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VINE VOICEon 6 May 2009
I have been a fan of C.S. Lewis since reading the Narnia books at the tender age of 10. When you like an author, you are keen to get your hands on more of his works. Not only did I discover a terrific sequence of science fiction books (the so-called cosmic trilogy), but I was surprised to discover that Lewis was both a Christian apologist and a very highly regarded medieval scholar (I would love to have been present at one of his Oxford lectures which have assumed legendary status).

There is something about the Narnia books, a mystical and poetical element which takes me back to them again and again. A similar atmosphere informs "The Lord of the rings" but is completely absent from the ubiquitous Harry Potter, whatever other qualities he may possess.

Michael Ward takes the credit for discovering a crucial and hitherto unguessed link between the seven Narnia novels and the seven "planets" of medieval cosmology (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, the Sun and the Moon). Incidentally these seven heavenly bodies correspond to the seven days of the week. As soon as he gets started on his exegesis, you realise he is on to a winner. By Chapter 3 I was convinced beyond doubt that Lewis did indeed base these works on his beloved astrological scheme - and deliberately concealed this fact from his readers.

This is not an easy book to read. In discussing Lewis's theology, Ward takes us into some fascinating and obscure backwaters of philosophy. I must admit he left me behind on a number of occasions. Here are some of the words scattered through the text - alterity, anaphora, chthonic, Eutychian, hesychastic, ichneutic, monophysite, oppugnancy, parousia, polysemy. If you understand these words, you will have no problem!

Despite his somewhat dense prose style, full credit must go to Michael Ward for an important discovery about these much-loved stories.
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on 30 June 2009
Michael Ward is an Anglican minister who has caused a lot of excitement among his fellow academics and others by his claim to have 'found the key'to C S Lewis' fiction writings. The books he has in mind are the Narnia Chronicles (which he calls 'the Narniad' and the Ransom Trilogy of science fiction books. Many have enjoyed Lewis' works without ever concerning themselves with the search for a 'key' but academics have frequently criticised Lewis for the 'hotch potch' of conflicting ideas and the lack of apparent order in the Narniad in particular. Even friends of Lewis criticised his entry into 'children's fiction' and thought that, as a writer, he had missed his mark.

Michael Ward suggests, in what was original a doctoral thesis, that there are unspoken themes to Lewis' works of fiction. Others have also made this claim and suggested various linking themes but none have received wide support as Ward. Lewis was known to be 'a man who liked his secrets' and Ward claims that this is why they were hidden for so long.

Lewis' chosen field of expertise was medieval literature and Ward claims that Lewis has used a medieval philosophical framework for this fiction even though the apparent stories are set in a fairy-tale world or in interplanetary space. Lewis has used the medieval mind-set to create a subliminal mood or atmosphere that was, in a sense the real story, and which was more important than any of the apparent allegorical details. Lewis, says Ward, was creating an atmosphere which in its overall effect cannot be examined too closely without losing its essence. The 'hidden key' to these subliminal moods is the medieval concept of the seven kingdom of the seven planets.

These planetary influences are not the planets of or spheres of Copernican astronomy but the Ptolemaic and 'astrological' influences of the medieval world. Lewis found a beauty and order in the pre-Copernican cosmos which he preferred to the factual order of the Copernican cosmos. The wise man, he said, does not only think in categories of factual truth but also of beauty. In this sense the Narnia Chronicles are a literary equivalent of Holst's Planets Suite, each of the seven 'heavens' giving its own key to a different Narnia chronicle.

Ward coins the word 'donegality' which he describes as a work of art in which a spiritual essence is intended by the artist but inhabited unconsciously by the reader. The author is consciously trying to create an atmosphere that he wants the reader to experience sub-consciously. It was designed by the author to remain 'implicit' in the text itself and not intended to be 'visible', nevertheless it was intended to impact the reader and to awaken sub-conscious truths that are common to mankind. For example, says Ward, Lewis attempts to awaken the sense of 'Jupiter/Jove', the kingly, magnanimous, festive, full-blooded, enjoyable aspect of God. This is the mood, expressed in the adjective 'Jovial'. A survivor of the Great War Lewis saw life and culture and having become dominated but the 'Saturnine' influences and sought to awaken 'Jupiter' in the hearts of his readers.

