Francis Spufford’s New “Narnia novel”

A few weeks ago, NarniaWebbers were surprised and intrigued when writer Frank Cottrell Boyce started tweeting excerpts from Francis Spufford’s Narnia fanfiction The Stone Table. Spufford is mostly known for his non-fiction, but in 2016 earned the Costa Book Award for his first novel, Golden Hill.

No, this is not an official 8th Narnia book.

NarniaWeb would would not normally report on “fanfiction,” but since this has been receiving a fair amount of attention and many of our readers have reached out to us about it, we thought it might be worth a post explaining the matter.

According to theguardian.com, after he finished writing it for his daughter, Spufford printed multiple copies of his work to share with friends. Cottrell Boyce was not the only one who enjoyed it. Writer Adam Roberts also publicly talked about how much he liked it.

According to Oxford Mail, Spufford did seek official approval from the C.S. Lewis Estate before he printed it, but received no response.

Although the Estate certainly has influence on whether something like this will become official or not, according to Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham, it will be up to the publishers:

“I don’t remember receiving any material from Mr Spufford for a long time but when something like this comes up, it is up to our publishers to sort it out, and I daresay they will.”

Oxford Mail

It is important to note that although many articles are writing about Spufford’s piece as though it is a novel that simply hasn’t been published yet, it is more properly categorized as a novel-length fanfiction. Fanfiction has existed pretty much as long as stories have existed in some form, but due to current copyright laws are often considered to be lesser works and are not published for profit. According to the FAQ page of The Organisation for Transformative Works, fanfiction is allowed under copyright law.

Fair use is the right to make some use of copyrighted material without getting permission or paying. It is a basic limit on copyright law that protects free expression. “Fair use” is an American phrase, although all copyright laws have some limits that keep copyright from being private censorship. Fair use favors uses that (1) are noncommercial and not sold for a profit; (2) are transformative, adding new meaning and messages to the original; (3) are limited, not copying the entirety of the original; and (4) do not substitute for the original work.

Organisation for Transformative Works

The copyright for Narnia might run out eventually unless the Estate and/or Narnia publisher Harper Collins seeks an extension much like Disney’s continued renewal of Mickey Mouse. If they allow Narnia to enter public domain there is a possibility that works like Spufford’s might be legitimately published in the future. Works like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (a novel and then a movie that adds zombies to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) or Wicked (a novel and then a Broadway musical prequel to The Wizard of Oz) might also have Narnia counterparts eventually.

Thanks to Hyoi14 for sending in a spy report!

37 Responses

  1. Cleander says:

    Um, wow! That could be interesting… what exactly is "The Stone Table" about, aside from the obvious?

    • Eutace says:

      From what I read about this novel, is that this story is about what happens between MN and LWW. I would personally like to read it because it sounds so interesting to me.

  2. Michael says:

    An author/estate or publisher cannot "seek a copyright extension". Copyright terms are established (and extended) only by federal law. In the UK (where Spufford lives) the copyright term is life of the author + 70 years; Lewis died in 1963, so the copyrights will expire at the end of 2033. In "life + 50" countries (e.g. Canada), the copyrights expired at the end of 2013, so the Chronicles (and all other Lewis works) are already in the public domain there.

  3. Curitiba says:

    Why is some guy writing a fanfiction worthy of a news story?

    • Glumpuddle says:

      After the story got a fair amount of attention and a lot of NarniaWebbers sent in reports asking about it, we thought it would be worth clarifying what this is (and is not).

      • Curitiba says:

        I see. Apparently there is some push by the author and others to make this novel "legitimate" so he can sell it.

        I have to admit I'd be curious to read it, but I don't think the estate would ever allow this book to be sold for profit.

        If the author really cared about sharing it with the world, he could simply make it available for free on the internet like other fanfiction authors have.

        As I see it, this is someone who seemingly wants to profit off of C.S. Lewis' creation, because he does not want to give away his fanfiction for "free" like other fan fiction authors.

    • icarus says:

      I think what makes this slightly different is that its not just "some guy" writing fan-fiction, but an award winning published author writing fan-fiction.

