Five Unsung Heroes in the Life of C.S. Lewis

Behind every good man, to modify the saying, is an army of providential people and influences. Every year at Boyce College and Southern Seminary I teach a course on Lewis and in my preparation I’m always touched by some of the unsung heroes in the life of the twentieth century’s most popular apologist.

The list could include all kinds of people, but I’ve narrowed it down to five that I think are often neglected.

  1. Florence Hamilton Lewis: C.S. Lewis’s mom died of cancer when he was only nine years old. He never quite got over it but who would expect a son to completely get over the loss of a loving mother. Her influence on Lewis is clear in that she was known as a level-headed, analytical, student of the written word, who published articles. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew, the prequel to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, focuses on a young boy who desperately wants to rescue his mother who is dying from cancer. [spoiler alert] In the end the boy is successful in bringing a magic apple back from the newly created Narnia that saves her life. One of Lewis’s earliest pseudonyms was Clive Hamilton, which was his middle name affixed to his mother’s maiden name. He used this with his early poetry and articles for Punch Magazine.
  2. Warren Lewis: The big brother to the beloved author is responsible for Lewis’s prodigious correspondence. “Warnie” wore out his vintage typewriter transcribing hundreds of letters to Lewis’s friends, family, and fans allowing for Lewis to merely sign his name at the end before posting them in the daily mail. Early in C.S. Lewis’s life he made a commitment to respond to every letter he received. This ministry could only be fulfilled by his brother’s sacrificial secretarial service. Since Lewis didn’t use a typewriter at all, any typed manuscript coming from their home at the Kilns was the result of his brother’s faithful service. That typewriter is the tool that brought joy and inspiration to untold thousands.
  3. G.E.M. Anscombe: This Catholic philosopher challenged Lewis in a public debate about the formation of his argumentation in his book Miracles. Though there are mixed opinions as to who won the debate and how it was viewed by Lewis, and there were other contributing factors, it is clear that their exchange stands as a sort of mile marker in the methodology of Lewis’s apologetic approach. From this point on Lewis didn’t focus on direct theology or defenses of the faith, but on “smuggling theology behind enemy lines” through talking fauns and anthropomorphic lions.
  4. Owen Barfield: If opposites really do attract then Owen was an ideal candidate for Lewis. Lewis called him his “anti-self” as they disagreed on so much. Barfield’s legal expertise proved invaluable in the establishment of a charitable trust through which Lewis was able to give away the lion share of his book royalties. Speaking of books, Lewis dedicated The Allegory of Love to Barfield calling him the “wisest and best of my unofficial teachers.” Lewis dedicated his book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to Owen’s daughter Lucy for whom the child in the story was likely also named. He dedicated The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to Geoffrey, Owen’s foster child.
  5. G.K. Chesterton: Most biographies of Lewis highlight Chesterton’s influence on Lewis’s conversion from atheism to theism. Chesteron’s book The Everlasting Man is usually listed as one of the top influences on Lewis’s trajectory towards the Christian faith. But as I have spent several years now reading through the works of Chesterton, I am often struck by similarities, often very close similarities, in statements in Chesterton’s work that closely parallel later arguments and descriptions by Lewis. Though the two never met in person as G.K.C. died nearly three decades before Lewis’s death, Chesterton’s close proximity on Lewis’s thinking is everywhere evident.

Though few will know of Warnie’s typewriter, countless readers have been blessed by Lewis’s letters and manuscripts. While many know the Narnia stories, they might not comprehend the loss that served, at a minimum, for the plot of the Wardrobe prequel. The succinct words of the British spokesperson were sharpened by opposition in a way that may not be evident to beneficiaries of his literary corpus. Which reminds me, who knows how God will use the details of our lives to glorify himself. I don’t think any of the individuals and events in Lewis’s life were a mistake. And neither are the individuals and events in your life.

If you’d like to study Lewis’s life, writings, and legacy then join me for a course on C.S. Lewis in Louisville, Kentucky, the first week of June this summer. The class is available for undergraduate and graduate credit. Registration is now open. Enter the wardrobe and join us by the lamppost. Hope to see you there!