Unsung Inklings: Warren Lewis

Reading Time: 4 mins

The life of C.S. Lewis' brother, Warren Lewis

Movies, stories, and comics are full of dynamic duos, characters whose lives and adventures intertwine so much that they become inseparable, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Han Solo and Chewbacca, Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. The story of the Inklings is no different. At the heart of all the friendships of the Inklings was the bond of brothers, the dynamic duo of Warren Hamilton Lewis and his brother, C.S. Lewis.

Warren Lewis was much more than a sidekick to his famous younger brother. He was a soldier, scholar, brother, and friend. He is remembered as a man of honor, humor, and humility. C.S. Lewis scholar Joel Heck says it well. “Warren Lewis was a well read and intelligent gentleman. He was both a gentle man and a gentleman, impeccable in his manners, a thinker and writer, and a scholar.” [1]

Warren Lewis was much more than a sidekick to his famous younger brother. He was a soldier, scholar, brother, and friend

Among his fellow Inklings he was known for his courteousness and hospitality, often serving as the official garcon at the Thursday evening gatherings in his brother’s rooms, pouring tea and libations. Warren was “a central figure in the Inklings throughout their entire history and provided much of the social glue that held them together.” [2] Fellow Inkling, John Wain echoes this sentiment about Warren Lewis. “W.H. Lewis, was a man who stays in my memory as the most courteous I have ever met—not with mere politeness, but with a genial, self-forgetful considerateness that was as instinctive to him as breathing.” [3]

From an early age, the Lewis brothers were close and inseparable, and remained so throughout their lives. Warren was born June 16, 1895 in Dundela Villas, outside of Belfast, Ireland. When the Lewis family moved to the house, known as “Little Lea,” Warren and his brother grew closer. They did nearly everything together. They read, played, and imagined together. When weather allowed, the Lewis brothers would set out on adventures outdoors, foreshadowing their annual walking tours of the English countryside later in life. When the liquid sunshine of Northern Ireland kept them indoors, Warren and his brother took solace in their creativity, eventually combining their imaginary worlds of Animal-Land and India into Boxen, a series of short stories with talking animals, economics, politics, and railroads. Though it would take a few decades to reach full bloom, the seeds of the Inklings were sown and began to sprout in these early years. 

Life was not always idyllic for Warren. Flora Lewis died on August 23, 1908. Warren and his brother were devastated. In his grief, their father Albert tragically distanced himself from his sons. Emotionally alienated from their father, the Lewis brothers grew even closer to one another. They shared similar schools, albeit with different opinions of their time at Wynyard and Malvern. Both were tutored by William T. Kirkpatrick, who helped Warren prepare for his entry application to the Royal Military College Sandhurst in 1913; he began his studies in 1914. Both Lewis’s also served in the army, though Warren made a career serving as a supply officer in France in WWI, later in Sierra Leone, and Shanghai, China. Over his career he climbed the ranks to lieutenant, captain, and finally during the early years of WW2 was awarded the rank of Major. In the 1940s, he continued to serve as a reservist in Oxford as a home guard, occasionally patrolling the River Thames on his boat, the Bosphorus. Later in life, Warren also suffered severe bouts of depression and battled alcoholism on several occasions. Despite Warren’s struggles, his brother Jack looked up to and cared for his older brother. “He is in so many ways better than I am. I keep on crawling up to the heights and slipping back to the depths: he seems to do neither.” [4]

The Lewis brothers shared not only a love of literature and imagination, in 1930 they moved in together with Mrs. Janie Moore in the home outside of Oxford, known as the Kilns. Here he began the monumental work of organizing The Lewis Papers, several volumes of family history, unpublished, and housed at the Marion E. Wade Center in Wheaton, IL. 

As Warren and Jack matured, so did their friendship, always remaining the dynamic duo that had begun in their youth. Wherever you found one Lewis brother, the other was sure to be nearby. If asked, Warnie would have answered Cain’s defensive question towards God - “Am I my brother’s keeper?” - with a resounding, yes.

As Warren and Jack matured, so did their friendship, always remaining the dynamic duo that had begun in their youth.

When the Inklings began meeting in or around 1933, Warren Lewis was there, one of the original and most faithful Inklings members. Thanks to Warren’s detailed and insightful diary entries we have a window into the Thursday night gatherings.

Properly speaking it [The Inklings] was neither a club nor a literary society, but partook of the nature of both. There were no rules, officers, agenda, or formal elections…The ritual of an Inklings was unvarying. When half a dozen or so had arrived, tea would be produced, after which when pipes were alight Jack would say, ‘well has nobody got anything to read us?’ Out would come a manuscript and we would settle down to sit in judgement upon it. Real, unbiased judgement too, for about the Inklings there was nothing of a mutual admiration society; with us, praise for good work was unstinted but censure for bad, or even not so good, was often brutally frank. To read to the Inklings was a formidable ordeal, and I can still remember the fear and trembling with which I offered the first chapter of my first book— and remember too my delight at its reception. [5]"

When Jack converted back to Christianity, Warren was there next to him as they rode his motorcycle to the Whipsnade Zoo. True to their brotherly relationship, Warren returned to Christianity followed by Jack several months later his brother. And even though Warren was in China at the time, he and Jack both returned to the Lord’s Table and received communion on Christmas Day 1931. 

When Jack’s fame grew, Warren aided in his brother’s correspondence, with wit and humor. On one occasion, Warren screened his brother's phone calls, which had become a nuisance, by answering, "Oxford Sewage Disposal Unit" until the caller went away.

Warren sought to be a simple man. He once wrote that, “A book, a good chair, my pipe and a good bed to go to when the night falls, and I’m about as happy as one can be in this very trying world.” And yet, Warren Lewis was anything but simpleminded. He was a scholar in his own right. His area of interest was French history, particularly King Louis XIV, of whom he wrote his most famous work, The Splendid Century. A great deal of this book and other historical accounts was read to and appreciated by the Inklings. 

Warren outlived his brother by nearly ten years when he died at the Kilns on April 9, 1973. The Lewis brothers, who shared so much in life, also share a burial plot at Holy Trinity, Headington Quarry, awaiting the call of our brother and Redeemer Christ Jesus on the day of the resurrection. Warren and Jack shared many things, their love of reading, writing, and the imagination, and above all the Lewis brothers shared the joy of being brothers in Christ. 

[1] Joel Heck, No Ordinary People: 21 Friendships of C.S. Lewis. Hamden: Winged Lion Press, 2021, p. 129

[2]  David Bratman, The Inklings: Their Lives and Works in The Company They Keep by Diana Pavlac Glyer, Kent: Kent State University Press, 2007, p. 239.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Collected Letters, volume 1, p. 949.

[4] J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 287, (dated 10 May 1966)

[5] Warren H. Lewis. Brothers and Friends: The Diary of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis, ed. Clyde S. Kirby and Marjorie Lange Mead. San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishing, 1982, p. Ix.