When I was a child, the Chronicles of Narnia were what would be best described as a sort of literary religion to me—they gave me an imaginative language that founded how I think.
Early in my adult years, I read Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy (about the same time I was reading Dante), and not long afterward I read his Discarded Image. Medieval cosmology has in many ways come to fill the place in my adult life that Narnia held in my childhood—it is a set of symbols, a hierarchy, that gives structure to my imaginative life.
One can easily guess, then, the joy and wonder with which I greeted the idea that the Narniad might be (indeed, is, if Dr. Ward is correct) informed by and imbued with the power of that very cosmology. It is as though a sort of gap between my childhood and adulthood has been (or is going to be) healed. Better, it is like the harmonizing of two heretofore separate elements in my life, not unlike the very harmonizing of pagan and Christian elements that Lewis loved and of which he wrote in various places.
I have to think that there are many, like me, who had their imaginations baptized by Lewis, who, under his influence, went on to read and love those works he loved. Such, no doubt, have also become enamored of the music of the spheres, as I have. I must think, then, that Dr. Ward’s book will be, for many who have had Lewis as master, a reconciling that reminds us all once again of Lewis’s genius and his unique ability to inspire in his readers that joy that points to a greater realm, further up and further in.
One thing is clear, quite irrespective of whether the Planet imageries are correct or not: as with Oyarsas of Mars and Venus, so with Coriakin and Ramandu, Lewis touches on the medieval (and pre-medieval) view that stars are moved by angelic powers, but in doing so he takes account of the post-medieval dicovery that stars do change: the Nova observed by Tycho Brahe.
After the Wycliffe Summer School of 2006, and as soon as ‘Amazon’ was listing the book, the order has been waiting to be fulfilled.
After listening quite a number of times to your lectures on ‘Planet Narnia’ from the School, I am impatient for the real thing! I am certain that many of us present on those summer days are waiting rather more impatiently than is usual for a publication date!
If you have such a thing as a mailing list for lectures, etc., please add me to it.
Ottery Saint Mary, Devon
Just yesterday I summarized your planet interpretation of the Narnia Chronicles to my introductory Inklings class, and applied your reading to the Ransom Trilogy to my advanced Inklings class. They loved it! And how thrilled they were when I pulled the punchline; that they get to come and hear you speak in February. I love keeping this literature alive for each succeeding generation. Not that CSL really needs our help, but I love that you have found another lens through which we can gaze at these works and delight in their ingenuity and applicability. Was that a mixed metaphor??
Professor Ward, it’s been a while since I took that three-credit seminar at Oxford in the summer of 2006, but the book was worth the wait! It’s wonderful to see this sort of deep reading applied to Narnia, and I’m sure that Professor Lewis would approve. Congratulations!
I’ll echo the comments above regarding the quality of scholarship related to mythopoeic lit. There’s really so much more that can be done with these sorts of books if only scholars would take the time to read them, as you have done. Your seminar was probably one of the main reasons I decided to write my MA thesis on The Hobbit.
One of the things that amazes me most, though, is how much appreciation I’ve gained for the non-critical approach in reading. Readers have always found (and will hopefully continue to find) a refreshing taste of the Narnian air every time they dig into one of the Chronicles, no matter what their critical or theoretical aspirations and even if they don’t recognize it as such. So much the better, then, for those of us willing to take a deep breath and sing out!
All the best on your future endeavors, and don’t hesitate to come up for a lecture or two in Canada sometime. It’s cold here, but that’s why they call it “God’s Country”!
I’m reading Planet Narnia with much enjoyment. One of the things that makes Lewis’s writing so valuable for our time is that his imagination is the opposite of the reductionistic imagination of our time, which resolves everything into the material and the utilitarian. His work nourishes our imaginations and helps to free them from such deathliness.
Thanks so much for visiting Tenth Pres. on Feb. 3. I was very intrigued by the topic since I share both a love of the Chronicles and of astronomy. As a very amateur astronomer, I have a blog of my attempt at viewing (and sometimes photographing) the cosmos (http://www.blog.roycosta.net). My friends and I very much enjoyed your presentation — it was refreshing reminder of the awe-struck way in which our predecessors viewed the cosmos (and how it related to life on earth) — not so much trying to analyze it particle by particle. Best wishes for your future endeavors.
P.S. I meant to add that I was the fellow giving you a hard time (in jest!) about “ruining” the “secret” of the Chronicles. Also, I’d be very honored if you signed my guestbook on my blog!
Narnia has always felt like home, true home to me. And now I understand a little better why.
Love how you have shown an underlying unity behind different facets of Lewis’s work — how his scholarly studies informed his imagination, and how his imagination enlivened his scholarly studies. This is how both imaginative work and scholarly work should be done — by a feeling intellect made sensitive by … hmm, the seven virtues, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit . . .
I’m wondering how the movie of “Prince Caspian” will handle the opening – with its astrological emphasis.
This morning I read your article “Narnia’s Secret” in Touchstone magazine and now will read your book. Lewis’s Aslan and Narnia tales have been for me so foundational to my understanding of Christ and the gospel from a very early age. My parents bought me a hardbound set when I was eight years old. My young imagination was “obliviously obviated,” as you so-well put, by his wise, firm and kindhearted pen. Your article reminded me what a gift I was given and prompted me to ask Jesus in my morning prayers to give my gratitude to brother Jack for planting seeds that have helped to carry my faith through the years. I’m sure I am not alone.
Your ideas and observations seem to make cohesive sense of many of the seemingly random pieces of Lewis’s Narnia stories. Though their apparent randomness never bothered me, probably because I was too young and unread to recognize such, my heart was drawn to the purposeful and playful atmosphere of the tales. Somehow I knew there were no mistakes on his part and fell happily and trustingly into the wide and deep net he threw, swimming safely and joyfully there to see the heart of God in a needed fresh way.
So, I will read your book and then re-read our dear friends, the Narnia Chronicles.
Thank you for your work that will add to the enjoyment and thankfulness in this heart for a gift perpetual.
