In two words, who was C.S. Lewis? The most popular answer: "Christian writer." But not according to those who now control his literary estate-and memos given to WORLD show that they seem determined to downplay Lewis's Christian profession. For example, here's what Steve Hanselman, editorial director and publisher of HarperCollins-which recently purchased the rights to publish Lewis's books-wrote about a script for a PBS documentary prepared by Carol Hatcher, a Christian screenwriter/producer:
- "We'll need to be able to give emphatic assurances that no attempt will be made to correlate the [Narnia] stories to Christian imagery/theology ... the documentary should not make this connection in any way. Narnia should come across as one of the great creations of fantasy literature, with roots in general myth and folklore."
- "The Conversion Trajectory: this drives the narrative-how he [Lewis] grows to maturity and passes from atheism, to skepticism, to belief-but is not overdone so as to cause worry. As treated, there is no characterization of what 'true conversion' or 'true Christianity' is supposed to be. We'll need to make sure it stays that way."
- "Christian Apologist: we should make sure that this designation [of Lewis] isn't the 'handle' that sticks from the series.... The bottom line is, is Carol Hatcher open to having the script reviewed and approved so that these and any other worries are squarely addressed?"
Scott Bolinder, executive vice president of Zondervan Publishing House (which is owned by HarperCollins), relayed that memo to Ms. Hatcher on Feb. 13, but she was unwilling to take care of those "worries." Instead, she wrote a memo two days later to Doug Gresham, Lewis's stepson, with these points:
- "Apparently Scott thought [the Hanselman critique] was a good review of the script (or he wouldn't have sent it on to me). I am really troubled by it."
- "The people I have attached to this project are all devout Christians ... all united in our love of Christ and his servant, C.S. Lewis. We have all felt that this film was a ministry and an outreach for people to be brought back to Christ."
- "Zondervan and HarperCollins are ... entirely willing to take most of the Christian aspects out of the film. The more innocuous, the blander, the better."
And so the battle is joined: Zondervan, HarperCollins, and those who control the C.S. Lewis estate versus those who refuse to adulterate Lewis's ideas. Let's see who's in charge of the Lewis legacy and then tell the story of Carol Hatcher's smashed hopes. C.S. Lewis died on Nov. 22, 1963, as did John F. Kennedy. Over the next decade Warren Lewis received the royalties from his brother's writings, and upon his death in 1973 C.S. Lewis's stepsons, David and Doug Gresham, acquired the rights to their stepfather's literary works. Eight years later, though, the Greshams sold the copyright to Lewis's works for $2.25 million to C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. (Private Limited), a company set up in Singapore to manage the publication of Lewis's works and collect royalties. Those royalties officially amounted to $16.5 million in American dollars from 1982 to 1999. The money came not to Singapore but to Liechtenstein, located in the Swiss Alps and known for strict bank secrecy. Two Liechtenstein financial companies each own one share of C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., but there's no official record of who the individual beneficiaries are. Under Liechtenstein law it is a crime for a company to reveal that information. That secrecy has led to enormous speculation among Lewis devotees about the continued involvement of the Greshams. John West-a professor at Seattle Pacific University, a Discovery Institute senior fellow, and co-editor of The C.S. Lewis Readers' Encyclopedia-reports that C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. as of 1998 was apparently employing Doug Gresham in some capacity and paying him, but Mr. Gresham at that time said he did not know who owned the company and did not care, as long as he was paid. C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. in 1999 stopped using London's Curtis Brown literary agency as its middleman with publishers and set up a new C.S. Lewis Company to handle day-to-day literary business. The shift, Mr. West says, "does not appear to represent any change in ownership"-but it has brought to the fore the role of Simon Adley, identified in the press as managing director of the C.S. Lewis Company but described in an e-mail note from the company as the person "responsible for marketing." Mr. Adley did not respond to WORLD's inquiries, except to have an associate send a note asking that all questions be directed to Doug Gresham. A Lexis-Nexis search of newspaper stories shows that Mr. Adley in 1989 worked as a publicist for a leather furniture maker, and in 1994 as a spokesman for the Labour Party's opposition to privatizing Britain's state-owned railroad. (He also worked at Scholastic, which publishes the Harry Potter series in the United States.) The first Lexis