Monday, October 30, 2017

Planet Narnia by Michael Ward

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.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Unique Book Titles

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish
Life has been kind of hectic lately and I haven’t done a Top Ten Tuesday in a while, but this one shouldn’t take too much thought or time…and I have definitely been drawn to a book by its title (though, that hasn’t always resulted in a fascinating read), so I thought I’d play along today.
October 24: Top Ten Unique Book Titles
The Catcher in the Rye – This first title is so well known that it doesn’t hardly seem to qualify, but if you think about the title – it’s a bit odd, and it’s still a bit odd if you know of the main characters comments that led to the title.
Catch-22 – Similarly, the title and resulting vernacular is well known, but again rather unusual.
A Clockwork Orange – The true meaning of the title is a subject of debate.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – taken from a nursery rhyme.
The Day of the Locust – I read it, and I don’t know how the title applies.
The Sheltering Sky – I’m not sure if it’s unique, but I think it’s a beautiful, enticing title.
The Crying of Lot 49 – Haven’t read it, the title intrigues me.
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler – I picked this up because the title really grabbed me, mysterious and romantic. I read it years ago and have to reread it before posting my thoughts.
Remembrance of Things Past aka In Search of Lost Time – My current read. I like both titles, the first is a very loose interpretation, but derived from Shakespeare. The second is a literal translation of the French title. So far, I like either title more than the book.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – a fantastic farce with a suitably silly title. Also due for a reread.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

A Wedding and a Funeral - NOVA this Week

Observations from my weekly wanderings, usually in Northern Virginia (NOVA).

This is really from a couple weeks ago, but I didn’t quite have the heart or the time to write about it before.

My wife and I were to travel to Michigan for a wedding. A few days before our departure I got one of those late night calls that fill you with uneasiness, merely by the lateness of the hour. Fortunately, those calls are seldom as bad as the feeling of dread they evoke. However, in this case, my trepidation was well founded.

A cousin had taken his own life.

Not just any cousin. We were best friends, only a year apart – we grew up together.

I know there are many who will read this and then express their sympathy. I will of course be grateful for the kindness; but please rest assured – I am OK.

I just want to write about memories.

A couple days after receiving the terrible news, I was taking a break from grief and doing what I do, reading with movie soundtracks playing in the background.

I was reading Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust. It is very much about memories – involuntary memories, such as those evoked by sight or smell that can take us back to nearly forgotten THINGS from our PAST.

I’ve heard the sense of smell is one of the strongest involuntary memory stimuli, and I’ve certainly experienced it. Many times I’ve chanced upon some smell that instantly takes me back to: my childhood home, my Grandma’s attic, the fields and streams of my youth, or other nearly forgotten places.

But a friend recently mentioned that she found music to be powerfully evocative of things past. I’m certain she’s right.

As I was reading my book about involuntary memory, my consciousness was taking a respite from sadness, even while my subconscious wrestled with learning to grieve. The online soundtrack station has a diverse repertoire; slowly a sound filled the room with melancholy and my eyes with tears.

Theme from To Kill a Mockingbird composed and conducted by Elmer Bernstein

I was familiar with this soundtrack as it is from a favorite movie and favorite book, but I had NEVER heard it on this station before, and was certainly not expecting it.

When it started, soft and low, little more than piano and flute, I immediately dropped my book to listen; when the orchestra joins in at 1:38 it brought all my emotions to the fore.

I can’t say this music truly reminds me of my childhood, but it does evoke memories of Harper Lee’s powerful story of innocence, courage, love, and loyalty – and those thoughts indeed bring back simple, happy memories with my cousin.

To Kill a Mockingbird is also about ignorance, injustice, and learning not to despair when you don’t win every battle.

My cousin didn’t learn that I guess.

I’ll never listen to the Mockingbird theme again without thinking of my cousin. I’m confident with time, the sad and tragic memories will fade, displaced by the happy and innocent.

Oh and…the wedding was a joy; the bride, my niece, was beautiful.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Resident Patient by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Resident Patient by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle                                                              A Sherlock Holmes short story

The Resident Patient is part of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes collection.

Holmes and Watson take a leisurely stroll about London, vicinity Baker Street.

For three hours we strolled about together, watching the kaleidoscope of life as it ebbs and flows through Fleet Street and Stand. ~ narrative provided by Dr. Watson of course

They return to find a troubled young doctor and a mysterious case of revenge, murder, poetic justice and the simple false conclusions of the police, all set right by Holmes extraordinary powers of observation and deduction. There is no arrest, as the guilty parties, including the seeming victim are brought to justice beyond the power human principalities.

I liked this a bit more than some other Sherlock Holmes adventures I’ve read. Sometimes, Holmes’ deductions are a bit too perfect – meaning, yes things might be interpreted as he deduces, but they could also be interpreted otherwise. The author makes it all work out perfectly and Holmes is brilliant, but for me it is often a bit of a stretch. In this case however, Holmes’ deductions seem a bit less presumptuous.