I’m in the “Mercury” chapter, but glancing ahead to the “Venus” discussion, I see your account of Jadis’s origins (Magician’s Nephew). Let me suggest a third source, Ayesha in Rider Haggard’s She. Magician’s Nephew begins with an evocation of Victorian England that includes reference to Sherlock Holmes and the Bastables; Lewis was a lifelong fan not only of Doyle and Nesbit but of Haggard. The tall, dazzlingly beautiful, dangerous Jadis is very much an Ayesha-figure, and of course both preside over ruined ancient cities. I believe there is a passage in She in which the narrator, Holly, is aghast at the idea of Ayesha on the loose in England; Lewis probably picked this idea up and had some fun with it in Magician’s Nephew.
Yes, you are quite correct. The passage, which is towards the end of She, actually refers to Ayesha having the potential to ‘blast’ people if she was let loose in England. It is so close to a similar passage in The Magician’s Nephew that one might even accuse Lewis of plagiarism! (not that that would have worried him as he regarded ‘originality’ as unimportant; he would have viewed it simply as an affectionate tribute to Haggard). Lewis also ‘lifts’ a substantial chunk from Milton’s Paradise Lost for the creation scene in The Magician’s Nephew.
Your lecture at Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia was so compelling that I immediately went online to purchase a copy as a surprise birthday present for my fiancee. I also reviewed Planet Narnia on my blog:
Thank you for coming to Taylor University, IN! I was excited when I saw the list for the year with all the speakers, and your talk this morning and afternoon were very interesting. A few years ago I came across a web publishing that was extraordinarily critical of Lewis and Narnia, because of misinterpretation and some pettiness. The organization piked on Lewis’s personal habits, including among other things, smoking, and tore apart Narnia with its references to pagan gods.
Your mentionings and explanations of these references have been very helpful to me. And my dad told me once that our days were named after Norse gods, and I had seen some of the Roman influences on other areas of our culture (numerals, months, type layout, etc.) but your talk helped put more things together.
Lately I’ve also been reading John Piper’s book Desiring God, and the impression it has left upon me is that I must use the things I enjoy to bring glory to God. There have been times in my life when I have been afraid to use my gifts and talents – even to honor God. C.S. Lewis has been an inspiration to me with his abounding imagination and his insights into everyday life. So much truth is right in front of everyone, but I know I’m often blind to it. In Mark 4:23, Christ calls all “who have ears” to hear Him, but the sin of life can interfere with that.
Well, thank you again. And keep going! I look forward to reading Planet Narnia – and will do so as soon as academics allow.
Since I finished reading Planet Narnia last night, I wanted to send you my thoughts. First of all, thank you for coming to Taylor U. (2/28/08). Meeting the author always makes the book that much more interesting—unless the author has a saturnine (ha) disposition, which of course you need not worry about!
I have to admit I hadn’t originally planned on attending the lecture when I heard about it (I live about an hour away from Taylor, and I didn’t know much about the book), but when I saw the blurbs on the back cover from Walter Hooper, Alan Jacobs, and Armand Nicholi (all of whom I was well aware of), that piqued my interest. I read a little more about the book and decided that I just had to go.
I feel thoroughly rewarded for my time. What makes the whole thing so funny is that I finished reading Dante for the first time just days before your lecture (needless to say, having his whole planetary scheme in my head helped my understanding of your book immensely). It also helped me recognize the last line of your book as the final line of the Paradiso, although you may have quoted it earlier in the book, too; I don’t remember.
One of the things your book gave me, aside from a new framework for looking at the Narnia series, is an urge to read the rest of C.S. Lewis’s books that I haven’t read (although I have a good number of them, including the hard-to-find “OHEL” book, I haven’t gotten around to reading all of them just yet). That will be remedied—and soon if I can help it!
By the way, I had viewed the “Dreamer of Narnia” documentary when I first bought the 4-Disc version of LWW, but I watched it again after learning that you had a part in it. I also found your article on Philip Pullman (from the website) amusing and very well put together. The man does seem to have a beef (understatement).
I have exchanged emails with Linda Dolan from St. Andrews Church in Oxford, and she is going to send me a recording of your debate with Pullman back in 2002. Hurrah!
Thanks again for the great book, and I hope to see you again soon!
P.S. The cover of Planet Narnia has also taken on a new level of meaning after finishing the book. I like the idea that the Great Red Spot symbolizes the Crucifixion (Williams’s line about Pelles) and that this redemptive symbol is facing the Earth as if the blood is covering it, so to speak. The fact that Jupiter is so much larger than Earth in the picture also seems symbolic (it reminds me of Dante’s scene where he’s looking back on all the planets, and the Earth looks tiny from where he’s standing/floating…I remember that you mentioned this passage in the book). Whether or not you intended all of this symbolism in the cover (at least it didn’t take me fifty years to figure it out), it provokes more than a few interesting thoughts.
My name is Timothy, a fifth grader. I read Dr. Ward’s book a month ago and I liked it enough to write a brief review:
Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia have puzzled minds — young and old, wise and foolish alike — for over half a century. Many attempts have been made to find the inner meaning of these books, ranging from the highly plausible to the outright crazy. With the publication of this new book by Michael Ward, Planet Narnia, I was astounded at his claim to link the Chronicles with the pre-Copernican cosmos. But as I read, discovering his links between the medieval planets and the seven Narnia books, I slowly realized the insight of this book. Although the reading was difficult, I was immersed in the flood of knowledge that bounded out of the book’s pages, and it would have been a futile effort to separate me and Planet Narnia anytime after reading the fourth chapter. I was still quite astonished–but this time by the genius of the author in discovering enough links to fill 252 pages of solid writing. (I was just as amazed by the small type used.)
As I read through all twelve chapters, I discovered the amazing way in which Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Luna, Mercury, Venus, and Saturn (in that order) influence Lewis’s writings. All seven books have a presiding planet over them, and thus all seven planets are included. Each Chronicle shows certain traits–a surprising number–depending on the planet controlling it. Once I had read through the entire book, I thought to myself: “Boy, in the light of this I need to read the Narnia books again.”
