- Publisher: Macmillan Pub Co (1 August 1988)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0025455702
- ISBN-13: 978-0025455702
- Package Dimensions: 21.3 x 14.7 x 2.5 cm
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Lenten Lands: My Childhood With Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis Hardcover – Import, 1 Aug 1988
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The first two-thirds of the book covers Douglas’s memories from the time he was a small boy living within the troubled atmosphere of Joy and William Lindsey Gresham’s Staatsburg, NY home, then progresses through the events that led to the marriage of Joy and Jack Lewis, life in England, life at The Kilns, the eventual death in 1960 of Mrs. C. S. Joy Lewis, the ongoing deterioration afterward of C. S. Lewis’s health, and the death of C. S. Lewis. The narrative then shifts to a focuses upon Douglas’s life out in the world as he chooses a career in farming, falls in love, marries, moves to Tasmania where he farms and raises his growing young family, his eventual move into work as a radio announcer in Australia, and finally his experience surrounding the death of Warnie.
Douglas clears up some erroneous scholarly speculation about the why and how of Jack’s and Joy’s marriage. He offers good evidence that even though Lewis gave out the explanation to some persons at the time of a civil marriage in March of 1956 that he had made the precipitous marriage merely to rescue his friend Joy when she suddenly came under threat of deportation, Jack actually had been planning and making preparations to marry Joy as early as 1954, at which time both he and she were already aware of feelings for one another that would lead to marriage. The delay in marrying before the incident of 1956 was apparently due to Church opposition because of Joy’s divorced status, plus the opposition to Jack’s marriage on the part of colleagues and friends. Douglas indicates that the Church objections actually were needless since William Gresham had been married and divorced prior to his contracting marriage with Joy Davidman and so his marriage to Joy would have been “technically invalid” in the eyes of the Church if they had looked into it. (Gresham was also repeatedly unfaithful to Joy during their marriage.) Douglas says, “the opposition [to Jack’s marriage] has never died,” and despite the fact that in subsequent years Joy was at the heart of happy meetings among friends at The Kilns, the reader will be stunned and saddened to learn that none of the Lewis’s friends attended her funeral. Anyway, after the 1956 civil marriage, Joy was to continue living in her own apartment as “Mrs. Gresham” but a decision was made that summer of ‘56 that despite Jack’s ideals valuing a church-sanctioned marriage, the two would live together at The Kilns. About this same time, Joy was found to be quite ill with terminal cancer, her death being imminent. The couple were again married, this time “in the eyes of God” at Joy’s hospital bedside. This was through the kindness of Peter Bide (whose ministerial identification Douglas doesn’t elaborate upon). Seemingly, it was the prayers of Douglas that obtained the miraculous reprieve and postponement of Joy’s death, and the prayers of Jack that obtained significant relief from pain for Joy, apparently by taking some of her illness and pain into his own body. (The basic story of Jack and Joy’s love intertwined with her illness and death is told in the movie “Shadowlands,” which is based upon this book of Douglas’s, “Lenten Lands.”) [I felt the movie was lack-lustre---pretty much of a failure all round.]
I think that the way in which Douglas reflects heartfelt emotional responses to Jack Lewis and to other experiences of his life in this memoir has provided me a much more vivid and moving account of what Lewis and the others in his life were like as persons and what homelife at The Kilns was like than have other biographies I’ve read about C. S. Lewis---even more so than Douglas’s more detailed biography of Lewis called “Jack’s Life” which came out in 2005, although I found it to be also a very good, interesting-to-read book about Lewis. (It comes with a DVD interview with Douglas.)
For me, there was hardly ever a dull moment reading “Lenten Lands,” and I found the first two-thirds of it especially exciting. The reason I liked that segment of the narrative best was that Douglas Gresham created tangible and sometimes quite poetic sensory impressions through details of sight, sound, and the transcription of bits of the unusual speech patterns of persons that he happened to converse with. (For instance, when he talked with a pretty young “painted lady” who exchanged comradely remarks with him while he was sitting on a bench in a railway station at the age of 12! Another instance of the transcription of charming, funny conversations is in his delightful chapter about his dear friend, Fred Paxton, the gardener at The Kilns.) I felt it was remarkable that he remembered minute details about experiences and conversations that occurred during his childhood and was able to recreate them in such exact detail. For instance, the patterned steps that Jack and Warnie automatically performed when they went walking with their walking sticks. I’d love to see a demonstration of what Douglas described there.
