Friends! You do not want to miss this beautifully written novel about the lives of C.S. Lewis and the courageous woman who became his bride, Joy Davidman Gresham. I was captivated immediately, even tho’ I knew the outcome, I still wanted to see how it would shake out.
While this book is fiction, author Patti Callahan says her research helped her be as accurate as possible. Joy’s son, Douglas was also a great resource. Her writing completely transports us readers from America to London to Oxford, watching this unlikely romance transpire. Her captivating style, many times poetic and lyrical, makes for a primo reading experience.
We meet Joy while she lives in the United States, married to a man named Bill Gresham. They have two sons: Douglas and David. Their marriage crashes on the rocks, many scenes painful to read.
But Joy’s faith is about to take a huge leap. Consulting a colleague, he suggests she write to C.S. Lewis, who in turn, writes back. They develop an improbable friendship.
The first sentence of Becoming Mrs. Lewis sets the stage: “From the very beginning it was the Great Lion who brought us together.” As in Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia who equates, as we discover, to our own Lord, Jesus Christ.
I confess while reading the books to our boys as a young mom, I had no clue of the characters’ spiritual significance! And to be honest, I think we only read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. You can guess I’m about to dive back in and read all seven of them!
Plus, we readers learn C.S. Lewis dedicated Book # 3, The Horse and His Boy, to Douglas and David Gresham. Joy’s sons indeed had been reading The Chronicles of Narnia and were clearly excited about meeting the writer/creator of these works. It is beyond exciting to hear the boys speak about meeting Mr. Lewis and to ultimately watch them develop a relationship. Very endearing.
The Magician’s Nephew, interesting enough, is #1 of the series now according to chronological order. Publication order has The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe first as it came out in 1950. We learn that shortly after C.S. Lewis’ death, British editions began appearing that were numbered chronologically. Lewis scholars, however, agree that publication order makes more sense.
Back to the novel…Joy’s conversion experience is breathtaking. It happens early in the novel, after the birth of her second child. We find her on her knees praying after declaring she was an atheist (!!!):
Eventually, Joy and Jack (as his friends called C.S. Lewis) meet in person for lunch in Oxford. She also gets to meet Jack’s brother, Warnie, at another lunch gathering. Another of their meetings included Jack’s friend J.R. R. Tolkien, “Tollers,” who didn’t appear to think much of Joy. (Can you imagine meeting Tolkien and Lewis together???)
She inquires about Jack’s and Tollers’ friendship, as Tollers was who led Jack to faith. Jack said, “As with any good friend, we have many of those moments when one turns to the other and says, ‘You, too?’” (That particular quote I use in every chapter of my book on friendship. Love it!)
Joy’s healing sabbatical returns her to the states (she constantly fights health issues), to find that her cousin who stayed with her husband has become his lover ultimately landing Joy and Bill a divorce. She manages to take their boys with her, and returns to England.
Joy finds a place to live (neat story), a boarding school for the boys, and settles in to a lovely life of writing, editing (sometimes for Warnie and sometimes for Jack—can you fathom?), all the while trying to sell her writing. Challenges occur around every turn, but they don’t stop her.
Soon Joy and the boys get to go to The Kilns, where C.S. Lewis’ home is. He and Warnie live there, with a gardener, Paxford, and a cook, Mrs. Williams. You will love all of them. Life at the Kilns for the boys is a little like Narnia, seemingly.
We also learn Jack reads a Bible, sometimes in the original Greek, and sometimes in Latin every morning. His office where he worked was “crammed from corner to ceiling with books, stacked and line up on floors and tables and bookshelves.” This is one of many examples of the delightful and highly visual details Patti gives us readers.
I felt a little like movie goers of Mary Poppins, when the characters were allowed to jump into the sidewalk chalk picture. Author Patti invites us in, gifting us with a for-real peek into the life and beautiful friendship/romance between Joy and Jack.
Many of you know Jack’s mother and Joy, his wife, died of cancer. Because he loved his mother so and was saddened over losing her, perhaps that’s why it takes him EONS to own his love for Joy. So in many ways, you want to continue in the story, and yet you don’t for fear of what will transpire. Grab a bunch of Kleenex, too, as it’s beautiful and terribly sad simultaneously. Don’t miss their steadfast faith—a great lesson for all of us during suffering.
That’s all I’ll share, you need to be the one to dive in. When you do finish, you’ll want to immediately research where the boys are, what they’re doing, find many of the books mentioned and read them, especially the ones Joy and Jack worked on together. Oh, my friend, I predict this is just the beginning of a new reading adventure for you!
Here are a couple of the books I’m about to hunt down:
Run, don’t walk to your nearest bookstore and grab Becoming Mrs. Lewis! You will be so blessed!
‘Til next time!
P.S. Here is the Publication Order, FYI:
1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
2. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951)
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
4. The Silver Chair (1953)
5. The Horse and His Boy (1954)
6. The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
7. The Last Battle (1956)