The Narnia Code (?!) 8


I took some time this morning to catch up on newsfeeds and at Bruce Edwards’ “Further Up & Further In” I came across this traler for a documentary that aired last night in the UK. Watch it first before reading on.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5aPQmoyzXx8&feature=player_embedded

So that left me befuddled. I had not heard of Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis and so had no idea what this was about. A quick search brought up a nice summary in the Guardian and based upon that I have to say, this sounds pretty convincing. You can also read a blog post at OUP’s blog from Michael Ward.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is written to embody the qualities associated with Jupiter – the “king of the seven heavens” who was connected to the passing of winter and the coming of summer, claimed Ward.

“It’s a story of kingship – will Edmund become king under the White Witch or will Peter become High King under Aslan? And it’s a story of the defeat of winter: ‘winter passed and guilt forgiven’, as Lewis put it when describing Jupiter’s influence in his long 1935 poem The Planets,” Ward said.

Prince Caspian, he claimed, is the Mars story – Mars is the god of war, and the novel is the story of the civil war to drive out the usurping King Miraz. Mars is also the god of woods and forests, he added, “hence the continual use of tree imagery throughout the story and the appearance of “silvans” at the final battle, who never appear in any other Chronicle”. Reepicheep, meanwhile, is a “martial” mouse, and Miraz frets over his “martial policy”.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is linked to Sol, or the sun, he said: Aslan is seen flying in a sunbeam, the sun’s rising place, “the very eastern end of the world”, is the ship’s destination, and magical water turns things to gold, the solar metal.

The Silver Chair is linked to Luna, the moon, the planet closest to Earth, according to pre-Copernican astronomers. The Horse and his Boy embodies the qualities of Mercury, Venus is linked to The Magician’s Nephew, and Saturn, “the worst planet, the one whose influence could most easily go bad”, to The Last Battle.

Did anyone in the UK (or with other access to the iPlayer) watch this? Or have you read the book? What do you think about the theory?


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8 thoughts on “The Narnia Code (?!)

  • Bruce Edwards

    Chris,

    There have been many reviews of this work, first published in early 2008, and I’d suggest your readership take a look at the review on my site: http://cslewisblog.com/?p=110. The headlines and documentary focus on Dr. Ward’s work as a “code,” but that diverts attention away from his masterful assessment and delineation of Lewis’ ability to gravitate from symbol and image to narrative and theme in Narnia and elsewhere, founded upon his vast reading and childhood affection for myth and the numinous.

    Dr. Ward’s greatest strength is his treatment of the depth and breadth of Lewis’s imagination and his affection for and indebtedness to the medieval worldview he cherished. I think it should be read not primarily as an overall interpretative scheme for the Narnian tales, but as a invigorating look at the composing process of a remarkable “renaissance” man, whose complexity as a cosmologist rivals that of the more celebrated Tolkien.

    –Bruce Edwards

    • Chris Brady Post author

      Bruce – Thank you very much! Ward’s post on OUP, as short as it is, seems to bear out just what you have said. He has a sensitive and penetrating approach to Lewis’ work. (Shame about the documentary title, however. Too “Dan Brown” for my tastes.)

  • louis hemmings

    as a small-time investor in this film, may i ask, what alternative title would have suited best, Chris? genuinely curious.

    it needed to attract a broad audience. so, titles are important. not sure who christened it NC, whether producer, Norman Stone or author, Michael Ward.

    i think the planetary theory holds good. i wonder what Tolkien would have made of it. somebody should ask Christopher Tolkien.

    i loved the analogy from one of the interviewees about the kettle of boiling water / cup of tea idea. a scientific sceptic watched the film with me & was very impressed with its overall message.

    • Chris Brady Post author

      Louis

      I understand the need for a catchy title to build the audience’s interest and bring in viewers. I think, however, that the title “Narnia Code” (and the cryptic trailer) may be (have been) off-putting to scholars and others because of the bad taste in our mouths from “The Bible Code” and “The Da Vinci Code.”

      Why did they not simply keep the title of Ward’s book? Oh well, it really is a minor comment on my part. I realize there are all sorts of reasons the media and relations folks change things like this.

  • Scott Ferguson

    While everyone is falling over themselves to celebrate this great discovery, that C. S. Lewis managed to weave an astrological theme into the Narnia books, let us not think that this forgives the very issues of character, plot and theology that have attracted critics before Mr. Ward’s “discovery.” This does not wave a magic wand and transform Narnia into a greater work of literature than it was before. Indeed, this may open up further avenues of analysis that may not reflect favorably on Lewis’ fiction writing ability.

    It is not worth my effort to refute the claim that this somehow puts Narnia on par with Middle Earth in terms of creativity and richness.

    • Chris Brady Post author

      Scott, I sense that you have a strong opinion in this matter. Perhaps pro-Tolkien or is it anti-Lewis? I am not falling over myself about this, but I do think it adds another layer to our reading of the Narnia books and that is useful and it seems to me to be a likely interpretation at that. Anytime these sorts of literary discoveries are made it excites those of us in the business of literary criticism, especially when it seems so right and obvious after the fact.

      As for the quality of Narnia, I do not think that Lewis himself would argue overly much with a (poor) comparison with The Lord of the Ring novels. He always maintained a very simple goal and approach to these novels. They were written for young children and hit that target very, very well. (For example, at 9-10 my daughter read these books for herself and enjoyed them, she had read all the Harry Potter books so she is a good reader, but while she can read the level of Tolkien it is not a genre and style that engages her…yet.) No, Lewis did not set out to write a Nordic saga, so to compare Narnia with Middle Earth would be to compare Shakespeare with James Joyce.

      All of that being said, I can’t agree with your suggestion that somehow this reading of the Narnia stories will reduce our appreciation for Lewis’ writing ability. To write a work of children’s fiction that at the same time is able to operate with many additional levels of meaning, to invoke elements of and illusions to medieval myths without destroying the novel as a child’s story is an amazing feat.

      • Mark Sommer

        Chris said: “I can’t agree with your suggestion that somehow this reading of the Narnia stories will reduce our appreciation for Lewis’ writing ability. To write a work of children’s fiction that at the same time is able to operate with many additional levels of meaning, to invoke elements of and illusions to medieval myths without destroying the novel as a child’s story is an amazing feat.”

        Excellent point, and one that Dr. Ward makes himself in the book. I believe Professor Tolkien made the point in “On Fairy-stories” that the best Fairy-stories are those that adults, as well as children, enjoy. I still enjoy reading the Chronicles on the Fairy-story level. I also appreciate the spiritual and ethical lessons they contain. And knowing that there is a hidden structure even further underneath excites the adult in me even more, and gives me much more of an appreciation for what a brilliant man Lewis was.

  • Doug Chaplin

    I’m afraid the programme may have put me off the thesis. It aimed for a typical dramatic structure that seemed a little overblown, as though people had been wondering what was missing in the Narnia books for decades, and then along comes the man who’s discovered the secret. I think the theory was used as too much of an overarching explanation of everything. I am not, for example, convinced that a Jupiter influence on Lion, Witch and Wardrobe explains the presence of Father Christmas (whose presence in a non-Christian world irritated Tolkein intensely with its inconsistency). I suspect that far from an initial grand scheme, aspects of medieval astronomy were more of a conceit Lewis increasingly played with. The attempt to a grand explanation seems a little too “apologetic” even if it raises some interesting insights, but tries to give Lewis the literary seriousness of Tolkein. I just think they were doing different things, as witness not only Tolkein’s dislike of aspects of Narnia but Lewis’ possibly apocryphal response to yet another instalment of LOTR “Not another f*cking elf”