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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.
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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.
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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 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 1 January 2011
The book's main thesis is the suggestion that the Narnian tales were not only informed by but consciously constructed around the medieval and renaissance astrology that played such a large part in Lewis's imagination. It's a very interesting and suggestive idea in itself. Whether the Lewis academics ultimately find it persuasive or not is a side issue for me; I loved the way Ward's chosen angle of vision foregrounded and illuminated that particular vein of poetry in the tales, which is undoubtedly there and important in them, whether or not it it plays as central a role as he suspects. I also loved the book as an anthology of Lewis's writings and for the way it reawakened in me a sense of how extraordinary his mind and the range of his culture were. I read quite a lot of Lewis's criticism and Christian apologetics, as well as most of his published fiction, a long time ago. Planet Narnia reminded me of what I'd read and why I liked it so much then, and introduced me to much new material, some of which I'm now following up. The Christian apologetics don't mean much to me now, and I suspect that they will often seem dated, but the criticism is wonderful. Even at its driest (as in Studies in Words) it's extremely illuminating, and makes you wonder how the Cambridge school got away with identifying close reading with itself; Lewis's close scrutiny of the changing conceptual weight and associations of words makes Lewis's and Richards's "practical criticism" look like amateur bungling. But Lewis is not usually dry; he's wonderfully eloquent, imaginative, sensitive to the different qualities of vision and sensibility of the authors he writes about, and gifted to a rare degree with the ability to communicate a real feeling of why books matter. Ward writes very well about the Narnia books, and clearly does so out of profound love and sympathy, but what makes his study of them so interesting and so imaginatively enlarging is the depth of his reading in Lewis's other works and the intelligence of his response to them.
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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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VINE VOICEon 6 September 2016
There is no question that Michael Ward is a bit of a genius - it took someone who was completely immersed in the world of C S Lewis to be able to spot what Ward spotted - namely that there is a subterranean structure to the Narnia Chronicles, just teasingly hinted at in his poetry.

And there is no question that he makes a convincing case, showing how each of the Chronicles corresponds to one of the planets in the medieval cosmos. The evidence floods out with parallels, allusions and imagery drawn from his academic writing, the science fiction trilogy and the poetry. It's overall effect is to show how extraordinary Lewis's mind really was - and how far us mere mortals fall short.

So this is a remarkable book - and one that inspires adult rereading of Narnia Chronicles. But the only slight negative is the fact that reading the whole is probably going to be the preserve of the true Lewis geek/aficionado. Having found the main thesis wholly convincing, I found myself less inclined to plough through every detail of corroborative evidence!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 August 2011
For those of us who grew up on CS Lewis, lived for a time in Narnia or spent exciting hours opening and closing other people's wardrobes hoping for rapid temperature changes, this is an essential piece of reading. Like "Into the Wardrobe" by David C. Downing, Michael Ward opens still more doors into the imaginative world of Narnia and the depth of knowledge and intellect of CS Lewis.
The mythology of Narnia and the mythology surrounding its genesis and creation in the minds and worlds of that little group of Oxford academics, the Inklings, will always fascinate and take people to the "Eagle and Child" on St Giles in the hope of smelling pipe smoke.
With his depth of research and fountain of Lewis knowledge, Ward has added an extraordinary book to the vast collection of Narnian works. Whether you agree or disagree with his original and unique thesis, he writes with great conviction and skill - occasionally becoming excusably escoteric, smacking of a PhD, which was its origins, but for which he can be forgiven. Combined with others, e.g. Downing's, this is an excellent read and one which helps to shed light on the Narnian books as well as much of Lewis's other scholarly writings, e.g. "Literature in the Sixteenth Century: Excluding Drama", a copy of which I bought very cheaply on Amazon and was delighted to discover it was a first edition. I looked frantically for a signature, imagining him in Blackwell's wreathed in smoke at a book-signing, but to no avail.
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on 26 July 2017
Very much enjoyed the book, which sets out in detail Lewis's structure for the seven Chronicles of Narnia, based on the ideas of medieval cosmology - "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe", for example, is concerned with ideas linked to the planet Jupiter, The Magician's Nephew to Venus, and so on throughout the series - and also deals in considerable depth with other works by C.S. Lewis (which I hadn't read but maybe some day I will) and aspects of his life, his views on contemporary poets - Lewis was also a poet - and his Christian faith. We bought this book having previously seen the BBC programme on this subject which we had enjoyed. I found myself flipping through the book at first to read specifically about the Narnian books, but later enjoyed reading it more thoroughly and have been inspired to read other works by Lewis.
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on 21 January 2010
I would have thought that literary criticism of CS Lewis very dangerous waters given his own comprehensive demolishing of even the best criticism in "Fern Seed and Elephants." And we are now further away from him than even his critics in his day.

Did CS Lewis ever say that Narnia is based on seven planets? If he didn't, then caution is to be advised from here onwards...
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