Perhaps the best way to summarize the book is with its epigraph, a quote from Lewis himself (taken from his sermon, ‘The Grand Miracle’):
“There then comes to you a person, saying, “Here is a new bit of the manuscript that I found; it is the . . . central chapter of that novel. The text is incomplete without it. I have got the missing passage which is really the centre 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 . . ., 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.”
Well, the “central piece of the manuscript” seems to be here at last!
Michael Ward’s brilliant discovery has compelling evidence in its favour. It has made me re-examine the Chronicles, and in fact my assessment of them. Now, I think it’s quite brilliant that Father Christmas appears in The Lion. It seems to me that seven characters are especially associated with their Planet: Puddleglum, the Hermit, Helen, Ramandu, Reepicheep, Father Christmas and Father Time. I was slightly surprised that the Hermit (who conveys the story of the battle in his pool) doesn’t appear in The Last Battle – perhaps Lewis, the storyteller, identifies himself with Hermes. Incidentally, Shasta’s “father” recommends “application the the root of business”: Etymologically, the root of “commerce” is “with Mercury”.
Whilst I was “mining” The Magician’s Nephew for copper I realised what Michael Ward had noted, that Fledge’s wings were copper coloured – actually they grow larger than a swan’s – a bird sacred to Venus. I don’t think that is an accident. Mind you, I began to wonder whether I was guilty of eisegesis when I noticed that the same book contained not one but two coppers – on the streets of London!
I just finished reading your new book and found it fascinating, thoroughly convincing, and profound. When you spoke at Hillsdale College in the fall of 2005 about your discovery of the hidden common thread to the seven stories in the Narniad I was in the audience. My son is a junior at Hillsdale. I am a great fan of Mr. Lewis and drove up for the day of talks that just happened to have included your presentation. I was intrigued by your discovery and even inspired to purchase a recording of Holst’s “The Planets Suite”.
When I heard earlier this year you had written Planet Narnia I had my son get a copy at the Hillsdale bookstore. Congratulations on an extremely well researched and thoughtfully written treatise. Each time I read a section I came away amazed at the length and depth of your research and analysis. As an aside, I have to tell you that although I was an English Literature major in college I have to admit I have learned more about Medieval cosmology from Lewis’s The Discarded Image and your recent book than anything I heard in college lectures years ago. (But, perhaps I slept through more classes than I care to acknowledge.)
I just finished the book and I have thoroughly enjoyed the ride. I am one of those fans of Lewis who also has a telescope (although a telescope is not required to follow along).
I am also a scout leader who has slept under the stars lakeside in Canada, on a mountain top in New Mexico and on the beach of an unihabited island in the Florida Keys. I have spend a great deal of time trying to explain to my scouts and to my high school religious education classes that what you see when you look up at the night sky, regardless of your equipment, really depends on how you look at it. I then try to explain that the same rule applies to what you see in the daylight. Lastly, I have always tried to make the point that there is something even more important, a deeper magic if you will, in the things that you cannot see.
Considering the planets the key to the Narniad makes a great deal of sense to me. This insight detracts very little from my appreciation of the stories and opens up an entire world that is not in a galaxy far far away.
Many thanks to Michael the Lionhearted for helping us to see that Aslan is indeed everywhere and in all things.
Yours is a truly fascinating book! I had always loved the Narnia books and felt that there was more to them than a simple “Christian allegory.” Though I had never read anything else by Lewis. Planet Narnia inspired me to go and read the Space Trilogy, which I thoroughly enjoyed and, I think, appreciated much more having read your book (a bit like Lewis’s says in the intro to The Discarded Image, which I am reading now, about how it’s OK to look at a map before you set out!). Very excited about your US/UK tour and hope to have a chance to hear you
I’ve been reading CSL for 33 years (I’m 49). I’ve been reading books about CSL for that same time. In the old days I even had a hairstyling shop called “Aslan’s Lair” (I still have the logo!). So I’m no spring chicken when it comes to Narnia. But Ward’s book shook me in my socks. And it was shaking with delight, I might add. The day after I finished the book I heard the good Dr. speak in Waco, TX (having driven 3 1/2 hours and hobbling in on crutches) and his talk was mesmerizing as well. What a wonderful spell he has cast. Lewis will never be the same. I’m teaching Caspian to a small group of congregants in our church on Wednesday nights, and I opened the course by overviewing Michael’s discovery. Their minds were boggled and delighted just as mine had been. All of them are anxious to re-read Narnia in light of this. There are two great joys in Ward’s discovery: (1) a deeper appreciation for Lewis’s genius and (2) seeing the twinkle in people’s eyes when they “get it”.
My husband and I heard you speak tonight at the C.S.L. Foundation get-together in Redlands. On our drive home it occurred to me that another possible reason for Lewis’s employment of the kappa element in the Narniad might have been that he wanted to bequeath to his readers the possiblity of being “surprised by joy” . . . or would that be surprised by Jove?
Certainly, there is no other phrase that better describes my response to your discovery. Planet Narnia is pure joy. Seven-fold joy.
Blessings, health and stamina as you continue your tour,
I attended your lecture at UC San Diego. Thank you for a very intellectually stimulating lecture. I was enthralled for the entire lecture. I also heard you on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show the week prior. That was how I originally heard about the book, and the upcoming San Diego appearance.
Fascinating topic that you have discovered. The idea that beyond the simple allegory on the surface lies a philosophical outlook on life using an ancient understanding of the cosmos to create the rich narrative in the stories makes me shake my head in astonishment. The man is simply brilliant. I plan to devour your book, as well as C.S. Lewis’ works this summer.
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.
Dr. Ward’s book has resonated deeply with me. I have always cherished the Narnia books — I dreamed I was Lucy when I was a girl — and their themes grew with me. I raised my chidren with the books and instilled in them the idea of “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” Honor, selflessness, obedience, responsibility, are all traits that are encouraged in Lewis’s books. Now, seeing the books through this different lens shows new and deeper levels that reinforce these values. In the Bible, Jesus said that if the people stopped singing “Hosanna” to him, the very rocks will cry out. In Narnia, the colors, textures, weather, odd characters, seemingly chance words and gestures all cry out, proclaiming deep themes.
