Belfast born author best known for his Chronicles of Narnia
Clive Staples Lewis was born on the eastern outskirts of Belfast in 1898, one of two sons. Apart from a single term at Campbell College in 1910, he was educated at Malvern College and Oxford, England.
When he was four years old, Lewis' dog, Jacksie, was hit by a car and died. The young Lewis immediately assumed the dog's name, refusing to answer to any other. Although he inevitably gave up the pretense, thereafter friends and family would refer to him as Jack for the remainder of his days.
Lewis's spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, contains a few slender memories of his childhood home, Little Lea at Dundela.
The house, Lewis recalled, was ‘almost a character in my story. I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstair indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes and the noise of the wind under the tiles. Also of endless books...From our front door we looked down over wide fields to Belfast Lough and across it to the long mountain line of the Antrim shore.’
Throughout his life, however, Lewis retained an ambivalent relationship with his birthplace. Perhaps pertaining to his mother's Welsh birth, he wrote of himself, ‘I’m more Welsh than anything’ and while at Oxford self-consciously experimented with an Irish nationalist outlook, ‘partly from an interest in Yeats and Celtic mythology, partly from a natural repulsion to noisy drum-beating [and] bullying Orangemen.’
During his career, Lewis worked as a literary critic, poet and Christian apologist. But he would come to make his mark most indefatigably as one of the founders of modern fantasy fiction - along with his close friend and fellow Oxford 'Inkling' JRR Tolkien, with whom he shared a love of pipe smoking - with his seven book children's epic, The Chronicles of Narnia.
In writing The Chronicles of Narnia (The Magicians Nephew, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Horse and his Boy, Prince Caspian, The voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair and The Last Battle) Lewis distinguished himself from other writers of fantasy fiction, like Tolkien and the more experimental Mervyn Peak, as someone who's art was directly informed by their religion.
Baptised in the Church of Ireland at birth, Lewis did not live a particularly devout life until re-converting to the Church of England whilst at Oxford. This religious reawakening would have a profound influence on his subsequent output.
Whilst some critics have since taken exception to the overt Christian symbolism prevalent throughout, and the seemingly empirical world view espoused in The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis' story of the four wartime evacuees and their discovery of a winter wonderland immediately caught the public's imagination.
The landscape of Narnia was thought to be inspired by the spectacular scenery of the Mountains of Mourne in County Down, a landscape Lewis loved.
Since their publication in the 1950s, The Chronicles of Narnia have maintained their standing at the very pinnacle of the fantasy genre, with characters like Aslan the mighty lion, Mr Tumnas the fawn and the naively adventurous syblings Edmund, Peter, Susan and Lucy - not to mention the evil White Witch - all becoming household names.
Still as familiar to most as the crunch of snow underfoot or the sweet taste of Turkish delight, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in particular continues to entice either on the page, over the airwaves or on screen.
The Linen Hall Library in Belfast houses a unique collection of books by and about the author, donated by the CS Lewis Association of Ireland.
A sculpture, modelled on the author as he was in 1919, can be found at the Holywood Road Library. Here, Lewis is depicted as his fictional alter ego Digory Kirke, from The Magician's Nephew, opening the door to the magic wardrobe. The artist, Ross Wilson, states that the sculpture seeks to 'capture the great ideas of sacrifice, redemption, victory and freedom for the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve' that lie at the heart of The Chronicles of Narnia.
CS Lewis died a week before his 65th birthday in November 1963. Media coverage of his death was almost completely overshadowed by news of the assassination of President John F Kennedy, which occurred earlier on the same day, as did the death of Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World.
Lewis is buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Headington, Oxford. It was a place dear to his heart. As he wrote in his autobiography, 'Heaven is Oxford lifted and placed in the middle of County Down'.