Narnia and the Heavens

eng_2LWW_penguin_1973_bp_vol.jpg

Legend has it that when J.R.R. Tolkien first read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, he was not impressed.

It was a bit of a mish-mash of mythological allusions. It had dryads, centaurs, and fauns (members of the Greco-Roman mythological cast) Father Christmas (British), giants and dwarves (Norse), and a dozen other fantastical creatures awkwardly hanging out in the same imagined world. To Tolkien, who laboriously crafted a world of immense and finite coherency, Lewis’ smorgasbord of characters seemed downright careless. Of course, this didn’t stop Tolkien from buying the books as Christmas presents for all his young acquaintances, but one imagines it was not without a raised eyebrow, and a tsk tsk.

Friends don’t let friends write mythologically incoherent children’s novels.

For a long time, this is how most people regarded the Chronicles of Narnia, as the charming, hodge-podge project of a Oxford don too busy to double check which mythological creatures belonged in which story. The books are delightful, well beloved, classics even, but at the end of the day, they are children’s books, without much real literary value. But what if there is a method behind the madness Narnia? What if he didn’t just forget which creatures belonged in which mythologies? What if there is a golden string running through each story, so that they hang together like pearls on a necklace… or like planets in the night sky?

Dr. Michael Ward solved the mystery, and he has two books and a BBC documentary to prove it.

1_OYvLtH8RWkCS_uJJG0hurQ.jpeg

In Planet Narnia, he argues that medieval cosmology, a subject which fascinated Lewis throughout his life, provides the imaginative key to the seven novels. In the Medieval understanding of the cosmos, there were seven heavens (or planets) orbiting around the earth. Each of these planets had characteristics associated with its mythic counterpart— Jupiter is kingly and jolly, Mercury is quick, Saturn brings destruction—and they shed these influences upon people, events, and seasons of the year. This was a very important part of the medieval imagination, and Dr. Ward argues that each book in the Chronicles of Narnia is themed around one of these seven heavens. Although I’m naturally suspicious of anyone claiming to have made such a momentous discovery after all these years, as I read, I could not help but be convinced by Dr. Ward’s thorough, loving, and scholarly treatment of the books.

Understanding The Chronicles of Narnia through the lens of the Medieval Cosmology gave me a deeper respect for the series as a worthy masterpiece, and for Lewis as a masterful author.

Curious about what all of this means? Well, I guess you’ll just have to give it a listen…

WardMichael-700x827.jpg

Dr. Michael Ward

Michael Ward is Senior Research Fellow at Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford. He is the author of the award-winning Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis (Oxford University Press) and co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis (Cambridge University Press). Though based at Blackfriars in Oxford, Dr Ward is also employed as Professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, Texas, teaching one course per semester as part of the online MA program in Christian Apologetics.  

On the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis's death (22 November 2013), Professor Ward unveiled a permanent national memorial to him in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey.  He is the co-editor of a volume of commemorative essays marking the anniversary, entitled C.S. Lewis at Poets' Corner (2016).

Michael Ward presented the BBC1 television documentary, The Narnia Code (2009), directed and produced by the BAFTA-winning film-maker, Norman Stone.  He authored an accompanying book entitled The Narnia Code: C.S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens (Tyndale House, USA / Paternoster, UK).  

Dr Ward served as Chaplain of St Peter's College in the University of Oxford from 2009 to 2012 and as Chaplain of Peterhouse in the University of Cambridge between 2004 and 2007. He was resident Warden of The Kilns, Lewis's Oxford home, from 1996 to 1999. He studied English at Oxford, Theology at Cambridge, and has a PhD in Divinity from St Andrews.  

Dr Ward's chief claim to fame, however, is that he handed a pair of X-ray spectacles to James Bond in the movie The World Is Not Enough. Here he is next to 007 and Q:…

bond_Q.jpg

In addition to being a world renowned Lewis scholar, Dr. Ward is also a dear family friend...

Screen Shot 2019-05-06 at 22.44.55.png

Here were are at Thanksgiving, accidentally matching in our festive maroon velvet. Aren’t we fetching? We recorded this podcast after generous helpings of shepherd’s pie and sundaes. It’s amazing we didn’t fall asleep from the feast!

Listen! I cannot emphasise this enough: buy Dr. Ward’s book...

it’s a fun read and it will blow your mind.

It will also give you insight into Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis’ own literary imagination, and into medieval cosmology… the most interesting thing you never knew you needed to know about! For the more academic amongst you, let me commend the longer version… Planet Narnia…

astronomy-constellation-cosmos-2162 (1).jpg

Oh, and one more thing…

if you enjoyed Dr. Ward’s perfect English accent in today’s episode, you’ll love this week’s Patreon reward… a poetry reading by Dr Ward himself!

If you’ve thought about joining the Patreon, this is a good month to give it a go. You can find this week’s rewards and more information at the button below…

Joy ClarksonComment