  4. southindiangeek says:

    I heard the novel or fanfic
    Is set in between TMN and LWW
    Diggory and Polly as main characters
    Explains the origins of the stone table
    And cair paravel

    • Monty Jose says:

      I heard the same. Apparently Digory and Polly return to Narnia in this novel. Honestly, I don’t like the idea of a novel (or fanfic) that messes with the integral fabric of the world. The Stone Table isn’t a minor character; assuming and writing about the lore without the author’s consent or supervision is, in my mind, disrespectful. It would be one thing to write an adventure about an unknown era of Narnia or of Moonhare or Swan White… but to write about such key characters? No thank you. I’m honestly annoyed at the idea of this getting such attention.

      • Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

        I totally agree, different people writing about the same characters almost always cause radical personality changes and timeline ramifications. The recent Star Wars movies a an excellent example of this.

        I am amongst those who think a Charn mini-series might be cool, or maybe how the White Witch first began her takeover of Narnia, or maybe how the Lone Islands became a Narnia territory. But all of those cases would be in a different medium (film) and part of (for example) the Netflix Narnia cannon. Not a new book series. Not something that an unsuspecting reader can pick up at Barnes&Noble thinking it was written by the original author (looking at you Cursed Child Screenplay).

  5. coracle says:

    This is, quite simply, a piece of fanfiction, which the writer chose to print himself and distribute.
    This is definitely a breach of copyright, and we have been informed that the publishers, Harper Collins, have referred to their lawyers.
    Not only is it using the characters, story and names of the Narnia books, but it can be seen as trying to compete with the official books.
    I have said elsewhere, that someone telling their friends what they think will have happened in those 'spaces' in the Narnia timeline is one thing, but publishing a book of it is quite another.
    The Estate has always been very protective of the books, their content, and their illustrations.

  6. HermitoftheNorthernMarch says:

    I get that he is a published author and wants to publish his book, but he can print it up for a personal copy without profiting off of it. I write fanfiction, too, but I would never try to make money off of it (not that I could, as I'm not very skilled as a writer).

    And despite what OTW says, fanfiction (even if someone doesn't make money off of it) has never been declared legal in the U.S. or U.K. Only parodying is legally protected. Otherwise the authors who wrote the original work could be economically superseded with no recourse.

    For example, consider children's comic books, say like Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke or The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks. Both of these authors have written good, family-friendly comics, but they are not particularly well-known. If someone could publish fanfictions of their work and make money off of it, the original work could be forgotten. Or someone could have a book in bookstores with the same story, only make it not family-friendly, and thus prevent parents from buying the original comics for their kids because of negative associations.

    This is why Disney is so protective of their copyright to the extent of being extreme. Disney is afraid of losing the family-friendly market.

    • I did a double-take seeing your reference to Ben Hatke. I've interacted with him and some of his family/friends over instagram in the past. So crazy to see him referenced randomly on here. Crazy stuff.

    • barana says:

      That's interesting re Disney and the muddying of their waters…Tho their recent writing in of homosexual perversion to several Tales is something I Daresay Walt would not have ever Done, and as a consequence have lost my (and my future))family's following from here to eternity.It appears upon reflection,that the very walls they strived so earnestly to build for protection have been so completely compromised ..from within. Quite sd..

  7. Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

    I find this almost repulsive. Maybe it's because I'm so attached to the series, but it doesn't feel ethical to play around with a pre-existing canon, even if that person is dead.
    Especially if the characters are already very established.
    Especially if this guy is trying to make money off of it.

    And the worst part is, if this is legitimately published, what's going to stop The Chronicles of Narnia with Zombies becoming a thing? Narniaweb has been right before…

  8. Thunder-Fist says:

    Just because this man is a “real” author doesn’t cause me to be more interested. The fact is, it doesn’t matter how good it is or isn’t, fan fiction bores me (I am not opposed to its existence though) and I don’t relate to the desire to tell a story set in someone else’s world with someone else’s characters. And there is almost no way he could capture lewis’s narrative voice. That’s almost impossible even with less distinct authors than Lewis.

