Unscrupulous Americans: Who Grabbed Screwtape?

The Lewis Legacy-Issue 81, Summer 1999 The C.S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing

Douglas Gresham has revealed, “Because of a publisher’s error, The Screwtape Letters was at one time in the public domain in the USA. This allowed certain unscrupulous and untalented Americans to simply grab it and do whatever they wanted with it. I have not seen any Americanised version but I don’t doubt that someone did such a thing.”

This raises an interesting question. The one and only Americanized version was published in hardcover by Lord and King in 1976, then by Spire in a mass-market paperback. It was displayed in the highly publicized film “Through Joy and Beyond” (now edited down for video). This version could hardly have been unknown to the Lewis literary estate (C. S. Lewis Pte.) — because it was written and displayed in the film by the estate’s key employee, who was, along with Owen Barfield, responsible for permissions (much like Doug’s position today).

If Screwtape was in the public domain in the US in 1976, as Doug indicates, and if the Lewis estate had exclusive access to that inside information (which is apparently the case), and if a key player in the Lewis estate took the opportunity to bring out his own version without any loss of status in the estate, then the Americanised version was in a loose sense a product of the Lewis estate that claims to be protecting Lewis books from this kind of misuse.

The hardcover Americanised Screwtape is on excellent paper and well bound, so it will exist in book collections until the paper disintegrates in the far, far distant future. I suspect that this book, and perhaps the $50 audiotape album issued simultaneously, will be of interest to collectors of Lewisiana in the future.