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© 2003 by Amelia Harper. All rights reserved
Picture courtesy of Disney Studios. All rights reserved. Used by permission
By Amelia Harper
Note: This interview originally appeared in the Fall 2005 issue of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.
Some of the tales we read in childhood are ones we feel we must share—that we must pass on to our children. For many homeschooling families, C.S. Lewis’s seven books of the Chronicles of Narnia are near the top of the list of stories worth sharing.
However, Narnia is undergoing some changes, it seems. A new combined volume presents the stories in a totally different order than most remember. Rumors swirl about “new” Narnia books written by another author. And on December 9, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will hit the big screen in a full-scale cinematic production. For some Narnia fans, this is a long-awaited event. Others fear that Hollywood will spoil the innocent beauty of Narnia and strip the story of the spiritual subtext that gives the tale a dimension beyond the normal childish fare. Is there truth to the rumors? Is there reason to be alarmed—or excited?
It is true that few stories have had such a large and wide-ranging audience. According to Douglas Gresham, the stepson of C.S. Lewis and the Creative and Artistic Director of the C.S. Lewis Company, around 80-90 million copies of The Chronicles of Narnia have been sold worldwide. This translates into an estimated 400 million readers of the celebrated series.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was first introduced to the world more than 50 years ago and was greeted with enthusiasm from the beginning. What was most surprising was not the response to the book but the source. It was written by a middle-aged Oxford college professor, a former atheist who was, at the time of the writing, a confirmed bachelor. He was a man better known for his poetry, scholarly tomes, and works of lay theology than for children’s tales.
Yet the appeal of the simple story of wondrous adventures and supreme sacrifice quickly gave it a foothold on both sides of the Atlantic, and Lewis soon had an audience clamoring for more. Over the next six years, Lewis quickly produced six more stories of the world of Narnia and completed the seven-book series, originally published from 1950 to 1956. The Chronicles take the readers on a whirlwind tour of the Narnian world, from its very creation to the scenes of its final destruction, weaving wit and wisdom into the daring adventures of Lucy, Edmund, Peter, Susan, and assorted friends who enter Narnia from our own primary world.
The books were produced, in part, as a result of a conversation between Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who were great friends and shared a love of literature. In one conversation, they were bemoaning the type of literature that was often produced in the modern age, when Lewis commented, “If they won’t write the kinds of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves.” Lewis encouraged Tolkien, who had by then published The Hobbit, to continue his work on a grander scale. The result, for Tolkien, was the production of his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. Lewis wrote his celebrated space trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Later, he wrote the seven Chronicles of Narnia, which he called a “fairy tale addressed to children.”
However, the appeal of Narnia extends far beyond the audience to which it was addressed. Teenagers and adults also find pleasure in Lewis’s skillfully woven tales. In an interview, Colin Duriez, author of several Lewis biographies as well as The Field Guide to Narnia, revealed his own reaction to Narnia for the first time when reading it as a teenager. Duriez had at that time been exposed to Lewis’s works through reading only Mere Christianity in his Welsh high school. He looked for other works by Lewis and stumbled across The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. “I went through the wardrobe with Lucy and entered the same forest and was captivated,” he said.
Part of this wide-ranging appeal comes from Lewis’s own philosophy of writing for children. He felt that the writer needed to respect the intelligence of his audience, connecting with children on the basis of common experience, not a forced educational perspective. “We must meet children as equals in that area of our nature where we are their equals …,” Lewis wrote. “The child as reader is neither to be patronized nor idolized: we talk to him man to man. But the worst attitude of all would be the professional attitude which regards children in the lump as a raw material which we have to handle…. I will not say that a good story for children could never be written by someone in the Ministry of Education, for all things are possible. But I should lay very long odds against it.”
There is no denying the lasting legacy of the Narnian Chronicles; but what about the rumors of new Narnia books written by another author? Gresham says that they are not true. However, in the works are some books that retell the original stories in a simpler form suitable for picture books for small children.
The newest combined edition of The Chronicles of Narnia also has some changes. It now presents the stories in the order in which they took place in the chronology of Narnia, beginning with The Magician’s Nephew, not in the order they were originally written. According to Gresham, Lewis would have preferred this presentation, which does make the series easier to follow. However, many people still prefer to enter Narnia first through that wardrobe with Lucy, the place where the new Narnia movie begins.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe , produced by Walden Media and distributed by Disney, promises to be a visual and cinematic treat although, as with all book adaptations, it may differ somewhat from your own inner vision of Narnia. Wherever you choose to enter this world, it is well worth visiting, especially with a child at your side. As the new movie approaches, this may be just the time to take a trip through the books again yourself.
Amelia Harper is author of Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings and a contributor to the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. In November, she presented a paper on “Worlds of Imagination in the Writings of Lewis and Tolkien” at a C.S. Lewis conference at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.
