My six degrees of separation from a late legendary author whom I admire were greatly reduced by about 5 yesterday. In a nutshell, I could 1.) hardly believe who I shook hands with, and 2.) was overcome by the Godliness, inspiration, and joy he and his wife bring by sharing their faith and Christ’s love for us as facts of the matter. I met Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis’ Stepson, head of the C.S. Lewis foundation and co-producer of the Narnia films we watch today thanks to a wonderful gathering at Luxent Hotel made possible by Artists in Touch. I also met his lovely, meek wife, Mary, whose face beams by her husband’s side. Their devotion to each other totally reminds me of Karl and Ellie in the animated Pixar film, UP.
When Douglas spoke with us he was very vocal about his faith and warmly shared about the 10 years he had with “Jack” (C.S. Lewis) as his stepfather. He met Jack as an 8 year old and already knew him as the writer of the Narnia Chronicles and fondly remembers how he expected Jack to be some bigshot (being the “god” of Narnia), but instead here was this charming elderly man, “with nicotine stained teeth and fingers, and quite frankly the shabbiest clothes I’d ever seen on a man”. Supper at their home he said, had he known any better, ought to have been recorded with a tape recorder stuck under the table, with writers from the “Inklings” such as J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings author) and a handful of others coming to bring the outpouring and debates from their prized streams of thought over for dinner. Today, had those conversations been recorded, they would have been priceless. Jack, Douglas says, also had a way of talking to children. He never talked down to them as if they were insignificant individuals but always respectfully addressed them as small human beings who don’t know very much and who always had something terribly important to say. This lent itself to his becoming of the greatest literary novelists for children. Jack’s most popular book for children was the second book from the Narnia Chronicles and the first to become a successful box office motion picture, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. When I was in college, I was once featured in a print ad campaign by Power Books as a young rookie Student Leader from the U.P. College of Fine Arts who loved to read, and when asked which book or novel had a profound impact on my life growing up, it was none other than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe which eventually became a major motion picture. This cat belonged to me, this is Priya, she is not with us anymore, she passed away shortly after we moved to Laguna.
Douglas wishes though that more people would notice the beauty of one of Jack’s greatest works ever, in his opinion, “Til We Have Faces” which I have read when I was in college. It was deep, moving, heavy in a sense, but absolutely beautiful. He hopes this becomes a properly done motion picture someday. In my mind I want Rebecca Hall to play Orual.
“I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer . . . Why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?” Haunted by the myth of Cupid and Psyche throughout his life, C.S. Lewis wrote this, his last, extraordinary novel, to retell their story through the gaze of Psyche’s sister, Orual. Disfigured and embittered, Orual loves her younger sister to a fault and suffers deeply when she is sent away to Cupid, the God of the Mountain. Psyche is forbidden to look upon the god’s face, but is persuaded by her sister to do so; she is banished for her betrayal. Orual is left alone to grow in power but never in love, to wonder at the silence of the gods. Only at the end of her life, in visions of her lost beloved sister, will she hear an answer.
When Douglas was asked by Isabella (Kuh Ledesma’s daughter) if C.S. Lewis ever gave him writing advice as a child, Douglas shared to the audience “Yes, in fact he did, he told me this ‘First, be sure you know exactly what you want to say, and afterwards be sure you have said exactly that.”