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Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis Paperback – May 12, 2010
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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 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 is Senior Research Fellow at Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford, and Professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, Texas. His website is michaelward.net
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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 female 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 love. (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.)
All this pagan idolatry, of course, 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 that are subconsciously adored by the Chronicles’ readers are none other than different facets of the Christ-figure Aslan. While 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.)
The author devotes significant space to the question of why Lewis never mentioned this grand plan; 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.”
The main drawback of the book 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 demise of Romantic philosophy over 150 years ago strongly indicates it is - then the whole edifice collapses into a “playful literary experiment.” An amusement, and little more.
He was steeped in this worldview. Narnia is a very medieval world, the stars have personality (Coriakin, Ramandu), the centaurs and Dr. Cornelius are astrologers . . . . And Lewis gave us hints all along - "It's the usual muddle about times, Pole" . . .
Dr. Ward has simply given shape and argument to something that we knew all along but couldn't quite articulate.