Tolkien’s dismissal of the Narniad has always rankled with me, but I had no answer to his criticisms. Dr. Ward has found it.
I’m a member of the Tolkien Society and an Anglican priest, who read world fairy stories, Arthurian stuff, all of Narnia, Fraser’s Golden Bough and all the astronomy I could get my hands on before I was 16. I enjoyed much of Lewis’s theology as a sixth former and later discovered and loved the Ransom Trilogy and Till We Have Faces.
My husband found a copy of Planet Narnia at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, and bought it for me on spec.
I have loved reading it, – at time of writing, I am well into “Saturn” and each of the planetary chapters has had me saying “Of course!” out loud at some point.
Thank you for a delightful and compulsive read, full of references which I don’t need to look up and connections which I’ve never made. I am no longer an academic (if I ever was) but haven’t needed to be because you communicate so effectively.
I have finally just completed Planet Narnia. I find it utterly remarkable. There’s a great deal that I’d like to say in detail but haven’t the time now and won’t probably till September. But I will make it a point to write at length when I can.
So as to avoid leaving you with nothing I’ll offer a few generals:
Part of your excellence is in constantly anticipating the criticisms which I (and presumably other Lewis critics) might make against your arguments—usually in the paragraph following the moment I perceive a possible weakness and usually with a text out of Lewis’s own writing.
The level of knowledge you express in the text is encyclopedic—the footnotes were as much a wealth of obscure Lewisiana as the body—so many critical books on Lewis I’ve never even heard of and so many Lewis quotes I’d never noted. (Of course that may simply be a negative criticism regarding my knowledge of Lewis, but I’d like to think it’s rather your thorough research.) Your knowledge of all the medieval literature Lewis so loved was impressive in and of itself, as were the constant references to underlined notes in the Wade collection or unpublished letters and the like. In the end I agree that the onus is on Lewis critics to disprove you at this point.
Lest I come across as a sycophant, here’s a possible disagreement (I still want to think about it a little more): when you claim that Lewis may be the first author to apply the “Donegalitarian” method to his writing, I immediately think of Dostoevsky, more specifically Mikhail Bakhtin’s criticism on ‘carnival’ which he sees as working in several of Dostoevsky’s novels in a manner that fits the methods of Donegality. Dostoevsky’s key Christological characters don’t, I think, represent the atmosphere of ‘carnival’ which permeates his books, so there’s a difference; but the idea of hidden influence in an atmospheric sense is in Dostoevksy, and I think that’s a similarity.
Dear Dr. Ward,
I finished Planet Narnia this morning and Enjoyed it from beginning to end. Like you I am a lifelong Lewis fan and have become re-enchanted with his work over the last few years. Your perspective as both scholar and priest, and your amazingly comprehensive command of Lewis’s work, make for a spiritual depth I have not encountered in other criticism. I was especially tickled that you see his description of Richard Hooker’s model universe as a kind of theological self-portrait – the same thought occurred to me when I ran across that passage a couple of years ago in seminary – and I love your sense that Lewis’s world “has standing room for bleakness, but no throne.” You even managed (mostly) to disarm me with your answer to “why not ‘Blessed be she?”, which, given my strong belief in the importance of female God language and frequent bristling at Lewis’ sexist blunderings, is no mean feat. The last sentence of that chapter – Venus – is particularly beautiful; indeed, many of your chapters, and the book as a whole, end like very deft sermons. You are right, your discovery is a Godsend and a gift to all of us. Thank you!
I have just finished Michael Ward’s magnum opus and am in utter awe at what he has accomplished! Indeed, Planet Narnia is so brilliant and I am so tantalized by what he has opened my eyes to that I must now reread the Lewis books again, starting with That Hideous Strength. I had been a bit bewildered all these years with the planetary visitations in that book, wondering what was the purpose for them, but now the scales have been removed from my eyes and I am even more awed – yes, that’s the only word for it – by Lewis’s genius.
I don’t see how anyone can refute what Dr. Ward has discovered and written . . . and beautifully, by the way. I feel privileged to have experienced such depth of scholarship, and I am eager to pass on this “treasure” to my friends who love Lewis.
Planet Narnia provided me with a great intellectual workout. CSL writes in the foreword to one of his books how the reader will be able to see how little he has read. It is clear to me after reading CSL and now Michael Ward, how very little I have read. But I do love the challenge, and my list of “must read” has grown after completing your book. Thank you for your depth of insight into the mind of this brilliant man. Your book has given me confidence to move beyond Lewis’s apologetics and fiction to read what previously seemed to me as his more difficult works. I began The Discarded Image this week and I look forward to exploring his poetry in earnest soon. Planet Narnia is already enriching my CSL experience as I am currently listening to That Hideous Strength on CD and finding I am enjoying it much more this time around. The background knowledge I gained by way of your book is very helpful.
I especially want to say how much I appreciate your heart for Christ and how you continually reminded me of the real focus of Lewis’s work. The last line of your book was perfect. I celebrate your success. It is well deserved.
I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about buying your book, especially in the light of so many codex/conspiracy tomes littering the literary highway lately, and at the possibility that even if you were right it might ruin the story.
However, after reading through the reviews and information on your website I decided that ultimately the only way to know would be actually to buy it.
It arrived a couple of days ago from Amazon and, having just completed it, I must say that I am impressed with the way you have handled the subject.
Not only am I convinced that your theory is correct, but far from distracting from the message within the Narnian Chronicles, rather it has built them up with a new depth of meaning and enlightened me more on the Christological points within the series.
The only sad part is that it has awakened me to recognise how far removed we have become from the language and imagery, knowledge and belief that we once had in the denizens of the Cosmos, to be replaced by our meaningless epithets and void Space of today.
