Planet Narnia

Yes, I know….the title of this post sounds like an awful science fiction movie from the 1950s.  But it is actually the title of a book written by Michael Ward which claims (and in my opinion, proves quite convincingly) that the seven books in the Narnia series written by C.S. Lewis correspond thematically to the seven planets of medieval cosmology.  The basic breakdown is as follows:

  1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – Jupiter
  2. Prince Caspian – Mars
  3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – the Sun (yes in medieval cosmology the Sun was considered a planet)
  4. The Silver Chair – the Moon (see comment on the Sun above)
  5. The Horse and His Boy – Mercury
  6. The Magician’s Nephew – Venus
  7. The Last Battle – Saturn

Why this is significant is that for many years, critics (even as far back as J.R.R. Tolkien, who hated the Narnia books) considered the works – charming as they were- to be kind of a sloppy mish-mash of mythologies with Christian themes kind of shoehorned in clumsily.  After all, what the heck is Father Christmas doing in The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe when in Narnia there isn’t a figure known as Christ?  Furthermore, other critics tended to consider Lewis’ foray into children’s literature to be something of a retreat or departure from Christian apologetics after his well-publicized defeat in debate by the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe (who was herself a quite committed Christian).  Neither of these things is true.  The fact that Lewis could effectively hide a layer of meaning in his books that stayed hidden for over 50 years shows how multi-layered and complex these deceptively simple works really are.  But the other thing this shows is something that endlessly fascinates me.

Lewis, the straightforward polemical debater, came to believe (if he ever really believed otherwise) that in many ways Truth is much more effectively communicated via the vehicle of story, myth or parable (or even for lack of a better term, fairly tale) than straightforward polemical argument.  Jesus, after all, told many parables and the Bible does not present a coherently argued philosophy as much as it tells a Story.  I think that this is true in many, many ways.  We have difficulty processing facts and events that do not fit neatly into the narrative (or another way of putting it, reality) that we have constructed for ourselves.  This is often seen in political discourse, Ronald Reagan is seen as the ultimate tax-cutter by some despite the fact that as President (and Governor of California for that matter) he raised taxes several times for various reasons.  Barack Obama ran explicitly in 2008 as a peace candidate but has increased troops in Afghanistan, greatly increased unmanned drone attacks in Pakistan and involved the U.S. in a war (er, kinetic action) in Libya.  Facts that don’t fit neatly into a narrative tend to be either ignored or re-defined to fit the narrative.

Where this really hits home is in our personal lives.  Who constructs the narrative that the facts of our life fit into?  That really is a question that determines a great deal of the way that we live.  One way of looking at life in Christ is that is the constant battle to deconstruct the harmful narratives that the world, the Enemy, ourselves or others (or all of the above) have built into our life and reconstruct the narrative of God’s actions and presence in our lives through the action of the Holy Spirit.

If you like the Narnia books, I would highly recommend reading Ward’s book or getting a hold of the DVD – “The Narnia Code” which was produced for BBC.  The documentary is very, very British (and I mean that in a good way) and teases out themes in Lewis’ work I had never really considered before.  Check it out.

 

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