Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis
by Michael Ward (Goodreads Author)
There is an underlying theme that connects all of the books of the Chronicles of Narnia, influencing the tone of each story, the imaginative elements of the plot, and the roles the characters play. This thread woven through the entire series is the medieval mythology of the cosmos, a subject which fascinated C.S. Lewis.
The seven medieval planets and their respective “deities” represent particular ideas and characteristics that are the foundation of each of the Narnia stories. These include Jupiter (in LWW), the deity of the hunt, of kingship, and revelry; Mars (in PC), the deity of war and silvan woodland; Sol the sun (in VDT), the deity of gold, fire and dragons/lizards; Luna the moon (in SC), the deity of boundaries between worlds, insanity, silver, and water; Mercury (in HHB), the deity of theft, language, swiftness, quicksilver, and twins; Venus (in MN), the deity of femininity, familial love, original temptation, laughter, and the Morning Star; and finally Saturn (in LB), the deity of death, sorrow, destruction, and time.
I really loved that this book has an extremely scholarly foundation with lots of quotes and letters and references, and a very large index full of proof of each little detail of the author’s findings. I started out very skeptical that anyone had really found some secret code in the Narnia books, but I was quickly convinced of the truth of the author’s premise. The scholarship here is very thorough.
But this book does not read like a boring doctoral thesis. I found it very readable and easy to follow. It is full of funny anecdotes and interesting stories about Lewis. There are many clever insights into, not just the Narnia series, but Lewis’ other works as well. I loved diving into the details of the Narnian characters and their personalities.
The first chapters go into some basic background about Lewis, his scholarly interests, and how he was fascinated with medieval philosophies regarding the Greek deities and the cosmos. The main focus is the influence that these philosophies had on medieval literature in the characteristics that the deities represent. Obviously Lewis and the medieval scholars did not actually believe that these deities existed, but that they were representations of ideas in human history.
Each of the deities is brought forward in its own chapter with sections about their influence on literature and especially on Lewis. We see how their most prominent characteristics and roles are seen in the person of Christ. We see their influence especially in Lewis’ Space Trilogy and in some of his poetry. And finally, we bring all the threads together in each Narnia book, showing how the characters, plot, and settings all revolve around a central theme, a planet deity from medieval philosophy.
The last chapters explain some more about the possible writing process that Lewis went through to create this structure for the Narnian stories, and about how the author himself first came to realize that this was a hidden theme in Narnia. There are also some guesses as to why Lewis thought it important to keep this a secret even after his death. Once you see the influence clearly, does it have the same influence on you as when you were just enjoying it unawares? It’s the shadowy influence that is in the background which has the most effective impact. Lewis believed that hidden things in literature were more powerful than the things on the surface.
I especially liked that the idea of the planetary deities was always brought back around to Christology, and how the person of Christ brings to fruition each of the characteristics that are explored. The author is a Christian and he showed how Lewis kept Christ at the center of the Narnia stories, both in the person of Aslan and also in the personalities of the other characters.
I found this absolutely fascinating! I will never read the Chronicles of Narnia the same way again. It’s amazing how each little detail in the Narniad supports this overarching structure of the planetary deities. Even when a character randomly exclaims, “By Jove!” it has a special meaning now.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Nigel Patterson and enjoyed it very much. The paperback copy has some illustrations from Pauline Baynes showing crucial scenes from Narnia that illustrate points made in the book, and also some photos and paintings of Greek gods demonstrating their famous roles in mythology.