Clive Staples “Jack” Lewis, born in Belfast in 1898, atheistic in youth, and a lifelong writer about faith from his conversion at 33, was easily the most popular advocate for Christianity in 20th-century Britain.
After gaining a triple First in Greek and Latin literature, Greats and English at Oxford, he taught at Magdalen College, as well as at Magdalene College, Cambridge, up until he died on 22 November 1963 (the same day as John F Kennedy was assassinated).
Lewis remains famous today for his children’s fiction The Chronicles of Narnia. With its emphasis on good and evil, the series of seven books (including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian) is regarded as having drawn on Christian, as well as Greek and Roman, mythology. Set in a fantasy world of magic and talking animals, the series is credited, along with his close friend J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books, with inspiring J K Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.
Lewis’s first Narnia book was published in 1950, but he was already nationally known for his wartime wireless broadcasts, in which he reminded a nation in darkness of what he saw as the light of God’s existence and expounded his interpretations of the Christian faith. He began his 15-minute slots on BBC Radio in 1941 as a relative unknown, but went on to become, in the next four years, “the most widely celebrated Christian apologist on both sides of the Atlantic”, according to Justin Phillips of Christianity Today.
His insights, delivered in his deep, grave voice, were published in three separate parts as The Case for Christianity (1943), Christian Behaviour (1943) and Beyond Personality (1945). Later, they were brought together as Mere Christianity, a title that captured the central notion behind Lewis’s work, one that continues to challenge his atheistic critics today: that a knowledge of the difference between right and wrong is indeed inherent in every person, but that such a moral compass is given to mankind by God only.
Lewis reached another audience through the 1985 television film Shadowlands, written by William Nicholson and later turned into a stage play and film for cinema. Its story is based on the relationship between the Christian don and his wife, the author Joy Gresham.