I am currently reading Planet Narnia by Michael Ward. I am only halfway through, so this is not a full review, only some thoughts. I just want to catch you before you appropriate all your Christmas money; this may be a book you want under your tree with your name affixed to it.
The primary reason to read this book is that Lewis was a genius and the Narnia movies are, to put it bluntly, not. If you are watching the movies but not reading the Narniad to your children, then your children are learning lies about Lewis. Although it may be formally true that the films were “based on books written by C. S. Lewis,” it can only be true in the meanest sense. The movies are “action/adventures” for children; the books are the subtlest of fairy tales. The movies are the epitome of unliterary, while the Narniad nears the apex of literary. The Chronicles of Narnia are sublime, and Michael Ward proves it.
Michael Ward is unflinching in his thesis that Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia were shaped by medieval cosmology, which happens also to be a distinctively Christian cosmology. But instead of Lewis using Narnia as a bare metaphor, he wrote the Chronicles “along the light” of medieval astrology instead of looking directly at the light or even at the object on which the light was shining. The seven heavens are the atmosphere in which the stories live, not the focal point of the stories themselves. You are not supposed to read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and always be thinking of the planet Jupiter, but without the medieval understanding of Jupiter which Lewis employed as his “atmosphere’ for the tale, the tale would not exist as it does. It is distinctively Jovial, and Ward proves it.
He does the same for the other six books, neatly aligning them with the other six “planets”: Mercury, Venus, Luna, Sol, Mars, and Saturn. The book is incredible—worthy to be read and reread.
I finished the Mercury chapter this morning. As we have just entered the Advent season, the following paragraph stood out to me:
In a sense, ‘the night was over at last’ is a pun, but a pun with a Christological significance, pointing, as it does, not just to the approaach of daylight but also to the effect of Aslan upon Shasta. For that matter, all good puns have Christological significance: first, because Christ himself was a punster; second because there was a divine wit at work (as Augustine recognized) when the Word became speechless (infans) in the infant Jesus; and third because of the essentially polemic import of the God-man. The incarnation of Christ, the enfleshment of the spiritual, is the tap-root of Lewis’s belief in meanings beyond the literal. It is the incarnation which sanctions and underwrites both his use of word-play, one of the lowest forms of wit, and his faith in the highest double meanings of all, which he calls symbols or sacraments. The highest does not stand without the lowest, and Lewis’s understanding of God is that he is both ‘unspeakably immanent’ and ‘unspeakably transcendent.’ To attempt to combine these theological perspectives without cancelling out their polarity was a bold endeavor and full of risk. The Horse and His Boy succeeds as well as it does because a river of Mercury runs through it.Check out more about Planet Narnia at the website here.