Happy Birthday, C.S. Lewis, born 29 November 1898, died 22 November 1963.
Why C.S. Lewis became a writer
‘What drove me to write was the extreme manual clumsiness from which I have always suffered. I attribute it to a physical defect which my brother I both inherited from our father; we have only one joint in the thumb. The upper joint (that furthest from the nail) is visible, but it is a mere sham; we cannot bend it. But whatever the cause, nature laid on me from birth an utter incapacity to make anything. With pencil and pen I was handy enough, and I can still tie as good a bow as ever lay on a man’s collar; but with a tool or a bat or a gun, a sleeve link or corkscrew, I have always been unteachable. It was this that forced me to write.
I longed to make things, ships, houses, engines. Many sheets of cardboard and pairs of scissors I spoiled, only to turn from my hopeless failures in tears. As a last resource, I was driven to write stories instead; little dreaming to what a world of happiness I was being admitted. You can do more with a castle in a story than with the best cardboard castle that ever stood on a nursery table.’
From Surprised By Joy: The Shape of My Early Life
C.S. Lewis was a novelist, poet, academic, literary critic, essayist, and lay theologian from Belfast, Ireland. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were close friends who served on the English faculty at Oxford University. Both were active in the Oxford literary group known as the ‘Inklings’.
In 1956, he married the American writer Joy Davidman with whom he shared a great love. She died four years later of cancer. The lines below come from Lewis’s memoir, A Grief Observed. ’Her absence is like the sky, spread over eveything.’
Lewis died three years after she did on 22 November 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the day Aldous Huxley died.
Lewis’s works have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. The books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia have been popularised on stage, TV, radio, and cinema.
C.S. Lewis’s Five Writing Rules
- Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.
- Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
- Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean ‘More people died’ don’t say ‘Mortality rose’.
- In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was ‘terrible’, describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, ‘Please will you do my job for me’.
- Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
by Amanda Patterson for Writers Write