This piece will go up on Beliefnet this evening (Tues) about 5:00, as the 
site lead, or so I'm told. What a complicated story. It took me a long time 
to get it all sorted out in my mind, and I probably wrote three times this 
many words over the course of the weekend. Between my husband's comments and 
my editor's we were able to get it whittled down into something that I think 
makes sense--hope so! 

I relied greatly on the portions of the HarperCollins memo that were 
reproduced in an article at worldmag.com--you can see the original there. In 
the version I turned in I credited things that came from the World or the 
NYTimes articles, but my editor took most of those references out, I guess to 
make the piece more concise. This is the kind of thing that varies according 
to a magazines's "stylesheet," that is the guide to practices for that 
particular publication. 

BTW I am really flattered to have been invited to speak at the C.S. Lewis 
Summer Institute in July 2002, in Cambridge and Oxford. The conference theme 
is "Time and Eternity: The Cosmic Odyssey," which promises all kinds of 
wonderful possibilities. This is actually the first time I've been invited to 
speak overseas so it's exciting. 

Last time I wrote my daughter-in-law Marcella was in labor. Baby Isaac was 
born soon after, fine and healthy, three days after his big brother's first 
birthday. That makes three grandbabies for us in just a year. New photos are 
up at www.frederica.com, also a few new articles and revised travel calendar. 
I'll be speaking in Akron, OH, tomorrow night, and Canton Thurs night, if any 
of you live around there and want to come out. 

*******

Just hours after the New York Times hit doorsteps on the first Sunday of this 
month, my e-mailbox began to fill with distraught messages. "Sit down before 
you read this, in case you start crying," wrote one friend, and another 
muttered "Poor Lewis must be turning over in his grave." One message was 
headed, "Lord have mercy on Narnia." 

The source of their distress was a Times article that reported, working from 
a leaked memo, that HarperCollins was planning to perform a marketing 
makeover on "The Chronicles of Narnia," a series of children's novels penned 
by British author C.S. Lewis in the mid-20th century. Since the debut of the 
first volume, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," the series has enjoyed 
roaring success, to the tune of 65 million copies in 30 languages. The news 
story indicated that HarperCollins hoped to boost this success even further 
by separating Narnia from its religious roots.

The news hit Narnia fans as sacrilege. Lewis, a traditional Anglican, 
embraced classic Christianity, and the denizens of Narnia sometimes enact 
elements of the Christian story. The allegory is handled with subtlety. Young 
readers often miss Aslan the lion's resemblance to Christ, for instance, or 
the apocalyptic echoes of "The Last Battle." Much of the action is simply 
good storytelling, and doesn't carry allegorical weight. The books' faith 
background, however, is integral.

Much of the uproar was due to a misunderstanding; readers thought that the 
plan was to de-Christianize the stories. The misunderstanding was reasonable, 
since the article was confusingly headlined "Marketing ‘Narnia' Without A 
Christian Lion." The publisher has continued to repeat a terse statement that 
"The works of C. S. Lewis will continue to be published ... as written by the 
author, with no alteration," but the alarming first impression has stuck. 
Some Narnia fans acknowledge the publisher's statement, but say they simply 
don't trust them, and don't think they will keep their word. 

Though confusion clouded that part of the controversy, other elements were 
clearer. The memo outlined three changes for marketing Lewis. First, deals 
have been struck to license Narnia toys, clothing, and plush animals; second, 
children's-fantasy authors would be hired to write new novels in the Narnia 
series; and third, the publisher hoped to tone down Lewis' image as a 
Christian apologist in order to broaden his appeal. 

Most fans seem to agree that a line of Narnia plush toys is the least 
problematic part of the project, provided the toys respect the characters' 
era and style. Protecting the dignity of Aslan will be a challenge throughout 
all these changes. No one wants a goggley-eyed lion with a string in his 
back, chirping about self-esteem.

