Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis Illustrated Edition
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"I cannot contain my admiration. No other book on Lewis has ever shown such comprehensive knowledge of his works and such depth of insight. This will make Michael Ward's name." --Walter Hooper, Literary Adviser to the Estate of C.S. Lewis
"Noting Michael Ward's claim that he has discovered "the secret imaginative key" to the Narnia books, the sensible reader responds by erecting a castle of scepticism. My own castle was gradually but utterly demolished as I read this thoughtful, scholarly, and vividly-written book. If Ward is wrong,
his wrongness is cogent: it illuminates and delights. But I don't think he is wrong. And in revealing the role of the planets in the Chronicles, Ward also gives us the fullest understanding yet of just how deeply Lewis in his own fiction drew upon those medieval and renaissance writers he so loved."
--Alan Jacobs, Professor of English, Wheaton College and author of The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis
"Michael Ward presents an absorbing, learned analysis of C.S. Lewis's bestselling and beloved series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Readily accessible to the average reader, Ward's book reads so much like a detective story that it's difficult to put down." --Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. M.D., Professor of
Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and author of The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud
"All who have enjoyed the The Chronicles of Narnia and indeed are interested in any aspect of Lewis's imaginative work should read Michael Ward's book. He argues convincingly for a hitherto unrecognized inner structure of the Chronicles, and gives excellent reasons for understanding why Lewis should
have worked in such a mysterious way, his wonders to perform. Ward has an encyclopedic knowledge of Lewis's writings and uses it to support his theory that each of the seven volumes of the The Chronicles of Narnia is based on the classical, medieval and renaissance mythography of one of the then
seven planets. Even those critics who dislike the Narnia books in principle because of their implicit Christianity must consider their planetary structure and its significance. Michael Ward has made an outstanding contribution to Lewis studies." --Derek Brewer, Emeritus Professor of English,
University of Cambridge
"Planet Narnia is not simply one for the fans. Lewis had, and has, many enemies. This brilliant study may not persuade them that he was right, but it should convince them of his extraordinary subtlety." --The Independent
"MIchael Ward's stunning work of scholarship has shone a celestial light on the Chronicles of Narnia, and it will undoubtedly send many old friends of Narnia back through the wardrobe to explore the land again with new eyes."--Church of England Newspaper
"An argument which is at once subtle and sensible, a combination not often found in modern academic writing. . . . This is an outstanding guide not only to Narnia, but also to Lewis's thinking as a whole, and to the 'genial' medieval world-view which he so much loved and wished to restore, not in
fact but through fantasy."--Books & Culture
"Planet Narnia is one of the most creative works of scholarship I have read. . . . Ward has made a brilliant discovery. . . . [B]y thinking seriously about Lewis's life-long interest in the medieval imagination, Ward has uncovered a symbolic structure in the seven books that deepens both their
literary and theological significance. He also reveals Lewis to be a better writer than we knew . . . [A]n important work of scholarship . . . absorbing . . . serious . . . rich . . . a brilliant work to be savoured, read often and kept at hand when re-reading Lewis's novels."--The Catholic Register
"Brilliantly conceived. Intellectually provocative. Rhetorically convincing. A panegyric is not the usual way to begin a book review, but Michael Ward's Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis is worthy of such praise. I do not mean to suggest it is a perfect book, yet what
Ward attempts - the first rigorously comprehensive reading of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia - is magisterial . . . stimulating and engaging . . . important . . . thoughtful, informed, perceptive. . . . [E]very serious student of Lewis should buy Planet Narnia. In effect, it is the starting point
from now forward for all serious scholarly discussions of the Chronicles of Narnia."--Christianity and Literature
"This feat of scholarly detective work will absorb your attention from start to finish. Michael Ward proposes a heretofore unnoticed structure that unifies the Chronicles of Narnia, based on Lewis's lifelong engagement with medieval astrology. . . . The result is both surprising and
"Ward builds up a painstaking case based on Lewis's other writings, particularly his works on the medieval world-view and his "planetary" trilogy. And a compelling case it is, too, built on exhaustive evidence of the way in which Lewis the Christian convert still found the imaginative universe of
paganism and medieval astrology rich and allusive. . . . Ward's painstaking scholarship should help dispel two critical stereotypes: Lewis the unsubtle Christian propagandist, and Lewis the literary Reliant Robin parked next to the Rolls-Royce that is J.R.R. Tolkien."--Church Times
"Ward's contention, simply stated, is breathtakingly elegant." --The Journal of Religion
"One comes away from this study convinced that Ward's theory is believable, particularly given Lewis's knowledge of medieval scholarship and Christianity. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers, all levels."--Choice
"All Narnia specialists should read this book . . . the lengthy footnotes and interesting illustrations paralleling Pauline Baynes's artistry with classical pictures of the gods are further evidence of meticulous research. . . . Ward's discovery is crucial to our appreciation of Narnia."--Christian
Librarian: The Journal of the Librarians' Christian Fellowship
"An intriguing analysis."--Sacramento News & Reviews
"The work that can be considered the most groundbreaking is Michael Ward's Planet Narnia. This text offers an entirely new way of understanding and reading both Lewis's science fiction Space Trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia...Far from spoiling or seeming to devalue the message and rich beauty of
Lewis' works, Ward's revelations serve to deepen one's appreciation for and understanding of them. Ward is a thorough and careful guide who provides an in-depth textual study of how Lewis's fascination with the medieval understanding of the cosmos is found throughout the texts."--Anglican and
About the Author
Michael Ward, Fellow of Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford.