The brilliant similes and metaphors of the first two-thirds of the book tended, I felt, to enhance the emotional “freight” of events. In his own life and the lives of Jack and Joy, he reflects (largely through his sensitive metaphors) much of his and their appreciation for the wondrous and beautiful sensate features of earthly life—even as when the sensitive human intellect appreciates immaterial things like the beauty of poetry or stimulating, intelligent talk around a delicious dinner with friends. He tells of once coming upon Joy and Jack reading together (as they sometimes liked to do), “tears rolling down their faces.” Alarmed, he asked if something was the matter, and they explained “No,” that their tears were in response to the exquisite beauty of the poetry (A. E. Housman’s)!
The narrative of the final third of the book is less descriptively lush and poetic, being more of a sprint through the plain facts about events that occurred during Douglas’s adult life in the 10 years time-lapse between the deaths of Jack and Warnie. Nevertheless, despite its plainness, the account that covers Douglas’s life in his 20s is also interesting, especially because most readers will probably have come to feel friendship, love, and concern for Douglas.
Even when it hurts him to tell some things, Douglas is honest in his portrayal of less-than-ideal traits in his mother, Jack, Warnie, himself, and other persons that come into the story. He does show how clever, bold, and courageous his mother was, and how much Joy she did bring into the lives of everyone at The Kilns during her years of reprieve. Essentially, she took over and saw to it that the dangerously deteriorating old place was rebuilt and made into a safe, warm,and enjoyable home. Douglas honors Jack’s character and influence upon him, pays him forthright homage. Douglas clearly has a careful conscience and a loving heart, but he reacts with obvious anger and disgust toward people in whom he discerns dishonesty or villainy.
In contradistinction to the descriptions of the wonder and the beauty of “life” in general and in the lives of the exceptional people that Jack and Joy were, some aspects of Douglas’s story are bound to leave the reader feeling troubled, perhaps depressed. For one thing, the sordidness of dear Warnie’s alcoholism and the vague, dark picture of his lonely 10 years existence within the “evil” atmosphere, a hell of sorts, that apparently settled into The Kilns following the deaths of Joy and Jack. The grasping, manipulative rise of the Millers. The despoilation of the Lewis’s belongings from The Kilns following Warnie’s death. One reminds oneself that the book’s title foreshadows gloom, ashes, death. (It even occurs to me that the name of the house, The Kilns, is somewhat suggestive, in the context of the story’s negative details, of ominous fires.) Douglas’s life, vigorously blooming forth in a bright picture of work and marriage serves as somewhat of a “resurrection” light at the end of the story.
The book is fast and easy to read (but, if you like “words” and “poetry,” be sure to take time to pay attention to the wonderful “movie” of impressions and the colloquial conversations). This book might make a very enjoyable and informative film or documentary which tries to portray more of the COLOR (muted and bright) and sense pleasure that Douglas conveys through his writing and less of the gloomy shadow of the death-tragedy hanging over as a palpable threat over the Lewis’s very happy marriage. One recalls with amusement the unforgettable details about Jack’s and Warnie’s well-worn old clothes, with tobacco ashes in the cuffs of their pants!, the rug before their warm hearth with the pattern obscured from years of tobacco smoke and pipe ashes rubbed into it. “...The green of England’s summer foliage as bright and glowing as the halo of a saint...,” the winters’ thick fogs “shot through with the smell of coal smoke, the clear crystal-sharp nights lit by a moon as pale as the Snow Queen’s brow..." and on and on. So many terrific images in words! That was one of the things I appreciated most about the book.
You may very well associate the name C.S. Lewis with such literary masterpieces as "Mere Christianity," "The Screwtape Letters," or "The Great Divorce." Perhaps, you are more a visual person, relying solely on movies for entertainment, so the name of Lewis brings to mind of course the new Narnia series that made it's debut only five or six years ago.
Despite the elements with which you associate him, the name of C.S. Lewis invokes a magical awe and mystical reverence in all our educated minds. He is an enigma which shook the very foundations of conventional Christianity with his great works. And before reading "Lenten Lands," it never once occured to me, that this man, this literary great of the 20th Century, may be anything less than absolutely perfect in his manner and speech. Unfortunately, I made the mistake, as so many of us do, of using his works as a sort of means of defining the person that he was 100% of the time.
Written by Douglas Gresham, his step-son, this engaging real-life account recalls for the reader the trials of C.S. Lewis as you have never known them before. Gresham successfully humanizes this great man, without demeaning him in the eyes of his readership...a feat that could have only been accomplished by someone who was not only close to Lewis, but revered him as well. Lewis was not perfect, but he practiced what he preached as much as any man could. He was generous, so much so that the recipients of his gifts believed him to be wealthy, though he was utterly convinced of his own poverty.
Upon reading "Lenten Lands," be prepared to meet C.S. Lewis the person, not Lewis the author.