When Douglas Gresham was a little boy, his mother Joy married C.S. Lewis (known to friends as Jack), the author of the Narnia books. There are two different movies about the touching story of the romance between the sheltered British bachelor, an scholar who lived almost entirely within the academic community and the outspoken American divorcee, a Jewish/atheist/communist-turned Christian and an award-winning poet, who challenged everything Lewis thought he knew. Gresham had two sons, and after her death they were raised by Lewis. Her son Douglas is now the literary executor of the Lewis estate and he is a producer of the films. I was lucky enough to get a chance to talk to him about “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” and what he learned from his mother and step-father.
I know many people have come to you over the years with proposals for Narnia films. What made you decide that Walden was the right group to work with?
I’ve got a secret technique. When we’re making decisions like that within the C.S. Lewis company, where I am one of the leading people, I go inside in a closed room and I pray lots. And then I follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God, which is what I’m praying for. And the Holy Spirit of God indicated to me that Walden were the people to go with. So that’s why I went with Walden, and I’m not sorry. As always, the Holy Spirit is right.
Like any other relationship, we have our storms, mostly storms in a teacup. But if you look on the screen, you see what it is like to work with them. We’ve put very good movies on the screen, very beautiful movies. And that’s proof of the pudding.
I was so glad to see how well the movie did in portraying the gallant soldier mouse, Reepicheep.
I love Reepicheep. He’s great! We worked hard on him. He had a relatively small part in “Prince Caspian.” But in “Dawn Treader,” Reepicheep is one of the stars of the movie. They often say you should never work with animals and children. Our whole movie is animals and children! And we have a two-foot-high mouse who steals the show. We had to make sure we wrote his dialogue very carefully and got it right. And we had to make sure that the special effects guys got it right and he looked absolutely realistic and he does come across as a real character in the movie. He’s a star! He’s an absolute star. We don’t have to pay him, but he’s a star.
He’s really the heart of the story.
He’s a pure knight of Narnia, who goes to Aslan’s country without having to die first. That’s Sir Galahad all over again. So we really have to get him right, and I think we did. And Simon Pegg did a wonderful job with the voice, absolutely perfect for him.
One thing I love about the movies is that they are very welcoming. If you are familiar with the books and the other movies you will find what you want to see. But if you are not, you won’t be left out.
That’s largely the part of the books. We don’t make sequels. We make stand-alone adventures that happen to include some of the same characters and places. This one shows us new parts parts of Narnia we’ve never seen before and many new creatures. There’s a continuity of casting but it’s a new story each time. You don’t have to have seen the other movies. You don’t even have to have read the other books.
But they’re also very respectful of the people who are fans, and as you know, those people have very strong views about how everything should look on screen.
I’m probably the most demonically fanatical Narnia purist of all time. So I do try to protect Narnia as much as I can. We do have to make changes in translating a book on screen. But I’m like a dragon jealously protecting the books; they’ll tell you I’m a real nuisance.
The Dawn Treader itself, the ship, looks just like I wish I could have imagined it.
Pauline Baynes, who did the drawings for the Dawn Treader originally gave us these fabulous drawings and gave us a guide from which to work. We took that and wound up with this beautiful ship.
You were essentially raised by C.S. Lewis after your mother died. What did you learn from him?
He was my step-father and the only one who lasted long enough to have any real parental role in bringing me up. I think what I learned most from him is that Christianity is not something you just believe in. It is not enough to just believe in Jesus unless you believe Jesus and do what he says. Jack was someone who lived his Christianity every hour of every day. That was a huge example to me. It took me a long, long time to wake up to it, mind you. I’m trying hard to follow his example but I’m nowhere near as good as he was. But I’ll keep trying until I shuffle off to Buffalo.
What gave him that gift of faith?
Humility. In his 30’s he realized he’d been going the wrong direction. It took me longer. But he suddenly realized that and he turned himself entirely over to Christ. He made no secret of the fact that the Holy Spirit of God was the real author of these books and brought the stories to him. He crafted them with his enormous literary talent. But he was a humble man and that enabled him to follow Christ very closely. I’m an arrogant and conceited man and that makes it harder for me.
I am the man I am today because Jack was my step-father.
What did you learn from your mother?
Courage and the value of courage. She was still making jokes on her deathbed and laughing at her disease. She said, “I have so many cancers I could form a trade union of them.” Once Jack said something particularly pedantic and my mother said, “Could someone please pass the pedanticide.” And once he said, “What do you take me for, a fool?” and she said, “I took you for better or worse.”
What has been the best part of the reaction to the film for you?
Just yesterday, our church was having a baptism at our house because we have a pool. A little girl we know brought a friend over because she told her I was one of the producers of the Narnia films and she didn’t believe there was someone who had been living in Narnia all his life. I met her at the foot of our stairs and her eyes grew as big as saucers. When someone is so enthralled and affected by the movies, it is lovely to see, a rewarding thing. And I heard from an Anglican priest who had conducted a funeral, and then went to the movie and said he was “ministered to” by “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” That means a lot to me.
Be sure to watch the movies about Joy Gresham and C.S. Lewis, Shadowlands with Debra Winger and Anthony Hopkins and C.S. Lewis: Through the Shadowlands with Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom. Both are superb.