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Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis

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For over half a century, scholars have laboured to show that C. S. Lewis's famed but apparently disorganised Chronicles of Narnia have an underlying symbolic coherence, pointing to such possible unifying themes as the seven sacraments, the seven deadly sins, and the seven books of Spenser's Faerie Queene. None of these explanations has won general acceptance and the structure of Narnia's symbolism has remained a mystery.

Michael Ward has finally solved the enigma. In Planet Narnia he demonstrates that medieval cosmology, a subject which fascinated Lewis throughout his life, provides the imaginative key to the seven novels. Drawing on the whole range of Lewis's writings (including previously unpublished drafts of the Chronicles), Ward reveals how the Narnia stories were designed to express the characteristics of the seven medieval planets - - Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Luna, Mercury, Venus, and Saturn - - planets which Lewis described as "spiritual symbols of permanent value" and "especially worthwhile in our own generation." Using these seven symbols, Lewis secretly constructed the Chronicles so that in each book the plot-line, the ornamental details, and, most important, the portrayal of the Christ-figure of Aslan, all serve to communicate the governing planetary personality. The cosmological theme of each Chronicle is what Lewis called 'the kappa element in romance', the atmospheric essence of a story, everywhere present but nowhere explicit. The reader inhabits this atmosphere and thus imaginatively gains connaitre knowledge of the spiritual character which the tale was created to embody.

Planet Narnia is a ground-breaking study that will provoke a major revaluation not only of the Chronicles, but of Lewis's whole literary and theological outlook. Ward uncovers a much subtler writer and thinker than has previously been recognized, whose central interests were hiddenness, immanence, and knowledge by acquaintance."

347 pages, Hardcover

First published January 15, 2008

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Michael Ward

19 books117 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 360 reviews
Profile Image for Sarah Clarkson.
Author 7 books952 followers
August 14, 2010
There is a verse in Proverbs that says it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and the glory of kings to search it out. Well, since all creators of books are made in the image of a creative God, I think its safe to say that sometimes it is the glory of an author to weave a mystery in the symbols of his story. There is in some books, a unity, a power of image, a spiritual atmosphere that cannot easily be described, yet drives the wonder of the story. I believe it is the glory of a thoughtful, engaged reader or scholar, to seek out the secret that gives that unforgettable flavor of wonder to some of the world's best stories. This is just what Michael Ward has done in Planet Narnia.

He takes C.S. Lewis' famous Chronicles of Narnia and asks what ought to be an obvious question for so popular a series. What is the unifying theme of the Narnia books? Is it an allegory of the life of Christ? Is it the tale of the world from Genesis to Revelation? Why are there so many disparate elements of myth or legend in the series? Why a very modern Father Christmas in one, with centaurs in another, and a sort of Poseidon river god in the next? Lewis was a first rate, Oxford-trained scholar of literary and classical history. He was far too thorough a master of mythology to carelessly mishmash Greek gods with modern fairy tales with Celtic legends and biblical symbols. So what was the theme behind his books, the deep sense of beauty and even unity that has drawn generations of readers, despite the random appearance of giants and dwarves, talking stars, and heroic fauns?

The answer is planets, according to Michael Ward. Planet Narnia claims that Lewis based each book on one of the seven planets or "heavens" in the medieval model of the cosmos. Lewis was professor of medieval literature at Oxford, and was a lifelong lover and teacher of medieval thought and literature. He thought the medieval view of the heavens and their influence upon the earth was quite beautiful. Before Copernicus and others dismantled the idea of an earth centered universe, the cosmos was seen as a living place where stars cried glory. Seven planets held sway over the earth in different seasons and times, stars shed their laughter over people and times. Each planet was a symbol, a personed force (often based the gods of Greek and Roman mythology), with a distinct spiritual atmosphere. (I'll stop here as I'm not yet articulate enough to tell it all right... but I will be soon!) Lewis saw this model of the universe, this idea of the heavens as full of stars and planets singing the glory of God as a deeply Christian one, while also aesthetically satisfying to the soul. As an accomplished academic, a lover of mysteries and medieval thought, and quite a secretive man when he wanted to be, why wouldn't Lewis base his series of children's literature on one of his favorite subjects of study? Why not leave it as a mystery for future readers to discover?