This is a book intended for academics but not restricted to such. Lewis described himself as reading 'as a native, texts that his students read as foreigners'. Lewis' personal world and mind-set, says Ward, was medieval. His stories consequently have a level at which they are complex frenzy of 'puns' and quotations from the world of medieval literature. To fully appreciate what Lewis is doing the reader would need more than a passing knowledge of Classical literature, Shakespeare and Dante! In his 'Preface to Paradise Lost' Lewis had written 'an influence which cannot evade our consciousness will not go very deep'. Ward contends that the Narniad and the Ransom Trilogy are Lewis attempt to create such a deep influence; to reawaken forgotten concepts of God and his ways. Ward's theory is not complicated but his elaborate proof of his theses is very comprehensive and thereby not a book to be read by the pool on a hot summer's day!

Does Ward carry his case? I believe he does. If you are prepared for your mind to be stretched... gently by a very readable writer this book will fascinate and enlarge your next reading of Lewis' world of fiction.

Review provided by Biblebase Book Reviews.
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on 17 May 2009
Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis
Anyone who is a fan of C S Lewis and the Narnia stories will find this a fascinating book as Michael Ward argues that for each book Lewis had a particular planet in mind and that through that imagery he presented different aspects of Christ. This is the reworking of a doctoral thesis and whilst some may be put off by the technical details, others will revel in the detailed endnotes.
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on 2 June 2009
I have been reading the books by C.S.Lewis, including the Chronicles of Narnia, for over 40 years. Like many, I knew there must be a logical explanation for the incredible diversity within the 7 books. Intuitively I knew that they were linked to a greater extent than the obvious (written by the same author, set in Narnia and the presence of Aslan the Lion). In this book, Michael Ward has given a very probable link between the Chronicles and an explanation for the diversity of styles between the 7 volumes. The Middle-Ages was a period when seven was seen as a perfect number and everything had to add up to seven, if at all posible. There were, fortunately, 7 planets which could, and can still, be seen by the naked eye. The 7 planets were fitted to a scheme which gave them personalities and it is these personalities which form a framework for each of the 7 Narnia stories, one planet per book. Planet Narnia presents a convincing case and, despite it being a difficult book to read because of its academic approach, will add another level of enjoyment to reading the Chronicles of Narnia
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on 2 June 2009
I was very excited to hear about this book and after watching the documentary I ordered a copy.

Well, I am plodding through it but I disagree with the blurb on the back: "Readily accessible to the average reader". I am an intelligent, well-read person but find myself constantly turning over in bed to reach for my Chambers dictionary as Michael Ward uses the most obscure words! Very annoying indeed. However, his theory is exciting and I want to be able to understand what he's going on about. I just resent all the looking-up-words-in-the-dictionary interruptions!!! Readily accessible to the average reader? No way!!!

17th August, 2009: Well, after weeks of struggling through the verbosity and some of the incomprehensible intellectual concepts, I have finally finished (June to August). I understood probably two thirds of what he was talking about but am glad I read it. I'm now re-reading the Chronicles, beginning with The Magician's Nephew.
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on 9 March 2008
I continue to be astonished by the sheer depth and breadth of research, investigation and knowledge exhibited by those who are passionate about the writings of C.S. Lewis; even those who are not professional academics or theologians go to tremendous lengths to understand and relate small details of Lewis's life and the background to his writings. Michael Ward's book goes far beyond this; he moves easily across the whole breadth of Lewis's own writings, the literature with which Lewis was familiar (which is to say, most of the literature of Western civilisation), and the subsequent critical and biographical writings about Lewis and his works. I'm not qualified to judge the correctness of his central thesis - that the Chronicles of Narnia are themed on the seven planets of the medieval cosmology. But whether Ward is right about this or not, he has certainly produced a work that achieves something else of great importance; he illustrates again, and powerfully, in detail, the fundamental unity of the whole of Lewis's works, arising from the consistency of Lewis's thought and understanding of the nature of things. He answers some of the more well-known criticisms of recent biographers and commentators (specifically, A.N. Wilson and Philip Pullman). Although (and rightly) a scholarly book, which will best be appreciated by those who have some exposure to the same literature as Lewis or are prepared to go and look up references which they don't recognise, nevertheless this book can be read simply as an enlightening and enjoyable sketch of Lewis's major imaginative works - Narnia, the Cosmic Trilogy, some of his poetry. Highly recommended.
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on 4 April 2011
Learned critics have already called Michael Ward "the foremost living Lewis scholar...a brilliant writer", described this book as "a compelling case...painstaking scholarship", and declared that "no other book on Lewis has ever shown such comprehensive knowledge of his works and such depth of insight" (i). These things having been established, this review lifts up several additional salient points.

