Cover Story

Off with his head

Devotees of literary giant C.S. Lewis point to a corporate effort to de-Christianize his work-or, as Lewis himself might have put it, to disconnect him from the immortal Head

Issue: "Abolition of C.S. Lewis?," June 16, 2001

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:

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