Douglas Gresham is the last person living who knew C. S. Lewis well. The son of Joy Davidman, Douglas watched his mother and “Jack” fall in love and marry. He wept with his stepfather when Joy died of cancer, and led the mourners behind the casket when husband followed wife to the graveyard.
In a recent interview, Douglas told me that many biographers have misunderstood Lewis’s marriage. Lenten Lands is Douglas’s memoir of his life at The Kilns in Oxford with his brother David, his mother, Lewis, and Lewis’s brother Warnie. A poignant and powerful account of his mother’s death as well as Lewis’s last days, the memoir recounts the intimate details of his childhood, the move from America to England, and the blossoming relationship between Jack and Joy. Contrary to prevailing theories, Douglas says, the marriage was first and foremost a meeting of two magnificent minds. “There wasn’t much in the world that my mother didn’t know about,” he told me. “There wasn’t anyone on the same level as herself until she met Jack. They just sort of clicked together. It was inevitable, I think.” According to the man who knew them best, his mother’s intimidating intelligence was one reason many of Lewis’s friends disliked her. Warnie, on the other hand, adored Joy.
While the relationship between Lewis and Joy Davidman has been a matter of endless fascination to Lewis fans and academics alike, many have ignored the fact that the marriage made Lewis a stepfather. But Davidman’s boys (ages 11 and 12 at the time of the marriage) became Lewis’s stepsons, and these relationships shaped the last decade of his life. Lewis dedicated The Horse and His Boy to Douglas and David Gresham. While Douglas has weighed in with two books—Lenten Lands and a short biography of Lewis—David has virtually vanished from the historical record. In the 1993 film Shadowlands, for example, David Gresham is nonexistent. Even in his brother’s memoir he makes only a handful of brief appearances.
David died several years ago in a secure Swiss mental hospital, and Douglas has finally broken his silence about a hitherto unknown aspect of life at The Kilns. His earliest memories, he told me, were of his brother, who was later diagnosed as schizophrenic. “When I was a small child,” Douglas said, “he was continually trying to get rid of me. This went on into our teen years.” Douglas said he recalls “running like crazy or defending myself from my rather insane brother. . . I would never have said anything to harm him or upset him while he was alive, because oddly enough I still loved him as a brother. In fact, I wept when he died.”
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