mention of his C.S. Lewis connection came in 1998 when he coordinated a competition, sponsored by Microsoft, in which children designed greeting cards representing each of the Chronicles of Narnia to mark the centenary of Lewis's birth. That's about when Lewis experts first heard of him as well, but despite his relatively recent ascension, it appears that to HarperCollins his word goes. Steve Hanselman of HarperCollins observed in his crucial memo that "Simon should be quite pleased" with planned appearances in the Hatcher documentary by Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books. He wrote that "Simon has made it pretty clear that the only way forward (without jeopardizing our business relationship) will include a provision for the Estate's consultation and approval, as well as granting them a stake in the project." Carol Hatcher lays responsibility for her project's travail at Mr. Adley's door; she says he "at the last minute blocked the deal at Zondervan because he felt that the film script emphasized Lewis's 'Christianity' too much." Neither Mr. Hanselman nor Zondervan's Scott Bolinder returned messages WORLD left requesting interviews. The "deal" to which Carol Hatcher referred took years to develop. She originally wanted to produce a documentary for the centennial of Lewis's birth in 1998. After an initial turndown she garnered encouragement from Doug Gresham and shot several hours of video in 1998, from which she put together a five-minute promo narrated by actor Michael York. Then came the hunt for $400,000 in financing for the entire project. By the end of last year it appeared that she had hit a grand slam: agreement with the Oregon Public Broadcasting System to develop a film for showing on PBS, agreement with Zondervan to kick in $150,000 and to publish a companion book, agreement with the C.S. Lewis estate for use of Lewis quotations and photographs that could make the film come alive, and agreement with funders. But those agreements came with a price: She had to show her script to managers at HarperCollins and Zondervan who were apparently skittish about moving on anything without the approval of Mr. Adley. Her slow pilgrim's progress can be compared with the advance of another C.S. Lewis documentary project. David Crouse is executive producer of a Lewis documentary that is "90 percent done" and scheduled to be shown on Chicago PBS affiliate WTTW at the end of 2001, with the hope that it will then be shown widely on PBS. Mr. Crouse was able to obtain foundation funding for the film so that he did not rely on approval from a publishing company. He is in negotiation with a publisher now for a book that will serve as adjunct to the documentary, but the project is not dependent on that. "We never had to get permission from anyone," Mr. Crouse said, "and if they [the C.S. Lewis Company] asked, no way would we send them the script." That documentary's producer, Skip Duncan, agreed: "I'm a journalist. I tell people, 'Look at my work,' and they trust me or they don't. Besides, I don't even write the script until I've done 80 percent of the work. It's an organic process, and it depends on what the interview subjects say." Mr. Duncan said that Lewis's Christianity will come through strongly in his film: "It's huge. It's the hallmark of his life. You couldn't do justice to Lewis's work without spending a lot of time on his conversion to Christianity, or his Christian sense in the Narnia books. Everything he wrote is based on his Christian faith. Anyone who didn't spend the bulk of his film on it would be missing the boat." Another difference between the two documentaries concerned their emphasis on quotations from Lewis's works: The Hatcher script has many lengthy ones, but Chip Duncan said his film would have "a couple of quotes, not a lot." Carol Hatcher was concerned about receiving clear grants of the right to quote Lewis at length, because C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. has been very protective of its Lewis copyrights over the years, sometimes threatening lawsuits against those who quote substantially from Lewis without permission. For a time, it looked like Ms. Hatcher could overcome the problems she faced and what turned out to be mistaken turns she had taken. She had the Oregon Public Broadcasting System in her corner: OPB vice president David Davis declared, "We have read the project proposal and met with Carol Hatcher, and feel this will be a terrific public television special on an exceptional man." Zondervan was also on board: It drew up and sent last Nov. 27 book and video contracts, which Ms. Hatcher signed. The film launch and book publication were planned for March 2003, and Zondervan was ready to commit $150,000 to the project. In January of this year, though, Zondervan's Scott Bolinder sent Ms. Hatcher some troubling memos:
- Jan. 10: "Please call me ASAP. I need to discuss a bit of a 'fly in the ointment' having to do with the C.S. Lewis Estate."
- Jan. 18: "Until we get matters settled with the Estate, we will not be able to sign the contract."
