Chronicling C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis was renowned during his lifetime as a scholar, literary critic and perhaps the most influential Christian apologist of the 20th century, and he still is. He wrote a volume of “The Oxford History of English Literature” and was also the author of a science-fiction series (“Space Trilogy”) and “Till We Have Faces,” a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche.

Now, more than 40 years after his death, Lewis seems destined for even greater fame, as Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media prepare for the Dec. 9 release of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the first installment of the author’s beloved “The Chronicles of Narnia” series of children’s books.

Douglas Gresham, a co-producer of the film, says that Lewis was most important to him as his stepfather.

“To me, he was Jack. Simple as that,” says Mr. Gresham, referring to Lewis by his nickname. “He was my stepfather, a man who was a reliable, humorous and compassionate companion to a small boy, grieving and alone very often.”

Mr. Gresham’s mother, Joy, died of cancer when he was 15.

“I was someone who entered Narnia at a very young age,” Mr. Gresham says, recalling that his mother read “The Chronicles of Narnia” to Mr. Gresham and his brother, David, when they were children. “In a sense, I’ve lived there ever since.”

In 1953, Mr. Gresham’s mother moved from New York to England with her sons. Mr. Lewis married her in a 1956 civil ceremony to prevent her deportation. While she was suffering from cancer, he married her in a religious service at her hospital bed in 1957. She died in 1960. Lewis cared for the boys until his death on Nov. 22, 1963.

“One of the things that gets lost in most of the biographies and the films about him and our family life, like ‘Shadowlands,’ is the man’s enormous humor,” says Mr. Gresham, author of “Jack’s Life” and “Lenten Lands.” “He was so incredibly aware of his own sinfulness, yet at the same time equally aware of his forgiveness for it.”

A favorite memory of Mr. Gresham’s happened one day while walking behind his mother and stepfather at the Kilns, Lewis’ home. His mother was apt to carry a shotgun and hunt pigeons in the trees.

While enjoying the outdoors, a young man jumped from the bushes carrying a bow and quiver of arrows. When Lewis asked him to leave the property, the man pointed the arrows at him and Mr. Gresham’s mother.

“Immediately, Jack displayed his chivalry, his courage and his sense of duty by stepping in front of my mother to shield her from the arrow,” Mr. Gresham says. “He stood there for a few seconds, until he heard my mother … behind him saying, ‘Jack get out of my line of fire.’ Whereupon, Jack steps sideways, and the young man found himself staring down the barrel of a small cannon.”

Although Lewis is known for his defense of Christianity, Mr. Gresham says that his stepfather never lectured him about God. Lewis’ daily actions encouraged his own faith, he says.

Born on Nov. 29, 1898, Clive Staples Lewis was raised in the Church of Ireland. When his mother died at age 9, he eventually became an atheist.

Lewis’ atheism was reinforced by his tutor, W.T. Kirkpatrick, known as “the Great Knock,” says James Como, a professor at York College of the City University of New York, in Jamaica, N.Y. Mr. Como is co-founder of the New York C.S. Lewis Society and author of “Remembering C.S. Lewis” and “Branches to Heaven: The Geniuses of C.S. Lewis.”

In 1929, after envisioning a doorway while riding a bus, Lewis said that he had a choice to resist God or walk through the door of faith. Later, he prayed to God, becoming what he called “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” His final conversion, Lewis recalled, was influenced by a discussion with his colleagues J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson in 1931.

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