Surely there is something lost from that buoyant noise of the universe that we no longer consider extant. We have truly become Saturnine in our approach, and I hope that your book will aid Lewis in his mission to remind us of the Jovial and other meritorious aspects of our existence.
Certainly a book that should be on the shelf of any lover of Lewis’s works.
This book marks a Copernican Revolution in Lewis studies. Data which looked confused, random, and senseless, and could only be accommodated through hopeless cycles and epicycles, now becomes coherent through a startling new organizing principle. By placing the planets at the center of Lewis’s system, Ward shows that the seven Narnia stories are coherent, purposeful, and teeming with intelligence.
Professor, Christian Thought and History
Spring Arbor University
Can I express my most heartfelt thanks for Planet Narnia? I really cannot overestimate what a thrill it was to read it, it was so stimulating. I hope it sold well. I have a pile of questions and issues arising that I would love to discuss with you, but wouldn’t presume. With no empty flattery I can confidently say that it is one of my all-time favourites – and that from a book-a-day bibliomaniac. Thank you so much. If you have any more of that up your sleeve, you can count on one reader!
Just to add, I’ve gone back through a number of Lewis works (and read Studies in Words for the first time, enjoying that lovely footnote about the Italian translation of The Magician’s Nephew): Planet Narnia has thoroughly enriched them all for me. Thank you again for it.
Bravo, bravo and thank you. As a Lewis geek (I went to Oxford to study his work in 2005) this book was just the shot in the arm that I’ve been so longing for after the disappointing Prince Caspian movie.
Remarkable sleuthing – I believed it the instant I read the cover jacket because it just sounded like something Lewis would do.
Knowing me to be a lifelong Narnia fan, my parents purchased a copy of your book for me after you visited their church here in the U.S. this past summer. I confess I accepted it with an inward roll of the eyes, thinking it another dry, pedantic effort by some old professor to squeeze a little more cash for himself out of Lewis’s legacy.
When I reluctantly began to scan the first chapter some months later, I was immediately intrigued by your thesis and drawn in by your pleasant style. By the time I finished the book, I was convinced that you had hit upon the truth of why so many readers of so many generations have loved Narnia passionately, without being able to explain it themselves.
Now I have to do some reading of my own on medieval astrology (something never touched on in my education, despite the fact that I majored in English in college), so that I can read Planet Narnia again with greater understanding.
Dr Ward, – about a month ago I finished reading Planet Narnia, and I must say it has reaffirmed Lewis’s utter genius. Your discovery has compelled me to re-read The Narniad. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! Bravo on Planet Narnia! If one doubted Lewis’s genius before, which I did not, there is no argument left. The hidden “donegality” in the Narniad is breathtakingly complex, and your discovery reveals the true depth and innovative vision of Lewis’s intellect.
I first heard about Planet Narnia about a year ago from a magazine article. I’m a long-time Lewis fan, and I’ve read and studied a lot about him. My first thought was – no, it didn’t happen that way except possibly on a subconscious level. Then I heard Michael Ward speak in Nov. 2008 and bought and read the book. Oh my goodness. There was nothing subconscious about it, this was on purpose. I’m a believer! I keep recommending the book to anyone I know who loves Narnia. I tell them, “This is the best book I’ve read in the last decade – and I read many books. Planet Narnia is a spiritually growing experience.” Those who’ve taken me up on my recommendation have thanked me over and over again for the tip.
Thank you, Michael Ward for great research, uplifting ideas, and a darn good read!
I can’t think of another work of literary criticism that has changed my thinking as markedly as Planet Narnia. You truly did the world of Lewis-lovers a great service by breaking out into the next layer of the onion.
In order to internalize the Aristotelian paradigm, and your and Lewis’s interpretations of it, I had to do something more than passively read. So I fashioned a few verses, which are perhaps a bit overdone, but sufficed to win me the lovely young lady, Katrina, for whom they were written.
With heartfelt thanks and sincere regards,
- Salim Furth
Fancy Reason Romance
If I were a knight in shining armor
Thy red heart rampant, pennant and shield
Palms torn by white roses now crimson
I’d storm your soul though all ports were sealed
And sacrament win, o’er battle’s roar
But words are my sword, my blade is wit
Were I a king or jester, enthroned
Good cheer would attend its queen’s repose
You’d kiss wine sweet and see scepter rise
Tiara on brow, bells on your toes
Or you my throne, doffing robes, renown
Alas! Uncrowned am I, and unfit
If sun shone on me balder, richer
And a sunbeam spied your beaming face
I’d change gold to loam, husband flowers
And tenderly woo your garden embrace
I’d lead you to light, we’d know love’s mirror
But my ways are wild, oft’ but starlit
I, then, I will sprint round the flame
Offer you the fruits of tongues plucked thence
A paired, arranged, cascading portrait
Flights of fancy, reason, romance
Sing your eyes, rhyme your mind, speak your name
You, fairest of spheres, eclipse foregone
Clothed modestly in mists of morning
When daylight reveals fair copper skin
Will it show heart, fertile and yearning
Will evening star grace the poet’s dawn?
Tread not nights, face shifting, forgetting
Filling me up, then dripping away
Sandy two week magic flows and ebbs
But you, fancy reason romance, stay
Rise with me, each twilight, each dawning
Here’s my review from Visual Bookshelf in livingsocial from Facebook:
“Yes. Went to hear Dr. Ward at Seattle Pacific University, and yes. Found his arguments irrefutable. Got the book and am three quarters done with it. Meticulous research and compelling evidence! Michael Ward has thoroughly done his homework and written an instant classic. God will bless you with insight and understanding as you assimilate this definitive study of Lewis’s thought and work by a humble, brilliant, and God-fearing Lewis scholar. Know the truth behind Narnia, and the truth will set you free to appreciate the Chronicles at a deeper level the very next time you enjoy them.”
Thank you, Dr. Ward, for your excellent and illuminating work. May the LORD continue to prosper your studies and teaching, and give you good success and favor as you continues to instruct Christendom in the ways of Lewis, and ultimately in the paths of His Son.