The new novels pose two separate problems. Fans fear Lewis's subtlety will be 
replaced with hectoring p.c. themes out of tune with Narnia's gentle style. 
Another is that the books simply won't be any good. The original novels are 
deeply personal, rooted in the faith and times of a very appealing man. Lewis 
was a kindly, modest figure, and a scholar of medieval literature at Oxford 
and Cambridge who possessed the kind of education no one gets any more. A new 
writer may be able to jerk his characters around like marionettes, but it's 
unlikely she can make them fly.

Where things get truly complicated is with the third point, concerning 
Lewis's image as a Christian. The leaked memo was directed to Carol Hatcher, 
who was developing a documentary about C. S. Lewis for PBS, with Oregon 
Public Broadcasting. Hatcher had asked permission to quote from Lewis' works, 
and the publisher passed along some stipulations from the Lewis estate. The 
script should not point out the Christian elements of the Narnia stories; 
Hatcher's treatment of Lewis' conversion should not be changed, since it 
wasn't "overdone"; and the lasting impression left with the viewer should not 
be that Lewis was a "Christian apologist."

Hatcher was distressed. She felt that she was being asked to conceal Lewis' 
faith, a kind of compromise not allowed to Christians: "Whoever denies me 
before men, I also will deny before my Father," Jesus said. What's more, 
Lewis *was* a Christian apologist. Hatcher told the Times that omitting this 
fact would be like making a documentary about Hank Aaron without mentioning 
baseball.

Another filmmaker, David Crouse, agrees that Lewis' faith is huge and should 
necessarily comprise the bulk of any film on his life. His PBS documentary on 
Lewis is nearing completion, and he has had no problems with the Lewis 
estate. This is because, unlike Hatcher, Crouse used few quotes from Lewis's 
writings and so "never had to get permission from anyone, and if they asked, 
no way would we send them the script." 

Hatcher is right: most of Lewis' canon is designed to present aspects of 
Christian faith to unbelievers as persuasively as possible. "Mere 
Christianity" still sells 230,000 copies a year, and has been the turning 
point for untold numbers of converts (including, Hatcher told World, 
herself). Any biography could not omit this fact, but at present biographers 
will have to say it in their own words, rather than Lewis's copyrighted ones.

But HarperCollins' strategy is also reasonable. Some people find the label 
"Christian apologist" distasteful, and lump Lewis in anachronistically with 
the modern-day religious right. HarperCollins hopes to minimize these 
associations and present Lewis to these people as a thinker worth listening 
to. The goal is "to publish the works of C. S. Lewis to the broadest possible 
audience, and to leave any interpretation of the works to the reader," reads 
another portion of HarperCollins' statement.

But to many, downplaying Lewis's faith seems like one more in a string of 
insults. Conservative Christians have been routinely saddened to see 
landmarks of art and literature stripped of their Christian meaning. Lewis, 
it seemed, would be the exception; his work is of such startling quality, and 
his faith so indisputable, that surely his persona (and not just his written 
words) would be left intact. He constitutes for us conservative Christians, 
in fact, our one clear success in a hostile world. Now that 
our-boy-done-good, we want him to go on being clearly identified as our boy. 
For a community habitually wincing in anticipation of disrespect and 
misrepresentation, the idea of a successful representative is entrancing. 

The danger is that we could prize his image, and what it does for us, more 
than his message, and what he intended it to do. Lewis never wanted to be a 
symbol. In fact, he questioned whether "little books about Christianity" had 
much lasting impact. When the general culture is overwhelmingly based on 
contrary assumptions, such little books present only momentary diversions. He 
urged Christians instead to write "on other subjects--with their Christianity 
latent." It's a good guess that he would prefer his own Christian identity to 
be something for the reader to discover, just as we gradually realize who 
Aslan is. 

Tampering with the words of Lewis's books would be a travesty. However, if 
Lewis is not labeled "Christian apologist," if he's mainstreamed into the 
community of other writers, it may help him escape the prejudice that 
traditional Christians face today. It won't limit his message. He'll still be 
a Christian apologist. Just one who can slip behind otherwise-locked doors 
more easily. 



*******************************
Frederica Mathewes-Green
            www.frederica.com

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