More MS news articles for Aug 2001

C.S. Lewis Works Questioned

Friday August 10 12:03 PM ET
By SUE LEEMAN, Associated Press Writer

LONDON (AP) - Renowned Christian scholar and best-selling author C.S. Lewis died in 1963, but bitter arguments about his literary legacy continue today.

The latest comes in a new book by an American expert on Lewis, who claims the custodians of his literary estate posthumously published forgeries under the author's name.

Kathryn Lindskoog, an independent academic living in Orange, Calif., says the Lewis estate, including his editor, Walter Hooper, is cashing in on his fame by "drip-feeding" suspect and altered works onto the market for maximum profit.

"C.S. Lewis' literary legacy is increasingly defiled by fraud, forgery and falsehood," she writes in her new book, "Sleuthing C.S. Lewis," to be published Wednesday in the United States.

Lindskoog has been making similar arguments for many years, creating intense debate in literary circles. The new book is also getting attention.

Maggie Shannon, spokeswoman for the publisher, Mercer University Press in Macon, Ga., said a second printing had been ordered after the first print run of 1,200 sold out in advance orders.

Hooper says Lindskoog didn't come to the project with an open mind, so it's difficult for him to defend himself.

"Mrs. Lindskoog has made me her life's work, but I couldn't do my job and ... reply (or even read) all that was coming from her," Hooper said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

"I found myself in the position of Brer Rabbit trying to argue with the Tar Baby. Just when you imagine you've scored a point with the Tar Baby you find yourself stuck."

Lewis, author of the acclaimed Narnia chronicles for children, wrote prolifically about the spiritual quest that took him from atheism to robust Anglican Christianity.

A complex, pipe-smoking character with a powerful intellect, Lewis is still a phenomenal best seller; 29 of the books published before his death are still in print. His works have sold more than 115 million copies, according to HarperCollins, which last year signed a deal with the Lewis estate that made it the primary English-language publisher of Lewis around the world.

But in recent weeks, admirers have complained that Lewis is being commercialized - an even de-Christianized - by the Lewis estate, including licensing of Narnia paraphernalia, heavy promotion by HarperCollins publishers and alleged suppression of Christian themes in a scuttled TV documentary.

Christianity Today, an influential U.S. evangelical magazine, editorialized this month that a plan to produce further Narnia novels is "a categorically bad idea," but otherwise believers should be pleased when a major book house spends millions to promote "some of the best Christian writing of all time."

Lindskoog, meanwhile, is charging that "The Dark Tower," a time-travel adventure published after Lewis' death, is a forgery. She also argues that Hooper, a 70-year-old former U.S. Episcopal priest who converted to Roman Catholicism, changed Lewis' words and meanings in a 1976 American edition of "The Screwtape Letters," the famous dialogue between two devils, and has withheld some of Lewis' letters.

Hooper said that "neither Mrs. Lindskoog nor any of those who profess to believe that 'The Dark Tower' is a forgery have ever looked at the manuscript." Lindskoog says she wanted to look at the manuscript but was refused; Hooper says she passed on the chance to review it.

He notes Lindskoog once appeared to accept its authenticity; in the 1981 version of her book, "C.S. Lewis: Mere Christian," she speculates about "why Lewis gave up on this innovative story and returned to more ordinary space travel instead."

Lindskoog also questions the secrecy that surrounds the Lewis estate, saying it is not clear who exercises literary and financial control and reaps the vast rewards of marketing such a beloved writer.

Reviewing Lindskoog's book, the U.S. book industry guide Publisher's Weekly says she "makes a powerful case that something fishy is going on in the affairs of C.S. Lewis."

But David Brawn, HarperCollins' publishing director for the Lewis estate, says Lindskoog "is flogging a dead horse."

"The claims about 'The Dark Tower' are not new, and no one has proved them," Brawn said. "So we take all this stuff with a pinch of salt. We see it as yet another opportunity to bring Lewis into the public eye."

Yet Lindskoog has supporters in academic circles. Dozens, including science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke and former U.S. poet laureate Richard Wilbur, have signed a petition calling for the Lewis estate to respond to the charges.

Robert S. Ellwood, emeritus professor of religion at the University of Southern California, says those "in the multimillion dollar C.S. Lewis 'industry"' ought to "take her well-documented case more seriously."

Lindskoog, 66, who has multiple sclerosis, has a long history of investigating Lewis and also wrote the 1988 book "The C.S. Lewis Hoax."

"Hooper's main response to me since 1978 has been to spread the rumor that my mind has been destroyed by MS and that I'm obsessed with him and victimizing him. A mad woman," Lindskoog wrote in an e-mail to the AP. But Lindskoog notes she's also written about other authors, including Dante and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Lindskoog says that since Lewis' death, about 40 more books have appeared including collections of his personal letters, lecture notes and childhood drawings.

All the posthumous publications, she says, "have been tightly controlled and rationed out year by year" for maximum effect.

In previous books, Lindskoog has questioned whether Lewis was the author of books like "Forms of Things Unknown," "A Man Born Blind" and "Christian Reunion," all apparently found in manuscript form after his death.

In "Sleuthing C.S. Lewis," Lindskoog explores the origins of "The Dark Tower" fragment, supposed to be part of Lewis' series of space novels, "Out of the Silent Planet," "Perelandra" and "That Hideous Strength" featuring philology professor Elwin Ransom.

Lewis, with whom she corresponded, never mentioned the work, she maintains, nor did his brother, Warren, who acted as his secretary.

Lindskoog says Hooper waited until 1973, after Warren's death, to "reveal" the fragment in typewritten form. It was published in 1977 with extensive notes by Hooper. He later presented a yellowed, 64-page manuscript to Oxford's Bodleian Library that he said was in Lewis' handwriting.

Hooper claims to have rescued "The Dark Tower" and other Lewis writings, including his poetry, from a three-day bonfire tended by Lewis' gardener early in 1964. But, Lindskoog says, the gardener denies such a bonfire took place.

For all the questions Lindskoog raises, some remain unconvinced, and the debate over Lewis' posthumous work seems destined to continue.

James Como, a professor at the City University of New York, said Lindskoog's work is "good gossip, bad journalism, and not at all scholarship." He says it is filled with "red herrings, ad hominem slanders ... smokescreen, and beggings of many questions."