I read Planet Narnia at the suggestion of my friend and fellow priest Lisa Green. It is one of the most spiritually energizing books I have read in a very long time. As many have commented already, I began reading Lewis in my childhood, even writing my high school senior English paper on the Chronicles. Lewis’s work formed my faith and my imagination from an early age, later feeding my intellect and my theological reasoning as well. Despite Lewis’s critics, I never doubted the depth of his fiction, I just had no analytical language for it. And now your beautiful book has drawn back the curtain and all the pieces have shown themselves, clearly and more deeply than ever before. In doing so you have honored not only Lewis, but also Christ the Maker and Redeemer of all things. Your work is a great gift to the Church.
Thank you, and blessings,
(The Rev.) Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’, Millington, NJ
I see that the CSL Society of California is somehow partnering with the BBC documentary. I am tickled that the title is “The Narnia Code” — excellent! And I can’t wait until the book version for younger readers is available; I intend to purchase it as a textbook and teach a class on it to whomever will allow me to do so!
I watched the documentary on BBC1 tonight and was completely fascinated by your contribution to it. You set out your case exceptionally clearly, making it simple to follow for TV viewers, yet not diluting it. It’s rare to see such a breakthrough in something so familiar.
But I don’t know what possessed the producers not to allow you to present the programme directly to camera: you could knock most TV academic know-alls into a cocked hat, it’s your theory. The endless American commentators and US-based footage added very little except to Americanise a British subject and to supply the irritant factor.
The BBC has become obsessed with sales to US channels. It now peoples even its most British subject matter with American commentators, our own academics are relegated to the second rank. This should have been your programme alone. Does David Starkey share his programmes with other commentators? You shouldn’t have to either. Stand up to them!
I grew up with the Chronicles of Narnia and I’d never heard of any secret meaning in the books. So with much interest, I watched the documentary “The Narnia Code” last night.
My only disappointment, it was sold to me on the basis that this was the unlocking of the secrets of the Universe. Uh, no it wasn’t. It was just Lewis proving he is one of the best writers of the 20th century!
Surprisingly, my Father told me about how he thought Lewis was “really into Astrology” when we were moving and noticed I was keeping some of my childhood books. He did study Philosophy and tended to read books in ways others didn’t!
I did ponder if Lewis listened to Holst’s Planets Suite ?
Just watched the programme on iPlayer and really enjoyed it. I’m going to have to read the book. Being so familiar with the Biblical themes of the Chronicles, I’m quite shocked to see a deeper theme and am still at the “cynical” phase. But highlighting the essential difference between conscious and body was very good.
Will re-read the Chronicles and track down “The Book of The Film”.
P.S. Always good to see the a shot of Peterhouse Old Court, – lots of memories . . .
Having seen your programme trailered on BBC and being an arch-enemy of conspiracy theorists, I was determined to avoid it, being under the impression that it would contain an attempt to produce such a theory from an obscure interpretation of some of my favourite childrens’ stories which I enjoyed when reading to my own children. While channel-surfing I came across the start of your programme and was instantly hooked by the style, clarity and conviction of the content. The section on Lewis’s life I found especially helpful and convinced me even more that someone of such academic credentials would be incapable of producing books which could be reviewed by his peers as being unstructured. Can’t wait to read the book!
I bought the book today after seeing the programme last night. I instantly knew you were right! Narnia has been my spiritual home since the books were first read to me as a child in 1962, and I have read them and most of his other works countless times since.
I am just reading the chapter about Jack’s non-disclosure of his secret idea. I don’t know if you say this later, but it occurs to me that one other reason why he wouldn’t have let on about it is that cynics and critics like Tolkien would have sneered and tried to make fun of it as some kind of debased astrology.
Far better to leave the secret to be discovered. This is what would happen in the best stories, the treasure exists, the clues have been left for those who have eyes to see, and following the treasure map leads you to where it is buried, even if it is centuries old.
So it is perhaps Jack’s supreme confidence in his own creation that meant he did not need to spell it out. He knew that someone would one day understand the secret, whether it be five years, fifty or five hundred. When the pupil is ready the teaching will be understood.
I have just watched the programme about Planet Narnia and thought it was fantastic. I read all the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis about two years ago and so making the links with your evidence was easier for me to do. I want to now read the poem you mention.
You really explained the evidence in a way that children like me could understand and I am only 13! It was nice to be able to enjoy something at my age and not have to wait until much older.
Next March (2010) I am going with nine friends to Ghana to build a class room for children in a deprived School in Accra. I have to raise all on my own £2000 to go and this will also allow me to take books and resources for the children. I have decided to take a copy of all the Narnia books. I will now also take Planet Narnia as well!
Thank you very much, it has been fascinating for me. I hope you don’t mind a 13-year old making a comment?
I was at the launch of Planet Narnia at the Wade Center in Wheaton, Illinois, back in January of 2008. I am elated that the book is getting the recognition that it deserves, and am glad to see all the positive response. I am especially grateful that Dr. Ward has shown the importance of Lewis’s ideas concerning the medieval concept of the cosmos.
A friend of mine recently reminded me that the beginning of J.R.R. Tolkien’s poem ‘Mythopoeia’ refers to the ‘cold, inane, cruel view of the cosmos given to us by modern scientific astronomy.’ Tolkien and Lewis must have discussed this more than once.
The following are excerpts from my (amateur) review of the book:
‘Lewis scholar Michael Ward, in his book, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis (published in January 2008 by Oxford University Press), claims to have found the skeleton key for the interpretation of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia . . .
‘Both at the beginning and end of Planet Narnia, Ward takes pains to show how other interpretations of the Narniad are in error, or at least in need of correction or modification. I myself had not (to my knowledge) considered the “mystery” of the Chronicles, nor the difficulty in their interpretation, before. But Ward’s interpretation has such explanatory power, and shows how widely in Lewis’s work, both professional and personal, he made reference to the seven planets of the mediaeval cosmology, and clarifies the meaning of (among other things) Aslan’s appearance in each book, to the point where the least one can do is to admit that it is, to this point, the most convincing on offer . . .