Ms. Hatcher says Simon Adley's dislike for her Christian depiction of Lewis was key: "He let Scott Bolinder at Zondervan know in no uncertain terms that there were to be criteria met before he would ever approve a film on Lewis." Ms. Hatcher tried to get Doug Gresham to intervene. She wrote to him on Feb. 15, "I was brought back to the church by reading Mere Christianity.... Not only for myself, but because of the people that are involved with me on this film, this [push to de-Christianize Lewis] is a real concern. They have all worked unselfishly, without ever being paid for their time, to try to make this dream a reality." But Mr. Gresham responded on Feb. 20, "While I do of course understand your concerns, this is not a matter on which I can comment, as it seems to be between you, Zondervan, and Simon Adley." Ms. Hatcher tried again, writing to Mr. Gresham on Feb. 21, "I feel pretty let down and broken hearted right now, but I feel after four years it's time to move on with my life." But Mr. Gresham the next day again begged off: "I keep myself pretty much at arm's length from all of this sort of business as it is not at all to my taste, but I rather get the feeling that things have been badly handled all round." In March, Ms. Hatcher alerted project associates and received wise advice such as that from author and professor Peter Kreeft. "I am not at all surprised that the beast of Christophobia has raised its head," Mr. Kreeft wrote. "When we all pray about this, let us all simply present this need to Him who turned water into wine.... For it is His wine, and He is just as outraged at turning it into water as we are." Nothing changed over the next two months, and on May 15 Ms. Hatcher wrote to a HarperCollins manager requesting the return to her of scripts and other materials. She noted her investment of "three years, over thirty thousand dollars of my own money, and considerable strain on myself and my family." Lewis scholar Bruce Edwards, a professor at Bowling Green State University who would have been one of Ms. Hatcher's filmed experts, reports that Ms. Hatcher "tirelessly sought permissions, approvals, endorsements, funding from all fair parties to the project, and invested an enormous amount of time and her own funds.... It would be a shame to see these sterling and indefatigable efforts go for naught at this stage." At this point that shame seems likely. The controversy, along with high-tech stock market losses by one potential contributor, has dried up Ms. Hatcher's funding. Mr. Edwards is struck by the "reluctance" of HarperCollins and its Zondervan subsidiary "to allow C.S. Lewis as Stalwart Mere Christian to come forward in the script and in the companion media.... It makes no sense. It would be like filming a video biography of Hank Aaron and deliberately leaving out that he was a premier baseball player, and 'toning down' references to bats, balls, rbis, and home runs." Not only Lewis's life but his literary legacy may soon go through the "toning down" process. His books themselves will still be published; they are cash cows for HarperCollins, which in March announced that it has finalized a long-term, multimillion-dollar agreement to be the primary English-language publisher of C.S. Lewis around the world, with exclusive rights to publish The Chronicles of Narnia in English globally. But they are likely to be surrounded by non-Christian extensions: HarperCollins has shocked Lewis devotees with its plans to hire authors to write new Narnia books. As Susan Katz, president of HarperCollins children's division, put it, "They will not be sequels as such, but books using the same characters and with story lines which fill in the gaps of existing ones." Mr. Adley himself told reporters, "We're looking for established children's fantasy writers who will not mimic Lewis." He and his colleagues offered some names of writers who might be approached, including Diana Wynn Jones, Berlie Doherty, Geraldine McCaughrean, Robin Jarvis, and Debbie Cliori. It's an interesting list. Ms. Jones has a series of books about multiple parallel universes, in which only an enchanter with nine lives is powerful enough to control the rampant misuse of magic. A parent/reviewer wrote last month about one of Ms. Jarvis's books, "My 11-year-old son was engrossed in this book until about halfway through when he declared it too scary to finish. He's a voracious reader and a great fan of fantasy, but has never before been so spooked that he wouldn't finish a book. I read the section that rattled him so badly and must agree that it was quite gruesome, involving a demon who murders a man after appearing in the form of someone who has been killed in an explosion (complete with vivid description). Be forewarned if your youngster reads this book ... bad dreams may lie ahead." Will the good dreams produced by Narnia stories turn into nightmares? From Lewis scholar Bruce Edwards's perspective, publication of new Narnia tales is "a dreadful idea.... I don't know that any effort will be made to ensure that the contracted writers will have any Christian worldview to bring to their enterprise. And even if they did, what guarantee of quality will there be?" Maybe none, but Mr. Adley has arranged for production next year of a line of Narnia toys, gifts, apparel, and other products. The licensing company involved, United Media, also lifts high the banner of Peanuts and Dilbert, Mr. Adley noted: "United Media has always been recognized as a leader in brand-building and also for its reputation in establishing these same brands as long-term entertainment properties." That may not be bad, as long as Lewis's Christocentric flavor is maintained: But that is now the question. Will Zondervan, at moments of conflict, follow its Christian heritage or its HarperCollins corporate superiors? Will the two mysterious Lewis stockholders explicitly acknowledge their role? Will the two Greshams take a stand for accurate portrayal of their stepfather? (See p. 118 for more about Doug Gresham's role.) According to Marjorie Lamp Mead of Wheaton's Wade Center, David Gresham has become a practicing Jew and spends his time studying the Talmud and promoting Jewish education. He might have little reason to involve himself in this battle. Doug Gresham, who does profess Christianity, posted a statement on May 22 defending the concept of new Narnia books as a way to market the characters to younger children and others not familiar with the stories. His desire to have C.S. Lewis's works sold in secular bookstores, taken out of the "religion" section, and reaching a broad audience, is shared by Lewis devotees. The controversy, however, concerns whether Lewis's message will be watered down and de-Christianized in the process. Although Ms. Hatcher's project is now on life support, the Crouse documentary is moving forward, and a third documentary intended for PBS, and apparently preferred by Mr. Adley, may soon enter production. According to HarperCollins' Steve Hanselman, it is a "Harvard psychiatrist project comparing Lewis and [Sigmund] Freud," and the beneficiary of "Simon's enthusiasm." But what will happen to C.S. Lewis's enthusiasm for professing Christ? In The Weight of Glory (1945), Lewis wrote that "The church will outlive the universe; the individual person will outlive the universe. Everything that is joined to the immortal Head will share His immortality." Lewis never wanted to be disconnected from Christ, but his new marketers may find it advantageous to behead him.