    When I was twelve I started writing an 8th chronicle of Narnia. Of course I was writing fan fiction and didn’t know it, because I’d never heard of fan fiction at the time. I got about four pages in and thought to myself, “Hey, I could make up my own world instead.” And so I did, and never wrote fan fiction again.

    It seems like this is just a fanfiction thats being promoted based on the authors preexisting platform. Self-publishing still has a very negative stigma despite improving in recent years. Anybody can publish a manuscript if they pay for it, that doesn’t mean it’s any more legitimate than a story tucked away on a fanfic site. There are probably thousands of privately created fan fiction chronicles, of varying quality. This one is possibly getting pushed now because of a predicted market for stuff with the word “Narnia” on it.

  9. Someone trying to publish fanfiction of Narnia? No thanks.

    I remember when I was a kid, I loved The Wind in the Willows (still do). After I read it, I got the "authorized" sequel, "The Willows in the Winter." I started to read it when I quickly realized it was not written by Kenneth Grahame. I was so confused and shocked that such a thing could exist. I never read the rest. Perhaps it's a fine book and the author is talented (though one of the other things that turned me off was that Mr. Toad's character arc was purportedly rebooted, since the author couldn't believe that the famously vain character was humbled at the end of The Wind in the Willows), but I'm not interested in these sorts of continuations by other authors. There's something so false about that kind of thing. Write your own stories.

    • icarus says:

      You could probably break down the world of expansionist novels into 2 categories. The first would be those set in open-ended worlds where the heroes go on self contained adventures – things like Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, The Three Musketeers, etc. I get the impression that very few people have a problem seeing new stories about these characters going on new adventures which weren't written by the original authors.

      It's the second category that i feel people have the big problem with – those which are set in a specifically bounded universe and have a specific singular narrative. The idea of another author inserting themselves into someone else's story feels wrong, and yet as you say it happens all the time – Peter Pan would be the one that springs most to mind.

      But in the end, that's kind of how story telling works, eventually these things all work their way into the cultural mix, until like most fairy tales today, people start to forget who actually came up with these stories and concepts in the first place as they become part of everyone's collective imagination.

      • You're right, it happens far too often. It's derivative storytelling, and I don't like it. It lacks originality, creativity, a soul. It's hacky.

        I'm not sure I agree with your final paragraph. How is that "kind of how storytelling works"?
        I don't believe any modern authors will be forgotten, unless somehow future societies no longer have access to the internet (or a future equivalent), or the books themselves. Even with old stories like Snow White, we don't know who first came up with the idea, true, but we know who first put it to paper and printed it: the Brothers Grimm. And everyone remembers the Brothers Grimm hundreds of years later.

        Heck, let's go back to the Bible or the Iliad. We have a pretty good idea of who came up with those narratives, however far in the past they were first conceived. We can trace the origins of many, many old stories. What you describe, some sort of collective imagination/cultural mix of story concepts, pertains more to archetypes and story genres, not completed narrative works by individual authors.

        Storytelling as a general field is full of universal concepts, tropes, archetypes, which might be what you're alluding to. But stories themselves are particular things created by particular people. To act like they somehow dissolve into a literary Nirvana where everyone possesses them is not something I see evidence for or believe to be true.

        Tolkien loved Norse mythology, but he didn't rewrite Norse mythology. He wrote LOTR. George R. R. Martin loves LOTR, but he didn't rewrite LOTR. He wrote A Song of Ice and Fire (or more accurately, is still writing it). So yes, there is a tradition of fantastic, epic, swords-and-sorcery storytelling tradition connecting each author, but you don't see Aragorn showing up in Westeros. If Martin had spent his time writing unauthorized sequels to Lord of the Rings, we wouldn't have GoT.

        With a book like Wicked, however, you have an author using someone else's world and characters and invented lingo to make a profit. I find that lousy and lazy. It'd be more interesting to me if the author of Wicked had instead taken the inspiration and joy he experienced reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and then worked at writing his own original characters/world/story. Perhaps I'd actually read his book then. But nothing turns me away quicker than seeing, "a new twist on an old classic!" printed on a book or film poster. Or "the NEW adventures of" whoever it may be.