By Amelia Harper
Note: This interview originally appeared in the Fall 2005 issue of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.
C.S. Lewis’s surprising late-life marriage to Joy Davidman brought two young men into Lewis’s life: David and Douglas Gresham. Douglas Gresham, the younger of Joy’s two sons, recounts his own experiences during this time period in his book Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis. He is now working on a biography of Lewis, which will be published by Broadman and Holman in October 2005.
After living for a time in Australia and Tasmania, Douglas Gresham and his wife Merrie moved to Ireland, where he continues to work in a counseling ministry that focuses on Post Abortion Syndrome, child abuse, and other family counseling issues. Gresham, now the father of five adult children, also writes and lectures in addition to his responsibilities to the C.S. Lewis Company and his involvement with the new film The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. For this issue of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Douglas Gresham has graciously agreed to an exclusive interview.
Douglas Gresham On C.S. Lewis
TOS: Mr. Gresham, how old were you when you first met C.S. Lewis?
GRESHAM: I was eight years old.
TOS: I understand that when you first met Mr. Lewis, you were already a fan of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Did Mr. Lewis in person fit in with the way you envisioned him as the author of the tale?
GRESHAM: Not at all. As a little boy whose head was full of Narnia and such, I always thought of him as a great stalwart figure in armor and carrying a sword. After all, this was a man who actually knew personally High King Peter of Narnia and Aslan the Great Lion! Instead, there was this stooped, middle-aged, scholarly looking man with nicotine-stained fingers and teeth, wearing the most amazingly shabby clothes I had ever seen. However, Jack’s warmth and vivacity of personality soon made up for his appearance, and we were soon firm friends.
TOS: I note that The Horse and His Boy , one of the seven Chronicles of Narnia, was dedicated to you and your brother, David. Were you privileged to hear any of the stories before they were published? Did Mr. Lewis ever discuss them with you? Since it is said that he knew very few children on a personal level, did he ever ask your opinions regarding the works?
GRESHAM: I don’t think it is at all true to say that he didn’t know many children. The Kilns [C.S. Lewis’s house] had been home to groups of children evacuated from London during [World War II]. Jack had also voluntarily assumed responsibility for Maureen Moore [the sister of a comrade killed in World War I] when Maureen was about 12 or 13, and the house had always been full of her friends. This sort of thing is often conveniently forgotten by biographers. However, Jack did often read bits and pieces to me and, indeed, he asked for my opinions, probably as an exercise in charity more than for any real value my opinions might have had.
TOS: Richard Attenborough’s film, Shadowlands, which stars Debra Winger and Anthony Hopkins, depicts an interesting and moving account of the marriage of your mother and Mr. Lewis. In the movie, a young Douglas Gresham is often featured. How accurate is this movie in portraying the true story? For instance, I note that the movie does not include David at all and depicts you as considerably younger than you truly were at your mother’s death. Do you recommend this movie as good way to learn more about Mr. Lewis?
GRESHAM: Good question. Do I recommend it as a good way to learn more about Jack? No. But do I recommend it as a possible introduction to him and, as a good movie, definitely yes! Shadowlands is very inaccurate concerning matters of historical fact, but then it was never intended to be an historical documentary. On the other hand, in terms of the emotional progression through which the protagonists pass, it is spot on. Shadowlands is the fictionalized re-telling of one of the most beautiful and moving love stories of the twentieth century. Beautifully written and filmed, it is a wonderful movie in its own right. If it then stimulates people to read books to find out the real truth behind it, that is a rich bonus.
TOS: In addition to your own book Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis, what biographies or autobiographies of the life of C.S. Lewis would you recommend to families who wish to know more about him?
GRESHAM: I think the best biography in print, as I write, is by George Sayer. It is called Jack: C.S. Lewis and His Times. There is also C.S. Lewis’s autobiographical work Surprised by Joy. My new book, which is a mere telling of his life story without any scholarly analysis or literary criticism, is due out in October and will be published by Broadman and Holman. It is called Jack’s Life.
Douglas Gresham on Homeschooling
TOS: In earlier conversations with you, you told me that you were an ardent supporter of homeschooling. What is your opinion of homeschooling and how did you reach that opinion?
GRESHAM: Homeschooling and why I advocate it is not a matter of whether the schools are good or bad, though obviously I would rather children went to good schools than to bad ones, if go to school they must. It is that, as someone who has been trained and works in the field of post-childhood abuse trauma, and has devoted considerable thought to the matter, I have formed the opinion that the entire concept of school is flawed. In fact, it is a terrible mistake.
Look what we do: we observe what God has designed, a pair of parents, one of each sex, and two pairs of grandparents, often with a few aunts and uncles thrown in. In fact, a Family. This is the unit designed by God Himself for the specific purpose and ministry of raising each new generation.
