When Christianity Today recently encouraged our readers to emulate C.S. Lewis, whose Chronicles of Narnia are a "veritable blueprint for that incarnational aesthetic our age so desperately needs," this wasn't exactly what we meant. As noted earlier in Weblog, HarperCollins is giving a major push to all of Lewis's works, but especially the Chronicles of Narnia. What we didn't know then was the really big story: The Sunday Times of London reports that HarperCollins will also be commissioning new Narnia books. "What we wanted to avoid is what I call the Pooh situation," says Simon Adley, managing director of the C.S. Lewis Company. "In other words, exploitation of the books."
But for many Lewis fans—including most of those at the alt.books.cs-lewis newsgroup and MereLewis e-mail list—such plans are heresy. "Can we expect Return to Perelandra, The Pilgrim's Egress, Screwtape on Holiday?" one poster asks. (Not yet, but you will be able to pick up A Grief Observed and Mere Christianity with new forewords by Madeleine L'Engle and Kathleen Norris, respectively.) Lewis biographer A.N. Wilson is more blunt in his comments to The Sunday Times: "It's ridiculous and I'm sure Lewis would have thought so, too."
The plan, says HarperCollins children's division president Susan Katz, isn't to create sequels, but instead make new Narnia novels and picture books "using the same characters and with story lines which fill in the gaps of existing ones." Adley assures the paper that the new books will be written by "established children's fantasy writers" who will use their own voice rather than try to mimic Lewis's. That could be very interesting—especially if the writer isn't as interested as Lewis was in communicating Christian truth.
What's also intriguing about all this is that Lewis's stepson, Douglas Gresham, has repeatedly voiced his objection to any sequels. And he has overseen the rights (with Adley). The Internet fans are eagerly awaiting his remarks about what made him change his mind. Meanwhile, Lewis biographer Kathryn Lindskoog notes that though Lewis once told a young boy who wanted more, "Why not write stories for yourself to fill up the gaps in Narnian history?" past efforts for charity purposes have been nixed. "The right to issue new books about Narnia was evidently being reserved for whoever might offer high enough financial gain to the owners of the Lewis Estate," Lindskoog writes.
Meanwhile, publishers are expecting C.S. Lewis' friends to boom, too. The Detroit Free Press reports that the film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy will bring mean the "hottest year ever" for Tolkien's works—but also those of the rest of the Inklings circle he and Lewis were a part of. "Even fantasies by the lesser-known Inkling, Charles Williams, and the spiritual mentor to the Inklings, George MacDonald … are expected to sell well." So perhaps it's only a matter of time before we see The Hobbit Returns and Revenge of the Light Princess next to the new Narnia books.
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