        Let's continue storytelling by telling new stories (and enjoying those already told as they are). I'd love to read a fairy story written by Frank Cottrell Boyce. I'd give it a chance. But him trying to put his name on Narnia? No thanks. We have the 7 Chronicles for that. They're done. They began and ended, thought up by one man. They're delightful. Let's hear a new story.

      • *Francis Spufford, not Frank Cottrell Boyce. I mixed up the two persons in the article.

      • icarus says:

        Greek and Norse mythology are surely the ultimate examples of this though. Even to this day society continues to tell new stories involving these characters, with Ares featuring as the villain of Wonder Woman and Thor as the hero of The Avengers, and yet no-one knows who first invented these characters or first told stories set in their universes. Even where there is some degree of historical authorship attributed to parts of these myths such as with Homer I have seen scholars debate whether he himself ever even existed.

        Maybe you are right though that with modern technology and record keeping we will never now forget who created works of fiction as we have with stories passed down though the oral tradition like King Arthur or Robin Hood, however maybe the point will be that it will just matter less and less with time. For example, so much of what constitutes the modern day character of Superman does not originate with his creators Siegel and Shuster, but rather stems from the inputs of hundreds of other writers who have contributed to his canon over decades working in various different mediums, that Siegel and Shuster are, dare i say, kind of irrelevant when it comes to telling the story of Superman.

        I am not saying that will definitely happen to Narnia anytime soon, but ultimately there is a reason why the concept of the public domain exists, so that we can continue to tell, share and enjoy stories about our characters and our favorite worlds long after the original authors have passed away.

      • Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

        I feel like Greek mythology is different from a specific book like the Iliad though.

        The Greeks (and later the Romans) were constantly changing their gods' characters in one story to the next which leads to all sorts of problems. Like one second Artemis is the goddess of virginity and hunting, then she's suddenly combined with the moon titan/goddess Selene whose only major myth is about her mania for a sleeping shepherd or maybe a king depending on whose telling the story. People warping these myths has been going on for millennia, so things like Percy Jackson or Wonder Woman are just another version.

        However, adding to an established cannon was also done in Ancient Greece. Long after Homer finished the Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil wrote a "continuation" called the Aneid that is not nearly as good nor is it creative (and by that I mean he ripped off pretty much every major plot point from the Iliad and Odyssey).

        In Percy Jackson, the author took an entire confusing mythos, changed the setting, created new characters, and wrote a great story. In the Aneid, the author took two books, kept the characters, kept the plot threads, and then proceeded to rip off both of them. And now a dude is trying to publish a continuation of 7 books while keeping the characters and plot threads. I don't like where this is going.

  10. Caleb says:

    I read the first two chapters, and I thought there were just great. Fantastically emulating Lewis' style. It gave me the warm and fuzzies that I only get when I read Narnia – very bizarre. It's a sequel to The Magician's Nephew, following Digory and Polly returning to Narnia, and I'd love to read the whole thing. But yeah, it's just really well-crafted fan-fiction.

    But reading the first 25 pages or so made me realize how glad I am that Lewis stopped when he did. He wrote the perfect amount of Narnias, and I'm glad he didn't keep pumping them out until they got old.

  11. icarus says:

    Recently, YouTube video essayist Lindsay Ellis did a piece looking at authorial intent vs reader interpretation when it comes to judging books (and works of art in general). She makes an interesting point of comparison between the author of "The Fault in Our Stars" John Green, and Harry Potter author JK Rowling. In essence, John Green has come out very much in favour of the idea that a reader's interpretation of a book matters much more than the author's intent in writing the book, and even incorporated this notion into The Fault in Our Stars itself. To quote John Green:

    "Books belong to their readers…. I have access to the exact same text that you do. My thoughts about the world outside of that text are not any more informed or authoritative than yours…. it’s not my book, its your book. I don’t make decisions about things that happen outside the text of the book; I can’t read something that isn’t there any more than you can"

    I found this to be quite a refreshing thing to hear from an author, especially in contrast to authors like JK Rowling who have made themselves supreme arbiters of their own universe and continually come up with new elements of after-the-fact canon that aren't in their books. I feel Rowling's somewhat dictatorial approach runs very much contrary to the spirit of inspiring creativity and imagination in readers that story writing should be about, and I would like to think based on what I know of Lewis that he would take the same line as John Green; that what happens in between Narnia stories is up for us as readers and fans to decide in our own imaginations.

