Monday, February 1, 2016

"Planet Narnia" by Michael Ward: A Review

Winter passed and guilt forgiven. (42)

Very few writers can brag of a resume like that of the late CS Lewis. The Christian apologist wrote on a host of genres and topics including theology, apologetics, science fiction, cultural analysis, philosophy, academia, medieval literature, politics, biblical literature, poetry, fiction, allegory, and fantasy. Without a doubt, he is best known for his children's fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia. They are as mysterious as they are wondrous. They can be enjoyed by readers of all of ages yet they raise more questions they answer. For example, why did a aging professor of medieval literature without any biological children of his own write the chronicles? How can Father Christmas be in a narrative where there is no Christ thus no Christmas?

Over the years many Lewis scholars have sought answers to these questions all in vain. Why Lewis wrote and what he was trying to accomplished remained a mystery.

Until recently.

In 2008, Oxford Pressed published the answer in the book Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of CS Lewis written by Dr. Michael Ward who has unlocked the mystery behind the Narnia Chronicles. Ward shows, in this academic volume, that each book is connected with each of the seven planets.

For those new to Ward's thesis, one might be quick to dismiss it. Yet Ward offers so much evidence from Lewis's writings (especially from Narnia itself) and biography that the burden of proof now lies on those who would contradict him. Ward's argument is so strong that most scholars (including Alister MacGrath and others) are in agreement with him.

Consider some of the evidence. Ward notes that he picked up on this evidence while reading Lewis's poem "The Planets." While discussing Jupiter, Lewis writes "Winter passed and guilt forgiven." Perhaps no better summary of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe can be given but that. Just as ancient Jupiter defeats the frost of Saturn, so too the coming of Aslan the lion (another important imagery) transforms the "winter without Christmas" of Narnia into springtime.

One of the most obvious of proofs of Ward's thesis is taken from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader which relates to the sun. Ward shows how Lewis uses light and darkness, moonlight and the sun throughout the narrative. The title itself suggests it is the book about the sun. The characters are on a long voyage to the sun itself - the dawn. Then there is the dragon imagery used throughout - a theme found throughout a lot of sun imagery in ancient literature.

Ultimately this is not the place to articulate Ward's thesis. Planet Narnia overwhelms the reader with that and Ward has written a more popular level book on the same subject (The Narnia Code). The point is to see that Ward has, I believe, resolved an old mystery. Lewis did not retreat from apologetics or academia into the world of children's fantasy in writing Narnia. Rather, Narnia is the culmination of all that Lewis wrote and articulated in his Christian life.

For fans of Narnia and Lewis, this is definitely one to put on your shelf. Though it is clearly written from an academic perspective, it is worth the investment.

For more:
Eustace is Not the Only Dragon
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