C. S. Lewis and 'The Four Loves'


'I am a product [...of] endless books’, said C. S. Lewis. ‘My father bought all the books he read and never got rid of any of them. There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents' interest, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves. I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass.’

In this way, it seems that Clive Staples Lewis (1898–1963) was set up in his childhood to become one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century. His predilection for books and the significances that they contained led him into the role of Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University, and then, in 1954, to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. Lewis himself wrote more than thirty books, reaching millions of people and still attracts thousands of new readers every year through works such as Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and of course the children’s classic series, The Chronicles of Narnia, which have sold over 100 million copies and which have been made into radio serials, television series and major films.

From the outside, as an Oxford and Cambridge intellectual, Lewis looks like a simple establishment figure, propounding the religion of the English state in a number of ways. But he was not only a novelist -he was a poet, a medievalist, a broadcaster, a lecturer, a literary critic, an essayist, a lay theologian, and a Christian apologist. The ‘number of ways’ in which he promoted Christianity -in which, if you like, Christ seemed to be ‘in his blood’- is itself interesting.

It’s a well-known fact that fellow Oxford intellectual and novelist J. R. R. Tolkien was Lewis’s close friend. Together they formed part of the informal Oxford literary group known as the Inklings, and Tolkien was instrumental in Lewis’s return to Christianity. According to Lewis' memoir Surprised by Joy, he was baptised in the Church of Ireland, but became disaffected with the Church during his adolescence, only becoming a member of the Anglican Communion under protest at the age of 32. Lewis married late in life, his wife Joy Davidman dying in 1960, soon after their marriage.

When Lewis writes about Love, then, it is from a heavily intellectual background. He begins by categorising three main kinds of Love: a ‘need-love’, characterised by dependency, which he at first thought was a ‘bad’ thing but quickly realised that, like the love of a child, it wasn’t that simple; a ‘gift-love’, which is the classic Love flowing outwards to someone or something, filling another’s need in most cases; and a third kind, appreciative love, which appears to be separate.