Ward says that the Chronicles "have found such a large readership because they communicate seven ancient [planetary] archetypes in a manner which is artistically and theologically suggestive" (4). Comparing the Chronicles to the Harry Potter stories of magic on Earth, and Tolkien's "Rings" imaginary Middle-earth, Ward identifies these two primary appealing aspects - art and theology - of Lewis' Chronicles dealing with the relationship of the Earth to the Heavens.

Archetypes, we know from the depth psychology of C. G. Jung and the mythology of Joseph Campbell, are universal symbols in the collective psyche to which everyone intrinsically relates. Just as Jung painted psychic imagery and phenomena in his Red Book, Lewis painted his characters and stories in the Chronicles and has said, "'symbols are the natural speech of the soul'" (230). In art and theology we consider (watch, as you read this book, for Ward's redefinition of this term) the eternal and divine aspects of humanity, and Lewis helps us do so in the Chronicles.

Ward describes his method in this book as "a 'reading between' the Chronicles and the rest of Lewis' writings", and discernment (5). One of the great values of this book is that Ward reads between Lewis and us, and helps us to discern Lewis' enormous contribution to us spiritually, theologically, and artistically, as well as literary. Ward accomplishes the astounding, long awaited, and desperately needed task of bridging chasms between religion, theology, cosmology, astronomy, and astrology, and redirecting us from reductionist to reintegrated view of the world, our existence in it, and reestablishing our relationship to the Heavens.

He has a great sense and expression of astrological character of the seven inner planets, Sun through Saturn. The outer forces, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, are considered by astrologers to be transpersonal, from which we may imply that Lewis is attempting to reach us personally. Lewis has said the Chronicles are "about Christ" (11), so it is fair to think that Lewis was painting for us possibilities of our relationship to the Divine while we are on Earth. Because Christ taught in allegory and story, it is reasonable to think that Lewis taught that way too.

The planets are archetypal, mythological, and cosmological stepping-stones of progressive consciousness between Earth and Heaven, and even physically are stones between us and the universe. Ward, in today's patois,"goes there", and as we read this amazing, not to be missed book, he takes us along.
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on 24 June 2009
I found this book fascinating and exciting. Yes, it is academic, but then when I read "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" I found lots of words I didn't know. Michael Ward reveals the depths and originality of CS Lewis' contribution to literature, and the book showed me the delights of the hidden planetary link, and also lots of other details of medieval thought and style. Read the Chronicles of Narnia and the Cosmic Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) and if you liked those, read this.
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on 24 August 2009
Mr. Ward has managed to piece together C.S Lewis' fictional, professional and poetic works to create a very sound thesis. Using ideas Lewis expressed in the Discarded Image, the Ransom Trilogy, a collection of his poetry (predominantly The Planets), Michael Ward may have discovered the missing piece to what has now become the beloved Chronicles of Narnia.

The thesis that Ward has developed is that each book of the Chronicles of Narnia is inspired by the mythology of individual planets, as understood by the medieval eye. He carefully dissects Lewis' own fascination for these mythologies and goes as far as to explain why and how Lewis brought in the flavour and wonder of each mythology.

This book serves as a fine introduction to the works of C.S Lewis. So if anyone finds themselves curious about other works of C.S Lewis apart from the Narnia Chronicles, this covers most of them and gives the reader a fresh and original interpretation of those works.

The thesis itself may be true, it may not, but nevertheless, Mr. Ward as added a lot to the debate as to what exactly C.S Lewis was trying to achieve with his famous series and has written it in a captivating style that keeps the reader interested throughout.
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on 4 July 2009
For the first time I could see the thinking behind the series, and could appreciate that it was not just isolated one offs that happened to inhabit the same world. Very impressed by the author's thought and research.
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