That Time C.S. Lewis Made Fun of Benedict Cumberbatch

benedict cumberbatch endearing look peopleWell, not quite. Benedict Cumberbatch had the audacity to be born 15 years after C.S. Lewis died. But Lewis would have mocked him, and mocked him hard, had he the chance.

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.

benedict cumberbatch smouldering lookIf 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.

benedict cumberbatch smouldering look sherlock

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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40 Responses to That Time C.S. Lewis Made Fun of Benedict Cumberbatch

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    What an interesting casting idea (nicely supported by the eyes of the “smouldering-look” photo in comparison to Williams’s in one of the best-known photos of him)! Have you seen the Stoppard-Cumberbatch dramatization (so to call it) of Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy, Parade’s End ? I dither between curiosity and fear, with fear winning so far.

    Ford keeps coming up among ‘the Seven’, one way and another… Apparently both he and Chesterton worked for the War Propaganda Bureau – together with Conan Doyle. And Williams has a good review of Ford’s Mightier Than the Sword, which has even been included in an anthology of Ford criticism. And Ford’s treatment of single command in the Great War in Parade’s End really makes Williams’s use of the phrase light up for me in his poem, “Mount Badon”. And then there’s Dorothy Sayers’ inclusion of Ford’s “Riesenberg” (1911) in the Second Series of Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror (1931), which Hobbit fans really ought to read, if they haven’t already (it’s apparently much anthologized – with good reason, I’d say).

    I suppose it’s only a coincidence that that great interpreter of Sherlock Holmes, Jeremy Brett, also starred in a dramatization of a Ford novel, The Good Soldier (which I have not yet caught up with)…

    And now Cumberbatch is turning to ‘Crookback’, though I’d be apprehensive if I were he, when I think how monstrously they abridged Tom Hiddleston’s Henry V!

    Like

    • I haven’t seen the Ford thing, no. I love what Cumberbatch does, but he works quicker than I can follow! Thanks for the reading tips!
      btw, You might be horrified by the Charles WIlliams film I have in my head–or you might not. One that tries to hold the tensions of his personality together, looping three generations together (his, a generation of readers today, and one that has characters in his Descent into Hell living out loud).

      Like

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I’d have to see just how you did it, to discover whether I was horrified or not – the idea as far as you sketch it sounds like a fascinating and inspired building out of the simultaneity-of-times aspect of Descent into Hell! (I am also reminded of the dream-experience (and time travel?) approach of Raymond Saint-Jean’s Out of Mind (in which I delight, as I mentioned before), where contemporary characters – one in a Lovecraft t-shirt!, Lovecraft himself in the 1920s-30s, and characters and ‘things’ in his stories interact.)

        I think (semi-spoiler alert?) Wentworth is as it were a partial self-potrait and Stanhope another, in Descent into Hell, but I have wondered about the experience of a young woman reader from anytime between 1937 and 1945 who got acquainted with Williams expecting – and at first finding – Stanhope – and then going on to find the Williams of Lois Lang-Sims’s experience, as well.

        Like

        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          By the way, listening to snippets of Cumberbatch talking about his experience of playing Christopher Tietjens in Parade’s End makes me think he might really take to the idea of trying to hold the tensions of Williams personality together in playing him!

          Liked by 1 person

        • I have been playing with the dichotomy of CW’s character. I see that CSL once clarified in print that he did not say that there was a dichotomy between CW’s beliefs and thoughts. But there is some dialectic at play. In that way, Stanhope is too good, and Wentworth too bad. It makes it perfect if we (as I do) think of dialectic rather than dichotomy. I use the phrase “authentic hypocrisy.”
          Descent into Hell is a play within a play. My script is a play within a book within a film.

          Like

  2. WriteFitz says:

    Ha! This was so much fun! I think you nailed it. But I don’t think anyone, even Lewis, could argue that Cumberbatch is anything less than genius (along with the writing) for Sherlock. Not a lot of guys could pull off that sociopath, rapid-fire dialogue like him. Poor guy, he and the Cumberlege character didn’t choose their own names 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hanna says:

    I’m not the biggest Cumberbatch fan in the world, but I could definitely see him as the intense, brooding, homely poet to whom women are inexplicably attracted.

