To my mind, one can't hope to really understand Narnia or Lewis without first understanding that very few people who knew him would ever call him Clive. To his friends he was Jack, and the story of why is almost absurdly revealing as to the man's broader psyche. When he was only four years old (in 1903), his beloved dog Jacksie was killed by a car. Overcome with grief, the boy announced to his family that he would now take (and only answer to) the name Jacksie, though eventually he agreed to simply "Jack" for the remainder of his life.

That simple, familiar manner of processing trauma by internalizing powerful nostalgia for a childhood cut-short - a familiar aspect of life today but scorned in early 20th Century British society - would seem to define his outlook from there on out, growing more potent upon the devastating death of his mother in 1908. As a young man and student, he eschewed "proper" text and "modern" literature in favor of folklore and fairy tales. At age 15 he renounced his Anglican Christian faith and declared himself an atheist, preferring to find philosophical guidance in Norse mythology and tales of the occult. He would later famously describe his mindset as having been "angry with God for not existing."

Such eccentricities didn't dampen his scholarship - he became an Oxford man, and subsequently an officer in the British Army during WWI. While there, a fateful pact made with a fellow soldier to care for each other's families should one or the other perish would dramatically alter the course of his life. The friend, Paddy Moore, was killed in action, and Lewis took it upon himself to care for his mother, Jane.

The relationship with Jane King Moore is the great remaining question mark of Lewis' life. He worked curiously hard to keep his life with her (he lived with and cared for her until her death in 1951) separate from both his scholarly work and social life. He was known to call her "mother" socially, and some accounts frame her as having a domineering personality (she suffered from dementia in her later years), but rumors and innuendo swirl to this day that they were also lovers. It was, in any case, a complicated relationship that seemed to strengthen his proclivity for escaping the punishing complexities of the adult world through nostalgiac fantasy and fairy tales.

But as an Oxford scholar in the 1920s, he found himself for the first time in the company of peers who shared his fascination for such escapes: The Inklings, an informal literary discussion club of Oxford gents notably including J.R.R. Tolkien, with whom Lewis would become great friends. It was through conversation and debate with the deeply religious Tolkien that Lewis would find himself questioning his own steadfast atheism. As Lewis would tell it, he found his friend's logic on matters spiritual so sound that he could feel his mind changing in spite of his own efforts to the contrary - he'd dub himself "the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England." But a convert he was, and he quickly become a zealous defender of his newfound faith in speeches, debates, radio addresses and books that are still read by spiritual scholars to this day.

Comments on