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An Unproven Thesis
on 17 August 2009
This is a scholarly work rather than light holiday reading but is, nevertheless, worth persevering with. Michael Ward's thesis is that the Narnia books of CS Lewis contain three layers: the stories themselves, the Christian messages and a third layer which Ward thinks he has discovered: that the books were planned around the astrological characteristics (as understood in the Middle Ages) of the seven planets (the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn). Ward assembles an impressive array of quotations linking each book to a planet. So "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is linked to Jupiter, "The Horse and His Boy" is linked to Mercury and so on.
This book has three major weaknesses. The first is that CS Lewis himself never mentioned or wrote of such a scheme, so Ward has to make a case that Lewis was deceitful and secretive. The case that he makes is unconvincing.
The second weakness is that Ward has no discussion of any empirical evidence of how authors of fiction actually go about writing their books; so we do not even know if it is possible for a writer to plan a series of books with three layers of meaning.
The third weakness is that Ward ignores what Lewis himself said and wrote about reconstructing the history of how a book was written:
"I have watched with some care similar imaginary histories both of my own books and of books by friends whose real history I knew...My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right...What I think I can say with certainty is that they are usually wrong...And yet they would often sound...extremely convincing...we find that when [the facts are] available, the results are either always, or else nearly always, wrong..." ("Fern Seed and Elephants")
Ward's thesis is thus refuted by Lewis' own words.
To give the last word to Lewis himself,
"The 'assured results of modern scholarship', as to the way in which an old book was written, are 'assured', we may conclude, only because the men who knew the facts are dead and can't blow the gaff." (op. cit.)
Since I posted my review of this book, I have read Michael Ward's "The Narnia Code" and also several relevant books, particularly "C S Lewis - A Biography" by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper. What I have read convinces me that Ward's thesis is simply wrong. The gestation of the books as described in chapter 11 of this biography offers little support for Ward's ideas. Ward includes the biography in his Bibliography in "The Narnia Code" but he has not discussed chapter 11, presumably because it would be negative evidence.
Green was a student of CS Lewis who later became a friend and a member of "The Inklings". He read the manuscripts of the Narnia books and made constructive comments on them. Lewis made at least some changes in the light of Green's comments. Yet Green says nothing about a scheme to have seven books relating to the seven planets.
Green and Hooper do include an extract from a letter CS Lewis wrote in 1961 about the Christian aspects of the Chronicles (p 324)
"The Magician's Nephew tells the Creation and how evil entered Narnia.
The Lion etc. the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
Prince Caspian restoration of the true religion after a corruption.
The Horse and his Boy the calling and conversion of a heathen.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader the spiritual life (especially in Reepicheep).
The Silver Chair the continued war against the powers of darkness.
The Last Battle the coming of Antichrist (the Ape). The end of the world and the Last Judgement."
Ward is asking us to accept that Lewis wrote the seven books according to two quite independent schemes: the Christian scheme above and the Planets scheme! I don't think so.