    • Col Klink says:

      But if the C. S. Lewis estate were agree to have Spufford's book be "officially" published, wouldn't this in itself be pressuring readers to accept this one particular fan's ideas as canon instead allowing readers to have their own interpretation?

      • Impending Doom says:

        No more so than "The Giant Surprise: A Narnia Story" which was published with the Lewis Estate's approval. You don't see many fans claiming to be pressured into accepting Hiawym Oram's ideas as canon. They simply enjoy it or don't.

      • icarus says:

        Perhaps, but as Impending Doom points out, not necessarily.

        For the record.i don't necessarily ascribe to any particular world view on any such matters of authorial ownership on storytelling, largely it would depend on the context of the situation and the specifics in question. However, i am a big fan of comic books and i love seeing how such shared universes have developed over the decades, with different authors allowed to put their own unique spin on characters such as Batman and Superman and add new elements to their canon which subsequent authors then pick up and do likewise. Bob Kane & Bill Finger and Jerry Siegel & Schuster obviously still get credit for the original creations, but so much of those characters and the world's they inhabit, are the result of hundreds of other writers over several decades working in various mediums.

        Even to this day Hollywood continues to tell stories about Robin Hood, King Arthur, Dracula, Hercules, Sherlock Holmes, Aladdin and others, and i do love seeing new creative voices being able to tell stories set in the various worlds they inhabit. Maybe there is some sort of line between these sorts of character-based stories and thr more singular narrative based stories as i mentioned in an earlier post, however I'm not entirely convinced its an absolute hard line

      • Col Klink says:

        Well, Impending Doom, the reason no one feels that way about A Giant Surprise is nobody remembers it. At all. 🙂

        I guess the reason I don't want anybody to "officially" create a new series of Narnia stories is because, unlike Superman or Robin Hood, I feel that most of the appeal of Narnia comes from C. S. Lewis' specific writing style. The basic idea behind Narnia is pretty generic.

        If I might explain myself a little more…I'm not a Star Wars fan. Actually, that's quite. All of the Star Wars movies I've seen I consider to be varying levels of OK. But I'm not particularly enthusiastic about any of them and looking at the current state of the fanbase…I'm glad that I'm not. You've got fans who like the original trilogy and the sequel trilogy but not the prequel trilogy, fans who like the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy but not the sequel trilogy, fans who only like the original trilogy…and I'm not even getting into all the spinoffs. The point is there have been so many different Star Wars series made by the different people over the years and so many different opinions about which are the "real" Star Wars movies, or at least the good ones, that the fandom has gotten really tribalistic and unpleasant. (My apologies to any Star Wars fans who are reading this. The Star Wars fans I know personally are perfectly amiable. But the ones I hear about on the internet…not uniformly so.) I don't want anything like that to happen to the Narnia fanbase.

      • Impending Doom says:

        Nobody remembers it, correct. A Giant Surprise is not very good and is completely different than the original books, which is why it doesn't have a wide readership.

        My point is that approval from the Estate doesn't have to equate canon or even popularity.

        Lewis' writing is absolutely captivating and I would agree that it's one of the main appeals of the series. A big reason why Spufford's novel is getting mainstream attention is because it successfully matches Lewis original style. Allan Jacobs, well-known Lewis biographer, had this to say about The Stone Table:

        "Spufford has suppressed his own distinctive and eloquent style and made himself a ventriloquist of Lewis: to read the story is really and truly to return to the Narnia millions of readers love. And this is not merely a matter of style: Spufford’s story is thematically and even theologically Lewisian. It is a marvelous and utterly delightful tale, as wise as it is thrilling. I so wish you could read it."