- Publisher : Oxford University Press; Illustrated edition (January 15, 2008)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 347 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0195313879
- ISBN-13 : 978-0195313871
- Item Weight : 1.56 pounds
- Dimensions : 9.2 x 1.3 x 6.4 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,154,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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As most other reviews have found, the author’s evidence and argument are persuasive on the whole. But what is the import of this hidden symbolism? On the one hand, the book can come across as a long but trivial easter-egg hunt: Mars is associated with war, trees, iron and woodpeckers, and oh look, in Prince Caspian the children enter Narnia in a thick forest to fight in a war, there are iron bars on a wooden chest in an armory, woodland dryads battle the Telmarines, and arrows striking trees sound like a woodpecker! And so on and so forth.
But Lewis had more in mind than merely “conducting a playful literary experiment, curious to know whether his readers would recognize the Chronicles symbolic structure.” (234). Rather, Lewis was determined to communicate eternal truths through symbols and fairy tale - rather than reason and apologetics - in the aftermath of his humiliating loss in a public debate to a young philosophy student who had openly challenged his argument against naturalism in his apologetical work Miracles, A Preliminary Study. (215.) According to the author, Lewis recast his philosophical arguments from Miracles into imaginative story-telling and symbolism in the Chronicles, thereby pre-empting further rational critique. (219)
Lewis was inclined toward the Jungian theory that universal archetypes are present in the human subconscious, and these primordial presences could be invoked through symbols that represented the type. (229) Citing Jung, Lewis stated, “Fairy tale liberates Archetypes which dwell in the collective unconscious.” (229.) Consequently, it does not matter that the modern reader lacks training in the classics so as to associate fighting and iron and trees with Mars because the same inner urgings that led the ancients to Ares continue to operate in modern man below the level of consciousness.
If you can steep a man’s imagination with enough battles, trees, iron and woodpeckers, you can tap the same vein that caused his ancestors to worship the god of war. Likewise, get someone immersed in a story with “conjugating” beasts, “climactic” scenes, “orgasmic” moments, comely women and copper, and eventually their inner being will be tingling for Venus, the goddess of erotic desire. (179-182). According to the author, Lewis’s skill at secretly arousing the planetary archetypes universally present within all humans accounts for the Chronicles’ broad-based popularity. (230-231.)
The main drawback here is that the author simply accepts the underlying assumption that there really is a collective unconscious of primordial archetypes that symbolically manifest through human imagination in the form of ancient myths and fairy tales. If that foundation itself is but a cleverly devised myth - and the author offers nothing to prove otherwise - then the whole edifice collapses into a “playful literary experiment.” An amusement, and little more.
The author devotes significant space to the question of why Lewis never mentioned his grand unifying theory of the Chronicles; but that’s a no-brainer. If your goal is to send secret coded messages to a person’s subconscious via hidden symbols in a fairy tale, the last thing you’d want to do is tell them about it. That would be akin to an illusionist first explaining his trick to an audience and then trying to fool them with it. If someone reads in The Magician’s Nephew that Fledge’s wings were copper-color and immediately thinks, “There he goes again with those planetary archetypes,” they are not likely to then subconsciously connect with their inner Aphrodite. The whole point of the symbolist’s art is to by-pass the rational mind and directly trigger metaphysical intuition. But once the mind is alerted to the ruse, its then near impossible to “steal past the watchful dragons.”
