After the death of Charles Williams, Lewis was gathering a few essays together in honour of his work. Lewis was not great with business details, but he managed to get a publishing contract for the book with Oxford University Press–the place where Charles Williams worked most of his adult life. Lewis’ correspondence in late 1945 is filled with humorous and personal letters about the project.
In one of these letters, Lewis wrote the following to mystery writer and Dante translator Dorothy L. Sayers:
You notice of course that Sir Humphrey [the previous publisher of OUP] has retired and been succeeded at the press by some very new-broomish person with a name like Blunderbore or Cumberback.
Or Cumberbatch, I suspect.
Lewis was really wrapping two mockeries into a single, efficient beat down. First, Lewis was mocking young upstarts in general, and I don’t know anyone who is more of an upstart than Benedict Cumberbatch. Sherlock, The Hobbit, The Fifth Estate, 12 Years a Slave, The Imitation Game, Star Trek–Master Cumberbatch is even taking the very best audiobook parts. Is there any role that Cumberbatch won’t steal? I mean, let other kids play for a while!
Second, Lewis was poking fun at a grand pretentious name. In this case it was Geoffrey Fenwick Jocelyn Cumberlege. Really? Yes, that was the new publisher’s full name. Sort of rhymes with Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch, doesn’t it? If it is possible, Cumberbatch’s name is even more pretentious.
If you look at the letters that passed between Lewis and Sayers, you can see the fun they were having. After Lewis wrote his demonic letters between Screwtape and Wormwood–with Slubgob and Slumtrimpet in supporting roles–Sayers wrote her own Screwtapian fan letter, mentioning the demons Guttlehog and Grobberscritch. Demonic naming was great fun for the literary pair.
Cumberlege-Cumberback-Cumberbatch, though, sounds even closer to the Narnian dwarfs, like Bricklethumb, Thornbut, and, of course, Trumpkin. Lewis also had bulgy dwarf names like Rogin, Poggin, and Griffle, so it is a toss up whether he was going for aristocratic dwarf or high class demon.
Let’s go with Benedict Cumberbatch as demon-dwarf. True, an incredibly handsome, fashionable demon-dwarf, but a demon-dwarf nonetheless.
Perhaps I’m being a bit hard on Benedict Cumberbatch. It is probably true that Lewis would have hated most of his work, but he thought pretty much all TV and film was lame. C.S. Lewis did, however, like the Sherlock Holmes books, and might have understood the genius that is the new series.
Moreover–and I’m stepping into deep water here–I think Cumberbatch could solve a riddle for us. Charles Williams expert Sørina Higgins once asked on social media who could play Williams in a film of his life. Williams, according to Lewis, was a particularly ugly man with enigmatic charisma–a draw that women could little explain and hardly resist. He wove a spell for the few short years he lived. If we could age him and give him terrible hair, poorly chosen glasses, and nicotine stains on his fingers, I think Cumberbatch’s spastic energy and firelit eyes would make him a perfect Charles Williams–at least in the screenplay I have in mind.
So, it’s probably best not to tell Master Cumberbatch that Lewis was mocking him. We might need him later.