SCIENCE FICTION UNIVERSITY:The New Buzz in Narnia

Charlie W. Starr
Charlie W. Starr's picture

 

            All college teachers are supposed to have an area of expertise on which they study and write. Mine is C. S. Lewis. Of course, you don’t need to be a “scholar” to love Lewis’s books, especially his Chronicles of Narnia, but being in the “scholarly loop” has brought to my attention a new theory about hidden meanings in the Narnia books which all Narnia fans will want to know about.

            Michael Ward is the Lewis scholar who stumbled upon the “Narnia Code.” In his book, Planet Narnia,[1]and the subsequent BBC documentary, The Narnia Code,[2] Ward argues that C. S. Lewis secretly organized the Narnia books using ideas, symbols and atmosphere associated with the seven planets of the medieval cosmos.

Unlocking the Code

Lewis was a medieval scholar. He wrote a poem about the medieval planets and described each in his book, The Discarded Image. Lewis saw the planets as having “a permanent value as spiritual symbols”[3] even in our own time. In Ward’s analysis, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is governed by Jupiter which shows in the book through kingliness, the color red, forgiveness of sins, joviality, the end of winter and more. Prince Caspian is governed by Mars which figures in the book’s two major themes: war and nature. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is “shining” with references to the Sun (in the medieval cosmos, the Sun and the Moon are counted among the planets). References to the Sun or its coordinate color, gold, appear on an average of every other page in the book. The Silver Chair is governed by the Moon, whose color is silver. We get the word “lunatic” from Luna, the Moon. She obscures thought even to the point of madness, and this is a controlling theme in the book. Mercury is the planet behind The Horse and His Boy. Mercury is associated with speech, twins, and the Trinity, all of which appear in this book. The Magician’s Nephew is the book over which Venus watches. The medieval mind associated Venus with wetness, creation, the garden of Eden and sometimes a dangerous woman—all elements appearing in the novel. The Last Battle is governed by Saturn who brings ruin, calamity, and the end of time. Lewis’s original name for Father Time, who wakes in this book to signal the apocalyptic end, was Saturn. He changed it before publication, perhaps to keep the code a secret for a while. Now the secret is out!

Why It Matters

            So why does it matter? First of all it helps explain why the Narnia books are still so popular—something hidden has drawn millions of readers to them in the same way that the planets and stars have drawn our gaze toward God for centuries. And this is the second reason: Ward’s discovery teaches us to think of the universe as a meaningful creation of God, not a mindless, empty machine. Psalm 19 reminds us of what modern astronomy has forgotten: “the heavens declare the glory of God” (verse 1), and Psalm 8 teaches us to ponder our place in God’s universe by considering the moon and the stars (verse 3).

Finally, the Narnia Code is important because it answers numerous critical attacks made against the books. Tolkien accused the books of being a hodgepodge of myths. But Lewis clearly had a governing image in mind. Critics have argued that the Narnia books are inferior works without depth whose spiritual meanings are obvious and crude. Ward shows us that, in addition to the surface meaning of the stories and the fairly obvious Biblical parallels some of which even children can pick out, there is a third layer of Christian meaning so carefully crafted, that no one reading the books realized it for half a century! Narnia experts who have found certain elements in the books to be weak, awkward, or just plain alien to the stories, are completely answered by this new way of seeing the books. Take for example Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Some critics have argued for years that he just doesn’t belong. But if Wardrobe is governed by Jupiter, whose symbolic realm includes the color red and boisterous, jovial characters, then Father Christmas is an absolute fit. In short Michael Ward’s discovery, gives us reasons for believing what we’ve known all along but could never quite prove: that Lewis’s Narnia books are beautiful, meaningful, excellent—greater works of literature than anyone has yet imagined.

 

 

[1] Oxford University Press, 2008.

[2] 1A Productions, UK, 2009.

[3] Lewis, C. S. “The Alliterative Metre.” Selected Literary Essays. Cambridge University Press, 1969, page 23.

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