhood, provided a refuge during his difficult teen years, lead him to schools, teachers and friends who helped him hone his skills, and eventually provided him with a profitable livelihood. Imagination became the very core of his being, to which he later added reason, philosophy, and religious conviction. And his imagination has provided millions of people with the happiness and joy he himself sought and valued his entire life.
Note: The following YouTube video covers the life of C.S. Lewis from birth to the point of his return to Christianity. It's well done and I found it very entertaining.