    Like

  4. wanderwolf says:

    If this indeed happens (Cumberbatch playing Williams), you called it!

    Like

  5. jubilare says:

    Snerk. You had me laughing several times, here.
    Thank you, by the way, for prodding me a little via e-mail. It helped to motivate me. ^_^
    I know you were already given one of these, so don’t feel like you have to go through any rigamarole. I just really wanted to link you: https://jubilare.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/dragons-loyalty-award/

    Liked by 1 person

  6. LOL! Love it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. jubilare says:

    Depends on the mythology, David! I know some of the Asian dragons can shapeshift… I don’t think that would make them were-dragons, but it makes them… um… shifty? In a good way.

    Like

    • Fun discussion to wake up to!
      When do the first good dragons come in? In our Dragon Rider generation, we can hardly remember the ancient Wurme.

      Like

      • jubilare says:

        I don’t think that’s so… the ancient wyrms still seem to be about in the minds of men. I do wonder if the fairly benign (though still not to be crossed…) dragons of the Asian world mixed with nordic breeds to create something very complex.

        Like

        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          One big exception to Recent Good Dragons that springs to mind is in Walter Wangerin’s The Book of the Dun Cow (1978: but still available, and now the first part of a trilogy completed in 2013).

          I also wonder about the goodness of some Western dragons in emblems, heraldry, the Welsh flag, and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History, etc. A ‘Pendragon’ does not simply suggest striking fear into hearts by brute force…

          Liked by 1 person

          • jubilare says:

            ❤ Gah, I love that book. It's been far too long since I read it. It is a very symbolic book, though. I think the less symbolic a book is, in Western lit, at least, the less likely it will have out-and-out evil dragons.

            You're right, though. Even historically, not all western dragons are viewed negatively, though I think they always carry connotations of danger and power.

            Like

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            One of my firends, who loved it, told me The Books of Sorrows was one of the saddest things he’d ever read – which has scared me off trying it for years. Now, it has apparently been revised as part of the trilogy: maybe it’s time to buck up, and read all three in rapid succession. (Not having read the second, I had not really thought of reading the third, separately…)

            Like

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      jubilare,

      Thanks!

      Asian dragons are something I only know enough about to have got me to insert the cautious “if limited” above. (Also, my familiarity with Dragons of Fiction since The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (and posthumously-published Tolkien) is dodgy in the extreme.) I seem to remember Madam Mim shape-shifting to dragon shape in the Disney version of The Sword in the Stone, but don’t remember if it’s in T.H. White, or someting also found in other shape-shifting duels (Puss in Boots retellings?!). But, as you say, shape-shifting seems distinct from specific ‘Were-‘ status.

      Well, I do know one interesting thing about Asian dragons: their contribution to paleoanthropology (thanks to G.H.R. von Koeningswald’s shopping for their teeth, as he most enjoyably recounts in Meeting Prehistoric Man (1956) – if that is indeed the English translation of the book I read in Dutch translation!).

      Like

      • jubilare says:

        I think a wizard/witch/sorcerer taking dragon form would be a different thing, too, from either human-turning-dragon a-la-Fafnir/Eustace.

        My dragons, like their Eastern kin, can make themselves look human, but they are still very-much dragons. I think a wizard with the shape of a dragon would still think like a wizard. But Eustace and Fafnir turn into dragons in a far deeper sense.

        For a pretty good break-down of the Western/Eastern dragon types as they now stand can be found here, if you’re interested: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OurDragonsAreDifferent

        Beware, though. If you are at all unfamiliar with tvtropes.org, it is something of a black-hole that can swallow weeks worth of time if care is not taken. 😉

        Like

        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Thanks for the link – a nice overview! – and the warning (I can wander dangerously from the path in a ‘Concise’ dictionary…!).

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Bookish Links — May 2015 | Book Geeks Anonymous

  9. Tolkien056 says:

    How do you think J. R. R. Tolkien would have thought of Benedict Cumberbatch being the voice of Smaug?

    Like

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