Secrets of Narnia Deciphered, Scholar Claims

Josiah Ryan | Staff Writer | Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Secrets of Narnia Deciphered, Scholar Claims

Interview. (CNSNews.com) - Dr. Michael Ward is considered by many scholars to be a leading authority on the Christian writer and theologian C.S. Lewis (1898 - 1963), the author of The Chronicles of Narnia , the second Hollywood adaptation of which, Prince Caspian , is now playing in theaters.

Ward is a former curator of The Kilns, the Oxford home of C.S. Lewis, and a former officer of the Oxford University Lewis Society. In his new book, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis , Ward contends that the seven books of The Chronicles are based upon one of the seven medieval "planets" - Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

In an April 29, 2008, interview with Cybercast News Service, Ward discussed his theory about the seven planets and also explained why he thinks the Prince Caspian tale is relevant to current events.

Cybercast News Service: Explain the thesis of your latest book, Planet Narnia ?
Michael Ward: In Planet Narnia I reveal that C.S Lewis secretly constructed the seven volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia to embody the qualities of the seven medieval planets: The Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. Lewis coordinated the imagery and tradition of each planet with each of the seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia.

This idea is especially evident through Lewis's use of ornamental imagery throughout the seven books. It's also quite clear that Lewis constructed the books in this manner for good Christian reasons.

The thesis of my book brings clarity to the series. When reading through Narnia we are struck by certain oddities or anomalies that are difficult to understand, or seem out of place. One example is the brief appearance of Father Christmas in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

When the reader understands, however, that Lewis used the planet Jupiter, which is associated with joviality, to portray the Christ figure, the warm cheerful character, Father Christmas, does not seem out of place at all.

Countless points of ornamental imagery like this appear throughout the entire series.

Cybercast News Service: Does your view of the Chronicles of Narnia affect the way people should interpret the film Prince Caspian , which opens in theatres on May 16?
Michael Ward: The screen adaptation of Prince Caspian is quite timely in the context of the many anti-war films that have recently bombed at the box office.

C.S. Lewis wrote Prince Caspian about the idea of "just war." The Prince drives King Miraz out of Narnia and recovers his proper throne. It's a civil war and a war of deliverance. Lewis chose the Mars theme for Prince Caspian because Mars is the god of war. Throughout the novel we see themes that are associated with the planet Mars including blood, the color red, war and trees. This story is written to embody and express the qualities of Mars.

Since Prince Caspian is based upon the medieval planet Mars, it is a story about martial valor, bravery, and knightly courage.

Lewis was also attempting to imaginatively acquaint his readers with a chivalric tradition of a medieval knight winning his spurs and doing a great deed for the safety of his kingdom and the glory of God. All this is basically about the idea of just war.

In Prince Caspian Lewis suggests that there is such thing as a just war. Lewis himself had fought in The Great War and he traveled around giving lectures to troops in the Second World War. He wasn't a pacifist and he believed there is such a thing as a just war and that there is a time to fight and a time not to fight. That theme is exemplified through Mars imagery in Prince Caspian.

Lewis once gave a talk to a pacifist society entitled "Why I am Not a Pacifist." He wasn't gung-ho and militaristic, and certainly not jingoistic. He thought wars are a failure but often not as big of a failure as pacifism.

That's why Prince Caspian , if adapted well for the screen, will be a timely film for America.

Cybercast News Service: The last Narnia book was published in 1956. Why has this planetary theme just now been discovered?
Michael Ward: C.S. Lewis was a secretive man. He didn't tell one of his best friends, J.R.R. Tolkien, that he got married for the better part of a year. His autobiography, entitled Surprised by Joy left out so many details that one of his friends remarked that it would have been better named Suppressed by Jack .

People have been looking for years to discover what it is that ties the seven books together. Some people have suggested it is the seven sacraments or even the seven deadly sins, but neither of these theories work. Lewis wasn't a Catholic and the critics that assign each book to a deadly sin each assign different sins to different books.

One reason I think this idea has been overlooked is because as soon as you mention the word astrology to Christians, they think astrology must be occult, pagan and un-Christian.

But C.S. Lewis said that the seven planets were spiritual symbols of permanent value especially worthwhile in his own generation.

Cybercast News Service: Should Christian parents be concerned that The Chronicles of Narnia are apparently based partly upon pagan ideas?
Michael Ward: Astrology isn't necessarily un-Christian. If by astrology you mean worshiping planets or regarding the planets as if they control you, then, yes, it is un- Christian. But astrology simply means the study of planets and there is certainly plenty of good astrology in the Bible.

The three wise men, for example, followed a star to Bethlehem. That is astrology.

Lewis had a Christian approach to mythology. He thought mythology was a dim groping after the truth of God and that paganism at its best was a kind of foretaste of a truth that came to a reality in Christ. So he saw no problem in adopting paganism and baptizing it. He called it "baptized astrology," and for him, that dim foreshadowing included in paganism is summed up in, and included in Christ.

The whole point of this imagery is to show the harmony between the Christ figure and the world he inhabits. Christ isn't just a solitary figure moving on a neutral stage doing things to people. Christ is the one who makes the stage. He is the inner meaning of history. Therefore, there ought to be some sort of harmony between him and his world.

Lewis uses the planet imagery to portray exactly that. I believe that now that we understand the underlying structure we see that the message in The Chronicles of Narnia is far deeper than we had ever imagined.


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