When I was a student in 1962, I sent CS Lewis a letter about the role ofmyth in scripture, and got a reply. If anyone is interested, please email
me, and I will be glad to send you the text of the letter from Lewis.
Dear A. Zwart:
I hate to rain on this picnic, particularly since I live in rainy Seattle.
I wish very much this was not so.
Strange as it may sound, though you own the physical letter that Lewis sent
you, you do not own the right to “publish” it by making copies for others.
That right remained Lewis’ and after his death passed eventually to a
shadowy legal entity call the Lewis estate. Given Lewis’ generosity, I’m
sure that, if he were alive today, he would be quite happy to give you
permission to send copies to others or to publish it in something you might
write. Unfortunately, the Lewis estate does not even come close to
reflecting his open-hearted attitude.
The Lewis estate is VERY aggressive at defending the rights to his works,
much more so, sad to say, that the estates of many grossly materialistic
non-believers. It would be fair to say that, though the attitude probably
stems at least in part from greed and perhaps paranoia (no one knows, given
the estate’s shadowy existence), it actually reduces the income of the
Lewis estate by discouraging research on him and by narrowing and confining
the market for his material.
Jesus said, “Give and it shall be given unto you.” The Lewis estate, like
the man with only one talent, is built on the motto, “Hoard and no one will
take it from you.” Very unbiblical, very un-Lewis and very foolish. Even
more so is their very unChristian zeal to resort to threats of legal action
against believers to resolve disputes.
Ironically, it was the very unbusiness-like generosity of Lewis that lay
the foundation for this problem. Lewis’ last will recently became available
and, because it is a public document thus isn’t covered by copyright. I was
able to create an electronic text of it and post it where you can read it
in the Lewis area at www.discovery.org. It’s discouraging to read how Lewis
paid more attention to the future of an old painting of his father than he
did of his literary estate. Perhaps, he was modest enough to think that few
people would be reading him in the future. Perhaps, distracted and in ill
health, he simply got bad advice. Though they were long-term friends, his
two legal/financial advisors were unbelievers and had no real interest in
seeing his legacy of Christian writing kept alive. Very, very unfortunate
and a warning to us all about our wills.
That said, there are numerous exceptions to copyright law. Portions can be
quoted under “fair use.” Copies can be made for research purposes and,
though the Lewis estate may try to claim its power is far broader than
that, the basic purpose of the law is to protect an author’s income. Copies
made for free of material that the Lewis estate is unaware of and not
publishing, create no financial harm to the estate and hence little grounds
for damages. So, whatever happens, don’t let any legal blustering get you
down. An actual courtroom would yawn at this.
I would strongly suggest that you make sure that the Lewis archives at
Wheaton and Oxford get a copy of both your letter and his. If you want to
pay hard-ball and the letter is interesting enough, you might considering
releasing copies to them ONLY under the condition that the estate
relinquish its copyright and render Lewis’ letter, like a few others,
public domain. Though the estate owns the words, they can never get at
those words without your permission.
Best wishes in whatever you do.
C. S. Lewis Readers’ Encyclopedia
* A 17 April 1998 article in the Christian Science Monitor titled
“Willkommen, Toni Morrison” describes the problems of global ownership of
publishing. The results are nothing that anybody couldn’t predict with
laughable ease. Australian tycoon Rupert Murdoch owns the Los Angeles
Dodgers. Bruce Springsteen (“Born in the USA “) and Mariah Carey make
profits for Japan’s Sony. American Toni Morrison now submits manuscripts to
Guetersloh, Germany. Random House was bought by Bertelsmann. Germany’s
bestseller lists are now dominated by John Grisham and Tom Clancy. Boston’s
Noah Gordon has sold 10 million books east of the Rhine since 1987.
Michael Jackson has a better chance of filling a stadium in India than