Were The Chronicles of Narnia 'composed in a hasty and slapdash manner' as Lewis’ friend J. R. R. Tolkien stated, or 'products of a mind in psychological shock' as Lewis critic Wilson described?
Or – is there meaning more profound hidden in plain sight?
Why would a childless academic, theologian, poet, and writer suddenly decide to write a children’s story? How could the result, if it be so simple as some decried, stand the test of time and have such widespread appeal?
Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis is Michael Ward’s scholarly examination of The Chronicles wherein he presents evidence that Lewis did indeed use mythological untruths to hint at theological truths, a practice he did not invent but may have learned from Milton, Dante, or Chaucer. Lewis may have been quietly laughing up his sleeve at his detractors.
Ward’s major premise appears to be that Lewis used characteristics of the seven medieval (pre-Copernican) planets – Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Luna, Mercury, Venus, and Saturn, and their associated mythology, as themes, one for each of the seven books of The Chronicles. More importantly, Lewis used the qualities of each planetary deity, to portray via subtle imagery the attributes of the Christ figure Aslan.
…each planet, as a symbol of Christ, represents the ‘all-pervasive principle of concretion or cohesion whereby the universe holds together’
Lewis believed that the romantic or poetic is at least as compelling as many scholarly arguments. It seems appropriate then that The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis’ most beloved and widely read work, should supersede his scholarly, but poorly received apologetic Miracles. Ward’s minor premise may be that The Chronicles were Lewis poetic answer to his more academic Miracles.
I would do injustice to Ward and Lewis should I attempt to defend Ward’s position. I will just state that he convinced me. I was at first dubious at the use of pagan polytheistic symbols by a Christian author to portray Christ, but Ward points out that medieval cosmology was a lifelong passion of Lewis’ used frequently in his other works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Lewis believed that…
symbolism exists precisely for the purpose of conveying to the imagination what the intellect is not ready for.
I won’t attempt to explain Ward’s position in any detail; for that I recommend the book, but I will offer a few examples of the planetary symbology that Lewis portrayed as…
spiritual symbols of permanent value
Jupiter or Jove chases away winter, is the bringer of jollity, influences people so they turn into helms of nations, and is of course Sovereign – themes often repeated in The Lion the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and attributes of Aslan. Also, the children often use the phrase “by Jove”, which is seldom used in elsewhere in the Narniaed.
Mars is important to plant life, and symbolic of war, major themes in Prince Caspian
Sol (the Sun) is the source of gold and makes men wise – recurring themes in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. And of course, even the title is evocative of the Sun.
Luna (the moon) is the source of silver, a theme of The Silver Chair, but the most convincing symbol is the central theme of madness or lunacy.
Mercury the deity of languages and speed. In astrology, Mercury rules Gemini or the twins and has a theme of “same but sundered” In The Horse and His Boy, twins Cor (Shasta) and Corin are separated at birth but reunited in the tale. There is even at one point in this book a Narnian lord who wears a silver helmet with wings on each side.
Venus the morning star (a Biblical name for Christ), is also known as a comical spirit explaining why The Magician’s Nephew contains more humor than any of the other Chronicles.
Saturn is symbolic of Father Time, and time marks the end of Narnia in The Last Battle. The concept of time, aging, and death are evident in this Chronicle which has more death than the other Chronicles combined.
These are only small peaks at Ward’s logic. For me, the evidence is overwhelming. I don’t often read books about books, or books about authors, but Lewis is an exception. If you have read The Chronicles of Narnia, I highly recommend Planet Narnia.
Thus, in the Lion they become monarchs under sovereign Jove; in Prince Caspian they harden under strong Mars,; in The Dawn Treader they drink light under searching Sol; in the Silver Chair they learn obedience under subordinate Luna; in The Horse and His Boy they come to love poetry under eloquent Mercury; in the Magician’s Nephew they gain life-giving fruit under fertile Venus; and in The Last Battle they suffer and die under chilling Saturn.