Busted: Douglas Gresham
C.S. Lewis' stepson discusses Prince Caspian, life with Lewis and America's "trivial" Christianity
BH: And you’ve said you believe your stepfather was the best Christian you ever met.
DG: Yes, indeed, he was.
BH: In the sense that he was interested in issues of social justice?
DG: No, he didn’t have great programs and he didn’t have great enthusiasms in that way. He just went from second to second every minute of every day acting out Christianity. You don’t have to get involved in protest marches and all that kind of nonsense to do Christianity. The person most in need of your Christian behavior will be the person standing next to you.
BH: You were Christian all of your life but in 1990 it sounds like you really came back in a much more committed way.
DG: Well yes, I’ve always believed in God and believed in Jesus. I know who they are; I always did. But then so does the Devil himself, and that doesn’t make him a Christian. The Devil believes in God and Jesus; the Devil knows the truth and he shivers in fear; doesn’t make him a Christian. My problem was I never wanted to submit my life to the authority of anyone but myself, and therefore in a sense I was worshipping myself and therefore had a fool for a deity.
BH: And in 1990 something happened and you…?
DG: Yeah, I tried to help someone because I worked it out through my own intellect and so forth, how to go about it, I made a mess of it. And a lot of people got badly hurt. A relationship, a semi-sexual relationship, should never have happened and it developed that way, and I just made a mess of things. So I had to look around and realize that I was living my life based in arrogance, conceit and pride, and that I’m not qualified to run a human life, least of all one as complex as my own. So I handed it over to Christ.
BH: We talk to a lot of young people in their twenties and thirties who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious. There’s an awful lot of out there to choose from and there is a bit of a consumerist mentality sometimes regarding religion.
DG: [laughs] I agree with you. But there is no spiritual that is not religious, I’m afraid. The two things are uncomfortable with each other.
BH: Can you give some advice that you would offer regarding their world of faith or the world of spirituality? Something maybe you’ve shared with your kids or grandkids about it as they reached the age of our 20 and 30-something audience?
DG: Well all of my children are Christians, I think—committed Christians. All my three sons are committed Christians and they’re the ones who have children, so we have nine and about-to-be-ten grandchildren coming from committed Christian families already. I’m not quite sure what their difficulties are going to be; I’m sure they’re going to have some. But yes, I think that one of the best pieces of advice I can give to young people, particularly, is stop looking at things and look into them. Don’t try to find a religious belief that is comfortable for you to wear and to follow. Don’t try to find something you want to believe in. Just spend your life searching for the ultimate truth. If you search for truth long enough, eventually it’s going to bring you face-to-face with Jesus Christ.
BH: I loved how your stepfather talked about his own conversion experience in Surprised by Joy as these moments of clarity he experienced. Did you have any sense of that or did you ever talk with him about that? That was a vivid sense that despite all of his clear learning and education that there were these very rare moments in his life where he just felt infused with something.
DG: Yes, it’s something he describes as joy. He became aware of the fact that there is a longing for something that just doesn’t happen in this world, and is in fact a slight glimpse of the next. The moments of clarity I think you’ll find this actually coming to fore somewhat in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, which is where you see all of the sudden the children, one by one, making the realization of this sudden clarity. I can’t give away too much as to how it happened, but I can tell you this much: that Lucy suddenly sees Aslan and nobody else does. And there’s a kind of a staging procedure, starting with Lucy, and then moving on to the next child and the next child and the next child, and of course eventually all of Narnia, which has this almost shocking realization of clarity in Prince Caspian where you see it happen very, very vividly. I think that what you’re describing is well portrayed in the movie.
BH: Have your reactions to the Narnia series as an adult changed? Do you go back and re-read and see it much differently now?
DG: You know, it’s difficult to answer that because my development along with the Narnian Chronicles has taken place simultaneously as my reading of them. So I’ve developed my own thinking and feeling about Narnia has developed over the same period of time as my reading of them. I read the Narnia Chronicles all the time. It’s part of my job as the creative and artistic director of the C.S. Lewis Company; therefore being in charge of any script that’s done, and so forth. And of course the movies as well. So I’m always reading them. I probably know more about Narnia itself from inside than any man alive, having grown up there, as it were. But yeah, I still love reading the Narnian Chronicles even at my ripe old age –I’m in my late thirties now. I mean, I’ve lived through the first section of thirty years of my life; I’ve lived through the second section of thirty years of my life. And now I’m in the third and probably the late and probably the last thirty years of my life, so I tell people I’m in my late thirties. But I still read them with great enthusiasm and enjoy them enormously. I don’t think that’s ever changed.
BH: There is sort of a notion among a lot of the media—especially among Christians in the United States—that they read into a certain agenda. What do you want people to take from Prince Caspian and from all the Narnia books that you hope to sort of…
DG: You mean there’s a personal agenda?
BH: No, I think there are groups out there that will look at things strictly through a Christian lens and they’ll want to look upon, sometimes, movies like this as sort of–
DG: Yes, but look. If you philosophically put on a pair of rose-colored glasses you’re going to see the world rose-colored. If you put on a pair of green glasses, emerald glasses, you’re going to see the world emerald-colored. I think it’s very rash, in fact, I think it’s very foolish to look at things only through your own personal agenda. That personal agenda to start with needs to be thrown away, because that’s your agenda. The world as it is is God’s agenda.
BH: So what do you hope people come away from with Prince Caspian?
DG: I want people to come away from Prince Caspian thinking ‘wow, there is a way back.’ There are two messages in Prince Caspian: Prince Caspian is all about a return to faith, truth, justice, honor, glory, chivalry, courtesy—all of those great nineteenth-century concepts, after a millennium of corruption. And it also points out very strongly that no matter how far we stray, there’s always one way back; that it up to us to find it. I want people to know that when they come out of the theater. I also want people to think, ‘wow, what a great movie – can’t wait for the next one!’
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