‘I would recommend Planet Narnia as a good book to read. If possible, before reading the chapter of Ward’s book which deals with the planetary “donegality” of each Narnian book, read the book in question so that it will be fresh in your mind when you turn to Ward’s interpretation. I hope you will find Planet Narnia, as I did, an enriching exploration of Lewis’s most famous books.’
While I was never personally troubled by the seeming mash-up of symbols in the Narnia books, Planet Narnia brings all of those disparate elements together. This book brings such clarity not only to each of the Chronicles but to the series as a whole. I always thought The Horse and His Boy and Prince Caspian seemed out of place. Now, I know that Mr. Lewis’s genius reached farther than I ever imagined.
I appreciate the authoritative style of writing and the incredible level of scholarship brought to use in Planet Narnia; anything less could have been dismissed as fanciful or trivial. Mr. Ward’s knowledge of the subject is vast, and inspirational. It is the perfect companion volume to this perfect children’s literature.
Planet Narnia shows the enormous challenge undertaken by C.S. Lewis. To be able to capture the attention of 10-year-olds, and to hold those children spellbound for the rest of their lives, is one of the highest achievements for an author.
Mr. Ward, you have helped to pass along that challenge. Ironically, it is like the first time a telescope pointed skywards, and Copernicus brought the hard-to-understand heavenly spheres into a new, clarified order. You have brought light and order to an already beautiful mystery, and helped to inspire this challenge in me, again.
Just a few minutes ago I finished reading Planet Narnia on this hot, dry Independence Day in Idaho. My children are selling lemonade on the street in front of my house.
I have read and listened to the Chronicles of Narnia several times. I also recently worked through The Discarded Image; my personal goal is to read everything that Lewis ever wrote. Like so many other readers of your book, when I first was told the thesis by a friend, I was skeptical. When I perused your book and saw that Mars was not associated with The Last Battle I thought I had you refuted. But keeping an open mind, I dived into Planet Narnia. Skepticism became questioning, questioning became discovery, and discovery became delighted agreement. I am a convert!
Your arguments are persuasive, your thoughts engaging, and your writing style witty. “A pot of message” was probably my favorite of your witticisms.
Thank you for this enjoyable, insightful, scholarly work. Blessings on your future projects.
Dear Dr. Ward,
Coming from a different religious tradition, though a somewhat similar scholarly tradition (as well as now reading the Narniad to a third generation of fans in the family), I found Planet Narnia to be entirely persuasive, finely written, culturally rich and spiritually inspiring. As we say here in Jerusalem, ‘Cheilakh le oraita!’ (Aram.), – ‘May your strength in learning be increased!’
I’ve finally read the book after being intrigued by the television documentary (there was a long waiting list at the library) and you’ve convinced me all right. In fact, I got the ‘Planets’ poem down from the shelf and began reading it as soon as it was mentioned on the programme (there was plenty of time during the woffle and fill-in), and it was obvious which book went with which planet straight away. I’m just amazed it’s taken so long for anybody to spot it. I hadn’t realised the ‘Notes’ section of your book would be so interesting, so I then had to read it all again with my finger in the back to make the most of it! I loved the bit about why Shasta and Aravis’s child is called Ram. I was surprised to find one inaccuracy, though, where it’s stated that in The Last Battle the narrator doesn’t appear till Chapter 4; he’s there only a couple of pages into Chapter 1, where the origin of the lion’s skin is explained. [MW: thanks for pointing out this error: I'm not sure how it slipped through the net and will make sure it's corrected in subsequent editions.]
The programme that was screened about your work on my birthday this year on the BBC re ‘Planet Narnia’ I have taken as a gift to me.
You know you ask God (who you aren’t fully sure of) about your struggling and then just the right programme comes along. Sheer coincidence and emotionalism – maybe. But it sort of partly answered the questions that were milling around in my conscious and unconscious.
I have very much enjoyed reading Planet Narnia. One of the things that pleases me most about your theory is that it is the first one I’ve been aware of that connects Lewis’s interests as a medievalist with his composition of these “children’s stories” — which you correctly identify as “romances.” (Most medieval romances get marketed these days as “children’s stories” too.) This always seemed to me a glaring omission in the approaches writers have generally taken to the Narnia stories, and I’m glad so many leading Lewis scholars have enthusiastically endorsed your argument.
I’ve recently started an online reading journal — partly for my own benefit and partly to generate discussion with others about the works I’m reading. Although I’ve only just started the journal, one of the first books I’ve begun to discuss is Planet Narnia. I invite you, and anyone else interested, to take a look: http://acatholicreader.blogspot.com/.
I just read about your theories in Colin Duriez’s book “A Field Guide To Narnia” and promptly looked them up because they interested me greatly. In reading through your overview of the planets on your site, I could easily see which one applied to which Narnia book before I came to the bit that said so specifically. I look forward to reading your book.
My eight year old daughter and I make many visits to our local Lowell Observatory here in Flagstaff, Arizona, where Pluto was discovered and a fundamental observation made that led to the expanding universe notion and eventually the Big Bang theory. Reading Planet Narnia is as magical as watching my daughter stand on her tiptoes to gaze with rapture through a Lowell telescope at Jupiter or Saturn, or debate together whether Pluto should be a planet or not.
I read Narnia and LOTRs so many times as a child the books fell apart. As an adult I was talked into teaching a church class series on Narnia. I chose Doris Myers’ appendix in Paul Ford’s classic Companion to Narnia as a framework, looking at each book as challenges of faith at various stages of life, from young childhood in LWW to old age in LB. It made for a fruitful class, and Dr Myers article is wonderful writing, but I was not convinced this was more than only a partial explanation.
However, you have now unlocked the secret, and unlocked it superbly. Well done. I wondered if this knowledge would reduce some of the pleasure as I read the books again with my daughter. It hasn’t, it is making it more meaningful. We still enjoy the moonlit characters in The Silver Chair, even if we are now more aware of the subtle presence of the moon above.
