Thursday, June 23, 2011

Planet Narnia

In 2008, I had the pleasure of attending the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute for the second time. Traipsing around Oxford, visiting the Bodleian library, eating at the Eagle and Child, attending service at St. Mary's, and browsing for books at Blackwell's make for a very pleasant holiday. Add the academic sessions, the evening presentations of music and drama, and the other Lewis devotees attending the Institute, and the experience can't be topped.

Among many other optional activities and events, participants at the Institute can choose one of several three-day seminars to attend in the afternoon. Three years ago, while several topics on the seminar list looked promising, a series on The Chronicles of Narnia really caught my eye. The description spoke of connections between the Narnia books and the traditional characters of the planets, a topic of interest to Lewis as anyone who has read his space trilogy knows. The blurb went on to say that the session leader, Dr. Michael Ward, would base the sessions on his recent book, Planet Narnia. So I sent in my reservation for that seminar, checked the book out of the OU library, and was blown away.

Ward says in his introduction, essentially, "I know this sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory, but I believe I have found the secret principle of the organization of the Narnia books." The idea struck him, he says when reading a poem by Lewis on the planets, a poem containing these lines about Jove (i.e. Jupiter):
Of wrath ended
And woes mended, of winter passed
And guilt forgiven, and good fortune
Jove is master . . . 
Ward thought, "That sounds like the plot of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." Studying the seven novels in the Narnia series and everything Lewis wrote about the planets, Ward continued to find parallels that ultimately convinced him he had found the secret. And then he wrote a book that convinced me; each detail in the theory seems fortuitous in isolation, but the consistency of the parallels proves overwhelming in the end.

Take The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for instance, which Ward links with the Sun. The Sun gives light and is traditionally associated with gold; in the book, the heroes sail along a sunbeam and at one point discover a pool of water that turns everything it touches to gold. The Magician's Nephew with its creation story draws inspiration from Venus, long associated not only with love (of various kinds) but also with birth, growth, and creation. In traditional, Ptolemaic cosmology, the sphere of the moon divides the universe into the perfect world above and the changeable world below. In The Silver Chair, readers find an underground world ruled by a witch who denies the truth of the glorious world above; in the meantime, Prince Rilian has been turned into a luna-tic and sits in a chair made of the metal alchemists linked to the moon.

In reading The Last Battle last week, I kept in mind Dr. Ward's linkage of that book and the character of Saturn, a god of death, coldness, and judgment. In Greek, Saturn is Kronos (or Time), and at one point in the book, Aslan calls upon Father Time to bring an end to Narnia. In this book about the end of the world, I wasn't surprised to come across many references to death and judgment, but I hadn't remembered how how many times silence came up. Many times the heroes have to move silently and work at whispering without saying S's, whose hiss might give them away. Some characters stay reticent by choice, while others are silenced supernaturally. Lewis also associates Saturn with silence (and time) in a passage from That Hideous Strength describing the sensation of weight that fills the room when the angel of Saturn descends to earth:
It was a mountain of centuries sloping up from the highest antiquity we can conceive, up and up like a mountain whose summit never comes into sight, not to eternity where the thought can rest, but into more and still more time, into freezing wastes and silence of unnameable numbers.
I looked up that quotation because I remembered the silence, but it surprised me just now to see mention of a "mountain whose summit never comes into sight," an image that comes up again near the very end of The Last Battle. That find deepens my conviction that Michael Ward has indeed found the secret of The Chronicles of Narnia, but I'm sure my few examples won't convince anyone else who's never heard the theory before. If you're interested in finding out more, visit Dr. Ward's website, and then read the book. If you're like me at all (and who wouldn't want to be?), you'll find that this theory deepens your reading of both the Narnia series and the space trilogy.

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