In honor of the father of Narnia on his 116th, birthday, here are six things you might not have known about ol’ Jack.
1: He Wrote All of His Books by Hand
Lewis despised typewriters. He liked to give his prose an almost musical rhythm, like poetry. The noise of the typewriters, he said, made it more difficult for him to hear the rhythm in his head. He wrote all of his books out completely in longhand with a dip pen and then gave the manuscripts to his secretary Warren Lewis (who happened to be his brother). Warren would then transcribe the manuscripts on his typewriter and send them to the publisher. Unfortunately, Lewis didn’t have the room to store all of these handwritten manuscripts, so he burned them.*
2: He Was Named After His Dog (Not Really)
The story goes that when Lewis, whose full name was Clive Staples Lewis, was about five years old, his dog Jacksie was hit by a car. Shortly afterward, Lewis took up the name left vacant by his dog and refused to answer to any name other than Jacksie, which was later shortened to his life-long nickname Jack. It’s a cute story, but Lewis’s brother Warren claims it isn’t true.
3: One of the Greatest Christian Apologists of the Twentieth Century Was a Former Atheist
Lewis’s parents brought him to church when he was a little boy, but their interest in religion seldom lasted past Sunday. The abuse Lewis experienced as a preteen in boarding school, compounded with his mother’s death from cancer, had him questioning the existence of a just, loving God; by the age of fifteen, Lewis concluded that the universe was meaningless and there was no God.** He continued in this belief for nearly twenty years, until his friends—among them the devotedly Catholic J. R. R. Tolkien—convinced Lewis of the existence of God. Lewis himself admitted that he did not want to believe that it was true, but two years later, Lewis officially became a Christian. Just two years after that, Lewis published The Pilgrim’s Regress, the first of many novels interwoven with Christian themes.
4: He Died on a Very Important Day
C. S. Lewis passed away on November 22, 1963. If you’re an avid history nerd, you’ll probably recognize that as the same day that President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. For this reason, Lewis went largely unheralded at his death. On another interesting note, science fiction author Aldous Huxley died on that same day as well, prompting one author to write a novel describing an imaginary conversation between the three men in the hereafter.
5: He Based the Pevensies on Real Children
During World War II, Lewis did his part for the war effort by taking in several children from bomb-eaten London. One of the boys living with Lewis at his home the Kilns became fascinated with a large wardrobe Lewis owned. He often pretended that the wardrobe had a secret door in the back, thus inspiring Lewis with the idea for a novel about a group of London refugees who find a magic wardrobe in the home of an old professor.
6: He Was Very Considerate of His Fans
After Lewis published the Narnia books, letters came pouring in from young fans of the series . . . and he tried to respond to every single one, not with some silly canned answer, but with a real, honest-to-goodness letter. For instance, he wrote this very charming letter to a girl who drew some pictures of Narnia and asked to know what Aslan’s other name is, as mentioned in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He also wrote this to one Joan Lancaster, complimenting her on her writing and offering some (very good) writerly advice.
* To all of my fellow writing nerds and C. S. Lewis fans, let us please have a moment of silence for all those poor lost manuscripts.
** From Jack: a Life of C. S. Lewis by George Sayer, published by Crossway.