I read a great one last week: The Stone Table by Francis Spufford. No, don’t bother to look for it on Goodreads or Amazon. You won’t find it there. Francis Spufford is a literary craftsman of the highest degree, well regarded for novels like Golden Hill and Red Plenty, as well as a Christian essayist out of the Anglican tradition. He wrote Table after his daughter fell in love with the Narnia books, polished them off, and began to wistfully wish for more. He set out to see if he couldn’t make something up for her, and gradually became obsessed with trying to capture Lewis’s exact tone and sensibility.
And so, he wound up composing a really ludicrously beautiful work of fan fiction, that slots perfectly into the established Narnia chronology (and even fills in a couple important narrative gaps). For myself, I found this new tale of Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer a pure pleasure, from first page to last. It’s a great adventure, with a menacing (and sort of hilarious) giant, sinister spellcraft, and delightful transformations. To my mind, though, Spufford’s real accomplishment is in the way he captured Lewis’s wit. People forget how funny the Narnia books are. Let me remind you. Lewis began one of the Narnia novels:
“There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.”
I will never write a sentence that good in my life and neither will you… but to his credit, Spufford comes very close on a couple of occasions.
Some have floated the idea — the hope — that the Lewis estate might allow publication of the book as an authorized continuation. Without their permission, The Stone Table will remain an unseen world until 2034, which is when the copyright protection runs out.
One hopes they’ll give it a look, ey? They’re under no obligation but seems a shame not to at least mull it over. I mean, the Internet is swamped with fan fiction, and I’m sure a lot of it is crap (Sturgeon’s Law and all that). J.K. Rowling isn’t required to read anyone’s Harry/Luna slash, let alone publish it (even though, let’s face it, Harry belonged with Luna, and anyone who says different is probably a Dementor).
Still. As Michael Chabon has noted, we’re all writing fan fiction. One of the ideas I kick around in Full Throttle, the next collection, is the idea that almost all of my stories have been in conversation with the writers and artists that most thrilled me: my parents, Tom Savini, Dave McKean, Bradbury, etc. How many mystery writers set out simply to recapture the way the stories of Agatha Christie or Conan Doyle made them feel? The names have been changed to protect the guilty, but those influences can still be detected if you have a keen eye. There’s always a market for stories written with compassion, imagination, humor, and care, whether they occur in a wholly original world or have been located in a previously created universe (raise your hand if you think the Zahn Star Wars novels were 1000% better than the prequels). In this case the question is only whether the license holders are open to it, and only they can answer that. I’ll be interested to see which way they break.