(See update at the end of the post)
If you are reading this, there is pretty good chance you know that Tyndale House decided to stop printing The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. The boy, Alex Malarkey, suffered a horrific car accident when he was six years old but has recently retracted his story about going to and coming back from heaven. The fallout has been an intense media storm.
A good overview of the controversy was published yesterday by the UK Guardian. That paper has some of the communications between Alex Malarkey’s mother and Tyndale House along with Tyndale House’s latest statements on the subject.
A good source for much of the email exchange in 2012 in which Beth Malarkey asked Tyndale to pull the book from print is at Phil Johnson’s blog. At the end of that exchange, Jan Harris Long publisher at Tyndale House said:
Even if we could make a case for breaking our contract, the book could (and probably would) be back in print with another publisher within a few weeks. So I don’t think that would achieve your goal.
In those emails, Beth Malarkey made a pretty good case that Tyndale should investigate the facts in the book and ask Kevin Malarkey and the book agent some hard questions. Mrs. Malarkey also provided the identity of people mentioned in the book and expressed doubts that those people were interviewed for the project. In other words, leads were given that would have allowed Tyndale to investigate claims in the book. After all, when Mark Driscoll was accused of plagiarism, Tyndale launched an investigation of those allegations. Clearly, Beth Malarkey’s allegations were as serious, if not more so, than those leveled against Driscoll. Last night, I asked Tyndale House if the company conducted an investigation. No replies to my questions as yet.
According to the email exchange, the problems with the story go back to the beginning. In one of the emails, Beth Malarkey said Tyndale employees had heard Alex protest about the inclusion of angels and heaven in the story when he was being interviewed for the book. On April 23, 2012, Beth Malarkey wrote:
From: beth malarkey
Sent: Monday, April 23, 2012 6:46 PM
To: Jan Long Harris
Subject: RE: innaccuracies
Sorry., but I had one more thought….you guys were here. On November 3 & 4, 2009, I had to pull Alex into the room to help him calm down. Some of the team from tyndale were asking him questions about heaven and angels. He made it clear that he did not want a book going in that direction and that he was not supposed to tell. I tried to ask the team members to please not push him on the matter just because Alex had seen things and he was a child. It was made clear soon after that that the title choice and cover picture were not going to be decided by Alex anyway. I am guessing that in November the direction of the story was pretty much already determined just not directly stated to Alex. So you see, Alex has spoken directly to team members before…..
Jan Harris Long replied that she was unaware of Alex’s feelings about including heaven and angels. However, if Beth Malarkey is correct, then someone at Tyndale knew the book did not properly reflect the sentiment of the child author. Tyndale had more than enough to go on in 2012 to launch an investigation.
On February 24, 2013, Beth Malarkey again wrote to Jan Harris Long claiming that Alex was being exploited.
From: beth malarkey
Sent: Sunday, February 24, 2013 5:23 PM
To: Jan Long Harris
Subject: Re: Conference call?is
It has been almost a year since my last correspondence with your group. I have learned much and gained much strength as I continue on this journey. I did receive more phone calls after that last email that I exchanged with you, as well as some mail, but i really saw no point in forwarding those things onto your group. I was extremely disappointed that all that seemed to want to be accomplished was some changes to materials to try to improve what was claimed to be(by me)inaccurate. The real issues of what was being done (and is still being done) with my son never really seemed to be a concern. I was told that Kevin is in contract with you, which I am guessing is the reason that he was forwarded all the emails that I sent to you.(He told me that he was sent each page). His threats of not being believed if I spoke up seem to be true. I was told by you that you can not tell someone how to spend their money. I am ALex Malarkey’s mom and only caregiver but yet I am not allowed to know what legal contracts were signed with my minor, dependent child’s name possibly on them? If he is indeed a coauthor, he would be entitled to at least 50% of the royalties. Have any checks been written to him? He is a medicaid recipient and can not have money so if money has been sent to him, where is it? How can all of this be allowed to go on?? This is not an issue of just truth not being told but something much deeper and yet it being promoted and encouraged. I have sought much counsel on the matter and the one thing that I can do is take care of my kids and tell the truth. This is not something that a child needs to be asked about but adults need to examine very closely for the possible wrongs and then take action. A child is being exploited and that is truth. His name is being used on materials that are selling because people believe they are reading his words, and that he is benefiting financially from the sales of the materials, neither of which is true.
Long wrote back on March 4 to say she was sorry the book was a source of distress. Long indicated that she had taken up some of Malarkey’s questions with the book agent, Matt Jacobson, although she didn’t disclose Jacobson’s answers. She told Malarkey that the reason Kevin Malarkey was getting the royalties is because he entered into the contract with Tyndale House. Long promised to send Alex royalties if Kevin allowed it contractually. Apparently that never happened. I have made efforts to contact Kevin Malarkey with no success.
By this time, Beth Malarkey had made a clear case for exploitation and Tyndale House had grounds to launch an investigation, not only about the facts of the book but the exploitation of the minor child being used to sell the book. It is amazing that this was allowed to go on for as long as it did. Given the information now available, it appears that the ball is again in the court of Tyndale House and their contractual partners. The burden is on them to try to make things right with those they have used and duped.
UPDATE: Yesterday, Tyndale House released a statement to Christianity Today and on their website.
Tyndale said that they put the book on “out-of-print status” and informed retailers that products could be returned. Regarding what the publisher knew and when, Tyndale said:
While it was only this past week that Alex Malarkey retracted his story, leading to Tyndale’s immediate decision to take the book out of print, our editors had tried on multiple occasions to meet with the family to correct any perceived inaccuracies,” stated Tyndale. “On several occasions in 2012, Tyndale reached out to Beth Malarkey to schedule a meeting to respond to a list of alleged inaccuracies in the book. After originally agreeing to a meeting, Mrs. Malarkey sent us an email on May 22, 2012, saying that, out of concern for her son, she no longer wished to meet.
As I demonstrated above, if Beth Malarkey’s allegations are true (and they were not denied by Tyndale at the time), Tyndale’s process from the beginning was flawed. The boy did not want material regarding heaven and angels in the book, and yet claims about heaven and angels make up a large part of the book. Alex Malarkey did not co-write the book and, according to his mother, protested at least some of the content from the beginning. Tyndale has yet to address this claim from Alex’s mother.
Furthermore, as I demonstrate above, the May 22, 2012 email was not the last effort Alex’s mother made to reach out to Tyndale. Again in 2013, she wrote to Jan Harris Long and asked for help to end the exploitation of her son.
Tyndale’s statement ends with the May 22 email as if Malarkey’s decision not to meet on Tyndale’s terms was decisive and sufficient to relieve them of obligation. However, Malarkey did reach out again. Also, in my opinion, Tyndale’s responsibility to investigate the claims made by Malarkey was not relieved by Malarkey’s May 22, 2012 email. She had already given them sufficient information to prompt an investigation.