Fifty years after his death, C.S. Lewis’s stepson, Doug Gresham, gives a very personal reflection on the man he knew as ‘Jack’
I never knew ‘C.S. Lewis’, the name on the spines of the books, for the living, breathing man who filled my young life with his presence was ‘Jack’.
My first encounter with him was extra-ordinary. I was an 8-year-old American schoolboy, ‘straight off the boat’, brought to Oxford a short while after arriving in the strange land of England. I was being taken to meet the man who, as far as I was concerned, actually knew High King Peter of Narnia and the great lion Aslan. But in the kitchen of his house, ‘The Kilns’, we were greeted by a slightly stooped, balding, round-shouldered being with long nicotine-stained fingers and teeth, dressed in the shabbiest clothes I had ever seen. Despite my initial dismay, Jack soon emerged from my imaginary C.S. Lewis to become a real friend and a much-loved stepfather.
In today’s world, many will have difficulty believing in the real Jack. He had grown up with the nineteenth-century belief in honesty, personal responsibility, commitment, duty, courtesy, courage, chivalry and all those great qualities society now needs so desperately to recover.
Jack also had come to understand a great deal about humanity. He was no stranger to suffering: he lost his own mother at the age of nine; he fought in the First World War, and lived through the Second, losing friends in both. He learned to love and to lose, and suffered their respective agonies. No one could have blamed him had he closed himself off and become the cloistered scholar, as is often depicted. Instead, he plunged once more into love and pain by marrying my mother, who was already dying at the time. He faced the pain of loving one whom he knew was unlikely to be with him very long, and also took on the responsibility for my brother and myself.
Was C.S. Lewis a great scholar? Undoubtedly. Was he a great writer? No honest scholar today can doubt that for a moment. Was C.S. Lewis a great teacher? That, I think, is also unquestionable. A great theologian? Many of today’s finest Christian scholars strongly believe so. Although he would never have laid claim to any of those titles, nor perhaps even have accepted them from others, he was all of those things and a great deal more besides.
You see, while C.S. Lewis was a great scholar, a great writer, a great teacher and a great theologian, Jack was a great man.