Then what do we do? We take the child and remove him from this carefully designed support group of parents and close family members, all of whom share a genetic bond with the child, and plunge him into a mass group of his peers, all of whom are as ignorant and as demanding as he is, with one adult stranger supervising. In terms of the psycho-emotional development of the child, this is complete madness.
A child is best nurtured by having the one-on-one attention from each of the two parents for a specific period of time each day. Ideally, a child should be homeschooled by both parents sharing the task equally, though I do realize that this is not always possible. Bear in mind that I am not referring to idiotic parents, criminal parents, drug-addicted parents, or self-indulgent, self-obsessed parents, nor to anyone else who should never be graced (in my view, not God’s, of course) with progeny in the first place. I am referring to normal, well-adjusted, good parents. And with our modern habits of sending children away from their home and families for the better part of every day, these [well-adjusted parents] are becoming more and more scarce as the vast majority of people are damaged or scarred emotionally and intellectually themselves by being exiled from their home and parents and placed in the hands of strangers at a young age.
It is a trans-generational progression exacerbated by the fact that those who are damaged very often are not even aware of it. If I had known back then what I know now, my children would never have gone to school until they were at least 18 years old. Satan hates what God loves and God loves us, Mankind. The basic unit of Mankind is the family, so Satan has targeted the Family, and he has been pretty successful, mostly by using “good intentions.” I think that “School” is one of his very clever inventions. As far as I am concerned, schools are for fish.
TOS: You also indicated that you have received some opposition because of your position on homeschooling. Can you tell me more about your experiences regarding this?
GRESHAM: I have been advocating homeschooling for many years now in my public addresses, ever since I discovered the emotional and psychological reactions of many children on being sent to schools and the subsequent damage that a school environment almost inevitably inflicts on them. On many occasions there have been teachers in the audience who have taken exception to the idea that the industry in which they have chosen to work in order to benefit children has in fact been detrimental to the children instead. There have also, let it be said, been teachers who have suddenly realized what I am talking about and that they have been witnessing it unknowingly for years.
TOS: C.S. Lewis sometimes recounted his horrid experiences in a public boarding school. Yet he seemed to be a firm proponent of traditional education and sent you to a boarding school as well. How do you think he would have regarded the modern homeschooling option?
GRESHAM: I cannot help but think that if he had done the research and learned about the emotional and psychological needs of children, he would think exactly the same as I do.
Douglas Gresham on the New Narnia Movie
TOS: I understand that you are acting as the liaison between the C.S. Lewis Literary Estate and those who are producing the new film, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. What exactly does your role in the film entail?
GRESHAM: My position is that of co-producer of the film. My role in the film is to act as a sort of in-house Narnia expert, to try to ensure that everything that appears in Narnia is “Narnian.” I play a sort of watchdog role on the movie (probably being a nuisance at times) and also keep an eye on all the ancillary products that go along with a movie these days, such as video games and other merchandise that folks love to have available to them.
TOS: Early on, some Narnia-watchers expressed concerns over rumored changes in the story as it was converted to film. How accurate is this film to the settings and plot of the book?
GRESHAM: Very accurate. That was always one of my areas of responsibility, to ensure that the film was faithful to the story and to Narnia itself.
TOS: Do you think that Mr. Lewis himself would be proud of this film?
GRESHAM: Yes I do. If I didn’t, I would have just wasted the last five years of my life. I think he would have been particularly proud and pleased by the performances of our four superb young actors who play the Pevensies, and I think he would have liked them all as people, too.
TOS: Do you think that there will be more films produced from the Chronicles of Narnia series? Are any plans in the works? If so, how many films will there be?
GRESHAM: It all depends on how successful the first one is. If it is a hit (as I am convinced it will be) then we will do the next one. If that is a hit, we will do the third, and so on. In other words, as long as the public really wants to see movies of the Narnian Chronicles, we will go on producing them till we run out of books.
TOS: How do you think this movie will compare with the BBC production of the past?
GRESHAM: There will be no possible comparison.
TOS: Some people have expressed concerns that a secular production company would distort or ignore the subtle Christian overtones of the actual story. In your opinion, how is this aspect being handled in the movie?
GRESHAM: Bear in mind that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is not a “Christian” book, and Jack never intended it to be so. People will find in the book as much symbolism and underlying meaning as they seek to find. So also, I hope, it will be with our movie. You’ll just have to wait and see.
Editor’s Note: The Old Schoolhouse Magazine will post a review of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on its website, www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com , as soon as the film is available for preview. Please check the website close to the expected release date of December 9, 2005. For more information about the film, please go to www.narnia.com.
Amelia Harper is a homeschooling mother of fie and pastor’s wife. She is author of Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings, a complete one-year literature curriculum for secondary level students. She is also a freelance writer who contributes regularly to newspapers and magazines, as well as TOS.