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C.S. Lewis' stepson keeps 'Jack's' magic alive

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Wearing knee-high leather boots, a safari vest and a jaunty cap, Douglas Gresham looks as if he has stepped off the set of a fantasy movie.

In fact, he has.

Gresham, who is a stepson of C.S. Lewis, the celebrated writer of the Narnia series and religious scholar, is the co-producer of the film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The movie arrives in theaters Friday.

He also has written Jack's Life: The Life Story of C.S. Lewis (Broadman & Holman, $16.99).

Gresham met Lewis, the man known as Jack to family and friends, in 1953, three years after the publication of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, one of seven books in the Narnia series.

Gresham, 8years old, already had read the book when he traveled from the USA to Britain with his mother, Joy Davidman Gresham, who had developed a friendship with Lewis.

"When I first met Jack, it was rather disappointing," Gresham recalls. "I was meeting a Narnian, but he wasn't wearing armor and carrying a jewel-encrusted sword.

"He was a shabby, stooped, professorial, balding old gentleman in my eyes, with nicotine-stained fingers and shabby clothes.

"But he was a huge personality, and his great joy of life and his humor and wit soon completely eclipsed any visual deficiencies. I got to like him almost immediately and to love him shortly thereafter."

Gresham's mother married Lewis in 1957. She died in 1960, leaving Gresham and his older brother, David, in Lewis' care.

Life for the Gresham boys was difficult.

Their biological father, William Gresham, killed himself in 1962, and Lewis, who adopted the Gresham boys, died in 1963.

Today, Gresham, 60, is the creative director for the C.S. Lewis Co., which is owned by Gresham family trusts and manages the rights to all of Lewis' works.

Because of his family connection, Gresham is adamant that no one knows more about Narnia and Lewis than he. That's why, in part, he wrote Jack's Life.

The book recounts Lewis' miserable life as a child attending boarding schools, his military experi-ences during World War I, his time at Oxford, his marriage and his friendships.

He also writes about Lewis' strong Christian beliefs and his vast collection of writings.

As to the endless analysis of the Chronicles, Gresham says, "People try to dig into Narnia to find all kinds of meanings and symbolism. If you do that, you will find them.

"If you start out with that ambition, with that mind-set, obviously you're going to find all kinds of interesting symbolisms, but they're actually originating from your own mind rather than from Jack's, and he wrote the books."

Gresham is insistent that the Chronicles are "certainly not a Christian allegory. Jack himself denied that.

"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, in particular, is what Jack described as a suppositional representation of the answer to a particular question he asked himself: 'I wonder what it would be like if there really was a world in which the animals could talk and live in harmony with the creatures I love so much from the great myths of the world -- and God had to save that world from evil just as he had to save this world from evil. What could it have been like?'"

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Gresham says, is Lewis' hypothetical answer to that question.

The timing for the Wardrobe movie couldn't be better.

"Up until the last few years, the technology has not existed for us to really do these books justice. Five years ago, we couldn't have made this movie.

"But the technology has moved ahead by leaps and bounds. If you can imagine it, we can film it. We were able to make Narnia look absolutely real."

Still, the biggest challenge to making the movie had nothing to do with technology.

"The fact is that anyone who has ever read a Narnia book has in their mind an image of what Narnia should look like and what the characters should look like. Our challenge was to try to at least equal if not excel that image.

"I think we managed to do it. It exceeded my wildest hopes."

Lewis, however, never realized the legacy he was leaving, Gresham says.

In fact, he says, Lewis' friend J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy) discouraged Lewis from publishing Wardrobe because he was convinced that people would laugh at him.

In the end, Lewis was vindicated.

The enduring popularity of the Chronicles can be largely attributed to their cross-generational appeal, Gresham says.

"Jack's theory about children's literature was that if a book's worth reading when you're 9 or 10, it's worth reading when you're 55 or 60. If it isn't worth reading when you're 55 or 60, it wasn't worth reading when you were 9 or 10.

"He devised his children's literature to be wonderful for kids and wonderful for adults as well."

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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