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Welcome to the Ivory Tower
on 9 November 2010
I hadn't read any of the Narnia novels before I saw a BBC documentary about Michael Ward and his new literary theory. The documentary made a riveting case for the "planetary" argument and I instantly wanted to know more about it... so the first thing I had to do was read all 7 books in the Narnia series.
And I have to say - my enthusiasm waned with each book. "The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe" and perhaps "The Magician's Nephew" are the best of the lot. As time wore on and I waded through twee identikit chapters full of convenient plot twists, one-dimensional characters and increasingly unsubtle Christian allegory... I began to find C.S. Lewis a chore to read.
And the biggest chore was yet to come. Michael Ward has spent 30 years studying and teaching Lewis - and I think it's fair to say that he's totally out of touch with the everyday reader. Granted, his argument is an important one in academic circles and his book needed to be written in a style that would impress his peers... but this makes it entirely inaccessible to the general public.
Ward also assumes that you, the reader, have an intimate knowledge of Lewis' obscure theological essays, his poetry, his sci-fi novels, etc. I know nothing about any of these... and vast tracts within this book were entirely lost on me. He also assumes that you, the reader, have an interest in and a cultured understanding of Christianity. If you have just one or neither, many pages of this book will be clear as mud to you.
I think I also question Ward's attitude to his own theory. Consider this statement: "I must say that the making of this discovery has struck me as something analogous to a scientific breakthrough or even a religious revelation." And also this, when Ward describes how he felt immediately prior to his discovery: "...the atmosphere in the room suddenly became somehow intense and palpable. It was a most unusual experience and I went back to my theological college in a kind of daze. Exactly what had happened to me, I did not know, but I felt it to be of tremendous import."
Something about this sort of hubris turned me off. There are more important things in the world than another protracted study of the Narnia novels. This book left me cold, bored and wondering why scholars try so hard to put their own words into the mouths of authors who can no longer speak for themselves.