Authors have praised Francis Spufford’s novel set in the world of Narnia, with some suggesting the C S Lewis estate should allow the book to be printed but others maintaining the work is fan fiction.
C S Lewis’ books are under copyright until 2034 but Spufford has written a story The Stone Table about Polly Plummer and Digory Kirke, the protagonists from CS Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, as they return to Narnia. Spufford printed off 75 copies and sent them to friends, including author Frank Cottrell Boyce, who posted the first two chapters of the story on Twitter (with the author’s permission).
Robin Stevens said: “By definition this is fan fiction (an unauthorised work set in world of a well-known property still in copyright). Which doesn't make it 'just' for me - some of the most exciting and innovative work I've ever read has been fan fiction. But I don't see that he can be paid for it.
“I wrote a lot of fan fiction when I was younger and I have the highest respect for its possibilities. But that also makes me feel very strongly that no money can change hands - it was the one rule we all had to live by.”
MG Harris agreed, saying fan fiction is “done for love”, unless the estate has directly approached an author to fashion a new story in the original author's style and fictional setting, while Piers Torday, whose recent novel The Lost Magician (Quercus Children's) was an “homage” to Narnia, said: “I think it sounds lovely as private fan fic for friends and family - lucky them - but one should only take on someone else’s copyright characters commercially with the right permissions.”
Others said they would love the C S Lewis estate to allow the book to be printed. Fiona Noble, children’s previewer at The Bookseller said: “Based on the pages Frank Cottrell Boyce tweeted the narrative voice is almost uncanny; if this is fan fiction it promises to be of the highest quality. I really hope the estate will allow publication...but it is unlikely.”
Daniel Hahn added: “What happens to it depends on the estate, obviously. Personally I would love to read it.”
Spufford, is the author of five non-fiction works and the Ondaatje Prize-winning novel Golden Hill (Faber). He told the Guardian there is a gap in the history of Narnia between The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and “that was the only gap I thought was large enough for someone to do some impertinent fiddling”. He said he made a “tentative” approach to the C S Lewis estate to ask if they would publish but did not get a reply.
Writer Adam Roberts added: “I think it was inevitable that a book like this, a sensitive and brilliant addition to the Narnia corpus by a major contemporary writer, would start to leak out into the public domain. I would certainly love to see it published in full – and it will be. It’s just a question of whether it’s published when the copyright lapses in 2034, or whether some arrangement can be brokered with the Lewis estate to see an authorised publication in the nearer future.”
Joanna Harris said the article "sounds like a massive pitch to the estate, and an attempt to get publishers interested", and tweeted: "Women write fanfic of all kinds for decades: no comment from literary world. Man writes Narnia fanfic: 'a sensitive and brilliant addition to the Narnia corpus by a major contemporary writer'."
The C S Lewis estate declined to comment when approached by The Bookseller, as did C S Lewis’ publisher, HarperCollins.