Your book gives me an even deeper appreciation of Lewis’ disciplined humility. I imagine Tolkien or other friends grumbling about Lewis’s hodgepodge literary approach to Narnia, and yet cannot imagine Lewis being silent and making no answer nor defense. What an example for a modern academic world!
Thank you so very much for a truly delightful book. Narnia has been part of imagination since childhood, and probably began the love for children’s literature that has made me want to be a writer myself. It’s a wondrous thing to see the intricate detail that went into the creation of Narnia and I owe you quite a debt for unlocking the mystery. I look very forward to reading your next book and will do my bit to make Planet Narnia as well-known as possible.
“I believe it is the glory of a thoughtful, engaged reader or scholar, to seek out the secret that gives that unforgettable flavor of wonder to some of the world’s best stories. This is just what Michael Ward has done in Planet Narnia…” -from my review at thoroughlyalive.com
I want to thank you again for sharing your research with us at Regent University and for taking my question tonight. You have opened my mind to a whole new level of understanding of The Chronicles of Narnia and C.S. Lewis. I feel like I need to read them all over again. That is, of course, after reading Planet Narnia.
Thought provoking, mind-blowing, simply brilliant! Thank you!
Recently I was able to find an ebook of Planet Narnia at my university library and read it in amazement. I have no doubt whatsoever that you have hit upon the truth of the matter. I will be purchasing my own copy and telling all my friends to read it. Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to think all this through and present it so comprehensively. I have no doubt I’ll be re-reading your book in the future with almost as much pleasure as I re-read the Chronicles.
I have read Planet Narnia and nearly all C.S. Lewis’s books over many years. Planet Narnia was a revelation. But the enthusiasm some commentators have for the films of the Narnia books (as opposed to the books themselves) should be more cautious. See ‘Narnia Invaded’ in Touchstone, Nov-Dec 2010.
Dear Dr Ward,
Thank you so much for your insight into C.S. Lewis’s world. I feel as a result I want not only to read more about Narnia, but more of Lewis – his poetry, theological reflections and literary reflections. Lewis has had significant influence in my life. As a child, although raised in a Christian household – it was through Aslan, Edmund and that sacrifice on the Stone Table, that I first clearly understood Christ, my sin and his sacrifice for me.
Currently, I am re-reading and immersing myself in the Narnian world as the English staff at my school teach The Lion as an English text and I teach religious aspects in Religious education classes. My hope and prayer is that I can pass on to other children not only the love of Lewis’s Narnia, but a love of his Saviour so immersed in his book.
Thank you again,
On two occasions now, firstly after reading Planet Narnia and then after attending a seminar by Dr Ward (just last Friday), I’ve tried to re-read the Chronicles looking for the astrological links (etc). However, with both attempts, I have soon found myself looking “along the sunbeam”, not at it, just enjoying once again my favourite set of books, yet with an added appreciation.
Thank you Dr Ward.
Dear Dr Ward,
I was thrilled to discover your amazing book! I woud like to read it over and over again, and so am hoping that it will turn up as a Christmas present!!
Thank you very much for enlightening us, and for expanding our minds and thinking about both Narnia and the wonderful C.S. Lewis!
Did Eustace become a slave to Pug for a nychthemeron because St Eustace was captured by Egyptian pirates?
If so, was the parallel chosen for Sol – liberating, Egypt-related – and the name Eustace chosen for a character to go with that? Or did Jack come up with this by calling him Eustace, then looking up St Eustace, and then … well, getting going with solar imagery from there on?
Well done, Michael, an excellent scholarly work and a convincing treatise. Like some of your other correspondents, the apparent disunity of the Narnia series had never disturbed my enjoyment of them, although even as a boy I wondered at Father Christmas’ presence in LWW. But I knew your theory was correct because the martial Prince Caspian had always appealed to me, whereas The Last Battle, with its tones of old-age and decay had been a disappointment. I also remember thinking VDT seemed suffused with sunlight through-out, and noting that Aslan’s banner was a different colour from the usual red in this book only. I noted a few themes for each book (only the general tone and feel, not the medieval cosmology) and tested them out on my wife and children, and they independently aligned them all correctly. Very much enjoyed your book, very well written, and backed up by huge learning of the subject – congratulations on cracking this medieval code!
Recently discovered Planet Narnia. I’ve spotted a few things which I don’t think the book mentions (if it does, my apologies for my blindness):
1. HHB / Mercury: the Germanic equivalent of Mercury is Odin/Woden/Wotan, who is quite different in character from Hermes/Mercurius, but is given the same day of the week (what the French call “mercredi” is Woden’s day in English). He may wander about on the earth in the form of an old man with one eye; or he may sit far above it in Asgard, seeing all that occurs there. He is accompanied by two ravens, Thought and Memory, and ravens are sacred to him. Besides the resemblance to the Hermit of the Southern Marches, there’s also the Raven Sallowpad, whom we meet with the Narnian party in Tashbaan, whose significance for the plot is that he flew far and wide over the desert in his young days, and knows it well.
2. MN / Venus: Venus was born of the sea-foam, where the blood of Saturn fell on it after Jupiter struck him. Pegasus (Strawberry/Fledge?) was born, in one version, of the sea-foam after the blood of Medusa fell into it (although in another he was simply the son of Neptune and Medusa).
3. LB / Saturn: I would venture to disagree with the conclusion that the joyous tone of the final chapters signals the return of Jove, as such. In the Seven Heavens cosmology as Lewis expounds it, beyond the Seven Heavens of the planets lie the heaven of the fixed stars, and beyond that the eternal home of God and the elect. The Earth is the physical centre, but the spiritual periphery, the lowest thing. As you ascend through the heavens, you come closer to God and to the centre of all things. And what do the characters keep calling, throughout the closing chapters of The Last Battle? “Further up and further in!” Having endured the pains of death, the protagonists have pierced the final veil and ascended to the highest Heaven, where they enjoy eternal life.