All this pagan idolatry wouldn’t sit well with the multitudes of Christians who love the Chronicles and whom the author, presumably, would like to buy this book, so the author is quick to point out that the seven gods of mythology subconsciously adored by the Chronicles’ readers are none other than different facets of the Christ-figure Aslan. Though the female sex-goddess Venus presents something of a poser for this schema, “the answer we suggest is that Aslan is feminized” in The Magician’s Nephew. (185.) But this maneuver then begs the question of whether the intent here is to conform the planetary archetypes to Christ, or Christ to the planetary archetypes. In Jungian terms, the question reduces to: is Christ a primordial unconscious archetype? The Jungian answer is yes, and the author's thesis is aligned with this response.
Skeptics will insist that the branches here are just too skinny, but in Ward’s defense is Lewis himself: "Supposing you had before you a manuscript of some great work, either a symphony or a novel. There then comes to you a person, saying, 'Here is a new bit of the manuscript that I found; it is the central passage of that symphony, or the central chapter of that novel. The text is incomplete without it. I have got the missing passage which is really the center of the whole work.' The only thing you could do would be to put this new piece of the manuscript in that central position, and then see how it reacted on the whole of the rest of the work. If it constantly brought out new meanings from the whole of the rest of the work, if it made you notice things in the rest of the work which you had not noticed before, then I think you would decide that it was authentic. On the other hand, if it failed to do that, then, however attractive it was in itself, you would reject it" (Grand Miracle).
"Planet Narnia" reveals the center of the Narnian symphony, and suddenly all the sounds not only make more sense, but are more beautiful than ever.
Top reviews from other countries
There is something about the Narnia books, a mystical and poetical element which takes me back to them again and again. A similar atmosphere informs "The Lord of the rings" but is completely absent from the ubiquitous Harry Potter, whatever other qualities he may possess.
Michael Ward takes the credit for discovering a crucial and hitherto unguessed link between the seven Narnia novels and the seven "planets" of medieval cosmology (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, the Sun and the Moon). Incidentally these seven heavenly bodies correspond to the seven days of the week. As soon as he gets started on his exegesis, you realise he is on to a winner. By Chapter 3 I was convinced beyond doubt that Lewis did indeed base these works on his beloved astrological scheme - and deliberately concealed this fact from his readers.
This is not an easy book to read. In discussing Lewis's theology, Ward takes us into some fascinating and obscure backwaters of philosophy. I must admit he left me behind on a number of occasions. Here are some of the words scattered through the text - alterity, anaphora, chthonic, Eutychian, hesychastic, ichneutic, monophysite, oppugnancy, parousia, polysemy. If you understand these words, you will have no problem!
Despite his somewhat dense prose style, full credit must go to Michael Ward for an important discovery about these much-loved stories.
And there is no question that he makes a convincing case, showing how each of the Chronicles corresponds to one of the planets in the medieval cosmos. The evidence floods out with parallels, allusions and imagery drawn from his academic writing, the science fiction trilogy and the poetry. It's overall effect is to show how extraordinary Lewis's mind really was - and how far us mere mortals fall short.
So this is a remarkable book - and one that inspires adult rereading of Narnia Chronicles. But the only slight negative is the fact that reading the whole is probably going to be the preserve of the true Lewis geek/aficionado. Having found the main thesis wholly convincing, I found myself less inclined to plough through every detail of corroborative evidence!
Since then I have read and reread all of Lewis's fiction, and much of his criticism and theological works.
I have read several biographies, and critical studies, especially Paul Ford's "companion" to "Narnia".
I have also written and published (in "Children's Literature in Education" a defence of C.S. Lewis and "Narnia" against the extreme misreading and psychocritical analysis of David Holbrook.
I have also written (online) a further defence of C.S. Lewis against the misguided attacks of Philip Pullman.
With that background explained, let me at that I find Michael Ward's discussion to be wide, deep and powerful, and extremely rewarding.
It inspires me to buy and read Lewis's own academic discussion of the Medieval world-view, "The Discarded Image", and to re-read Lewis's fiction once more!