        I am not convinced that publication (which will eventually happen) would cause that type of division amongst the fanbase. It's different for the Narnia series. These 7 novels written by C.S Lewis will always be the definitive Narnian stories, regardless of what new content is produced or approved.

    • Sam says:

      I like Ellis' videos, though I do disagree on some points with her I feel like she invites disagreements and is not so dogmatic that her viewpoint is the only correct one.

      In this case, I would say that I fall in between the two viewpoints. Because I believe authorial intent is important, and I think that by primarily seeking out what the author had in mind is important in understanding any work. Primarily, but the plain truth is that we all bring our own biases into what we consume, and I don't think that it's wrong as much as it is what happens, and it can be a good thing, like when you interpret a piece of advice one character gives another as something you can take and apply to your own life or perhaps their are logical gaps that you have to fill to make a story make sense to you.

      A second point about authorial intent is that it helps us actually learn things that are new, if we are constantly putting our own messages into things then what our brains eventually process slowly evolves into mirrors which only show us ourselves and nothing new.

      In this case I don't see a new work, whether officially published or remaining simply as a fanfic, is threatening in anyway to Lewis' original works. Because the facts are plain that Lewis only wrote 7 books, and they carry with it Lewis's intent, and Spufford has written one book that carry's with it Spufford's intent. Me as a reader could read the book and interpret the works together or separately, depending on if I feel like the two match, or I could decide that the book doesn't do justice to the original series and start writing my own story about how I think that the story would have gone… and I could try to mimic Lewis' intent, but I can't duplicate it.

      Now off to watch Ellis' video, I have yet to watch that one, thanks for letting me know it exists. 🙂

    • Col Klink says:

      You're probably right about an "authorized sequel" not causing a lot of memorable controversy, Impending Doom. In my experience, these sequels written to classic books or series written long after the original author's death follow a distinct pattern. They annoy me when I first hear about them since I'd hate it if anyone did that with something I wrote. (I wouldn't be offended if someone wrote normal fanfiction for what I wrote. Actually, I'd be flattered. But it would annoy me if it were published.) I end up caving and reading them out of curiosity. I find them various levels of OK. And in a year or so I barely remember them.

      Anyway, I would consider "The Stone Table" to be more likely to be remembered and considered pseudo canonical than "A Giant Surprise" because it's a novel like the original Chronicles of Narnia, not a picture book. If Spufford weren't so far removed from Lewis alphabetically speaking, it would probably end up on the same shelf at a bookstore. People who are checking out Narnia for the first time would be more likely to check it out too.

      I am sorry if my earlier comments sounded totally paranoid and reactionary. I guess I was mainly responding to Icarus' accusation that disagreeing with the idea of "authorized sequels" is somehow tyrannical. I think there are good reasons to be against them. But I don't feel like getting into them because
      (a) it sounds like Spufford's book will not be officially published
      (b) I honestly feel sorry for the guy since he's getting sued and there's no reason to believe he intended any harm and
      (c) other people in this comments section have already criticized the idea, probably more harshly than I would have done. So I don't feel that I need to say anything beyond the first paragraph of this comment about such books.

      • Michael says:

        "I honestly feel sorry for the guy since he’s getting sued"

        Is he? There's no mention of a lawsuit in the article above or the articles it links to.

      • Col Klink says:

        Well, I heard that the publishers or the estate had heard about it and were taking action. The only action I could imagine was a lawsuit.

  12. icarus says:

    Interestingly also, just as a matter of reference, this would also not be the first unapproved Narnia follow-up to get published if that were to come to pass… In the late 1980s five NarnIa Choose Your Own Adventure novels were published which were set during various gaps in Narnia's timeline – i read one, "The Return to Deathwater" a few years back and found it to be moderately entertaining.

    https://rpggeek.com/rpg/5081/narnia-solo-games

  13. Mack (JesusAslanFreak) says:

    This actually looks super fun! I'd love to read it.

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