I recently read that The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis, has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. When an author has that kind of impact with young people, I wonder about his own childhood. What shaped him early on?

            In Lewis’s autobiographical book, Surprised By Joy, we get some insights into that. He talks at length about the many books he read and loved. But sandwiched in between all the book talk, Lewis also tells us about the impact some family members and others had on him.

            For example, it’s interesting to compare his impressions of two different Uncles. The first was Uncle Joe, on his father’s side. Lewis says that Joe was always kind to him, but talked to the boy as most adults would talk to a child.

            But Uncle Gussie Hamilton, on the mother’s side, was different. “He talked to me as if we were an age. That is, he talked about things. He told me all the science I could take in…without silly jokes and condescension, liking it as much as I did…I do not suppose he cared for me as a person half so much as Uncle Joe did and that was what I liked. Attention was fixed not on one another but on the subject.”

            I thought that was interesting. Here was someone who didn’t “talk down” to the boy, but treated him with a certain respect. And Lewis enjoyed the same treatment from Uncle Gussie’s wife:

            “What I liked best [about her] was…an unfailing, kindly welcome without a hint of sentimentality, unruffled good sense, the unobtrusive talent for making all things at all times as cheerful and comfortable as circumstances allowed. What one could not have one did without and made the best of it…The tendency of the Lewis’s to rouse sleeping dogs and reopen old wounds was unknown to her.”

            Again, I think these are very interesting early impressions that clearly had a lasting impact on Lewis.

            And then there was his cousin Mary who often invited Lewis and his brother to join them on walks, motor drives, picnics, invitations to the theater, etc. (Lewis’s mother had died when he was eight). Lewis says, “We were at home there almost as much as at our house with this great difference: a certain standard of manners must be kept up. Courtesy and savoir faire were learned there [which helped nurture]…a polished sureness in social behavior.”

            Finally, there is the description of a certain headmaster who had an impact on Lewis. He is described as: “A boisterous, boyish, hearty man well able to keep in authority while yet mixing with us almost as one of ourselves, a rollicking man without a particle of affectation and a sense of gusto for life.”

            When Lewis was in his forties, during World War II, his calm, sensible, life-affirming messages on his very popular radio program helped Brits weather that extremely difficult time.

            It’s not hard to imagine that the influence of a few wise, life-loving adults helped prepare Lewis for this important task.

            Something to think about.