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Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis 1st Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 000-0195313879
ISBN-10: 0195313879
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Editorial Reviews


"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 persuasive."--Christianity Today

"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 Episcopal History

About the Author

Michael Ward, Fellow of Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 347 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195313879
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195313871
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.3 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #657,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David M. Talbot on February 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Narnia lovers behold this book. Michael Ward's revelatory work is too edifying to ignore. For half a century we read (or had read to us) C.S. Lewis's magnificent Chronicles of Narnia. We love them because they captivate us.

The series has a mystery, however. Disparateness clouds the atmosphere; a lack of thorough artistry found in Lewis's other fiction. Lewis's mind is consistently meticulous and lucid, a chief trait of the medieval authors he taught professionally, and therein lies the secret.

More than allegory, yet nothing obviously more, Planet Narnia contends that Lewis made it so intentionally. Ward argues that each chronicle corresponds to one of the seven planets of medieval astrology. As a whole, they (the chronicles infused with the characteristic traits of the planets) create an atmosphere that is both honest to the human experience and consistent with the loveliness and sovereignty of Christ the Lord. The subtlety, an atmospheric quality, is consistent with Lewis's pneumatology, which maintains that unawareness of the Holy Spirit is a common condition in our human experience. Ward's case focuses on the peculiarities in The Chronicles, of which there are many, like the supposedly discordant appearance of St. Nicholas in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Suddenly they make sense - the jovial saint's laughter resonates like guilt forgiven.

Many critics mistook Lewis for slopping together a menagerie of characters and plots without a guiding principle, argues Ward. Rather, it seems that a combination of an allegorical element teetering the brink of believability and dissatisfaction, a well-known pejorative judgment by J.R.R.
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Format: Hardcover
I have been anticipating reading Michael Ward's full treatment of his audacious thesis since I heard him lecture two years ago, and I must say that my expectations for Planet Narnia have been more than fulfilled. Not only does Ward present a staggering amount of evidence as proof that Lewis has "translated planets into plots" with his seven Narnia books, but he also presents his findings in a graceful and captivating style that one rarely finds in other literary criticism.

A great strength of the book is Ward's commanding grasp of all the works within Lewis' oeuvre. For young students of Lewis such as myself, Planet Narnia provides a taste of Lewis' less-often read essays, criticism, and poetry, as well as glimpses into the currents of thought that run through much of his work. Yet my favorite part of the book is Ward's assessment of the theological messages revealed in the planetary imagery. He succeeds in the same goal Lewis set out for himself in writing the Chronicles - to present the character of God to readers in reanimating and revelatory ways.

Planet Narnia presents so strong an explanation of the Chronicles that I find it hard to imagine anyone finishing the book unconvinced of Lewis' enduring genius, and Ward's remarkable achievement.
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I heard Dr. Ward speak back in the summer of 2006, and I was instantly both a fan and a skeptic. His theory about the reason for seven Chronicles of Narnia is fascinating, beautiful, and--so I thought--implausible. But since Dr. Ward was a very compelling speaker (and he's coming to speak at the school where I teach; see his tour schedule at [...] ), I bought the book and am in chapter four at the moment. Wow! I'm more a fan than ever, and barely a skeptic. I've come to the conclusion (like Jim Como) that if Dr. Ward is wrong, it doesn't even matter, because his reading is completely lovely, plausible, useful, scholarly, thorough, and everything else a critic's reading can be. But it's more, too. It seems that he is inside of C. S. Lewis's head, thinking CSL's thoughts after him (if that's not sacrilegious!), quoting from all CSL's works as glibly and facilely as if he wrote them (or more; CSL was notoriously forgetful of his own writings, though of nobody else's), tying together disparate elements with ease and grace. His memory is prodigious, his scholarship impeccible, his writing clear and organized, his case lively and delightful. If Narnia needed any boost in popularity or any raising in the academic mind, here it is!
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Format: Hardcover
A deeper hidden meaning behind Narnia? "Yeah, right."

That's what I thought -- until I read the book.

Actually, that's not quite true either. I thought this only until I read Ward's FAQ on planetnarnia.com. Call me a sucker, but I think I was already hooked by about question 6. By hooked I don't mean I'd already accepted his theory line and sinker, but I knew I had to get me this book.

Book finally in hand, I decided I'd better start reading with my "skeptic's glasses" firmly in place. If I kept them on, I reasoned, and still came out the other end believing Ward's theory, there must be something to it. Well, my glasses came off about half way through Chapter 1.

Even aside from the content, Ward's clear style, his sincere tone, his obvious love as well as deep knowledge of Lewis's work -- all these contribute to making this fairly academic work very readable and (to me) incredibly interesting.

Ward's work opened my eyes to a whole bunch of stuff I'd never noticed in the Chronicles before. Not to mention the Ransom Trilogy and other of Lewis's writings.

One thing I considered a weakness was how Ward mentions that certain groups of words (say "swift" and "run" in HHB) are used very frequently in one particular Chronicle. But often he doesn't state that those words are not used with that frequency in the other Chronicles, so I wondered whether it proved anything.

I mentioned as much to Ward, who wrote me a helpful and prompt response. He said it's about the atmosphere, and the key thing is the words' context, not their number. "Context is everything," he added. And I guess he's right. (In fact, that's probably one of the main themes of the book.)

But to cut a long short -- this book is one of the most exciting non-fiction works I've read in a long time.
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