Regardless whether you agree or not, you will find Planet Narnia a lively discussion of Lewis' work. And if, like me, you hunger to understand literature and it's study, to grasp how great stories are formed, you'll find it a fun, but educational glimpse into literary scholarship and criticism. You'll find offshoots of spiritual discussion, philosophy, and history that add to the worth of this book. Another excellent reason to read this book is if you want to understand the depth of creativity present in any good story. The more I study, the more I am convinced that no great work of literature, especially of the fantasy or fairy tale sort, springs into being intact just from the brain of its author. Lewis and Tolkien were both great scholars, and their famous works of story are filled with evidence of their study into ancient culture, myths, and legends. Some scenes in The Two Towers are meant to directly recall Beowulf to the savvy reader. Tolkien's language was based on his study of Old English and Norse. MacDonald wove Celtic themes into his tales, Merlin appears in one of Lewis' fantasies. As a writer, I am learning to understand that every story I read, every book I study, every myth and legend I find, adds texture, depth, and subtlety to the stories I will someday create. Joel has discussed this with me when it comes to music - as he studies the structures of melody and harmony wrought by great composers, his own capacity for creation gains depth and intricacy.

So. Read Planet Narnia and decide for or against the planet theory yourself. My brother, Joel, gave me this book for Christmas two years ago, and it has been in my to-read stack ever since. It's a thick book, and the sort of learned tome that many readers will need to experience with the occasional help of a dictionary. The Rabbit Room posted a review and video with the author which caused me to set it as next in line on my stack. I am now two chapters in and thoroughly captivated. I am also inclined to agree with the author's claim, especially since the medieval planetary theme is so much part of Lewis "adult fairy tale" That Hideous Strength. (A surpassingly strange book, but one of my favorites. If any of you have read it, I'd love your impressions.) This is probably a very bookwormish post, but I'm assuming most of you are bookworms too. All that to say. Ah, the glory of great books and ah, the glory of newly discovered mysteries, and ah the wondrous fun of being a reader!

(Oh, and if you like, you can visit Michael Ward's official site here. If you have questions, you'll probably find quite a few answers there.)
Profile Image for Doug.
84 reviews54 followers
December 7, 2019
This is a fascinating, essential read for any fans of Narnia. Michael Ward makes for a convincing argument that the Narnia series was not just a random collection of fantasy stories and fairy tales that suddenly popped into the head of a childless academic, but rather they were a calculated series designed to mimic the Seven Heavens of mythical and medieval cosmology. Ward also takes on critics of Lewis in his work, including Tolkien, which I appreciated. This is a must read if you love Narnia, and I know that the next time I read the series my experience will be richer for it.
Profile Image for Brittany Petruzzi.
488 reviews40 followers
July 10, 2012
I’ve often wondered what it is that makes me love the Chronicles of Narnia so much. Objectively speaking, the writing and structure are not as put together as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. And yet, I’ve read the Narniad more times than I can count, while Lord of the Rings only thrice. Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia gives me that reason.

While it’s true that some of what he says is far-fetched—“reaching” might be a better term—I think the gist of it is correct. Lewis may have been a speedy author, but he wasn’t careless. He didn’t throw Dionysus in there just for kicks and giggles. By talking about Lewis’ inherently secretive nature and his love for story—just plain story—Ward shows how brilliant the Narniad really is.

I especially like how he neither called the Narniad a symbol or an allegory for something else, but “donegality.” The idea he’s not trying to get across a comparison or something of the like, but simply a feel. Jupiter and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe feel jovial, Mars and Prince Caspian feel martial.

While I don’t perhaps agree with everything Ward puts across, I appreciate his defense of Lewis over Tolkien’s veritable tearing him down
Profile Image for J. Aleksandr Wootton.
Author 5 books130 followers
December 9, 2019
This book is brilliant.

Not only did I find it thoroughly enjoyable to follow Ward's analytic/appreciative journey through the great body of Lewis' famous fiction and more obscure writings, I also - despite his eyebrow-raising premise - discovered his arguments to be well-made and compelling. Ward's case, though not perhaps established beyond all possible dispute, is at least highly plausible and greatly illuminating. This is the kind of literary criticism that all literary criticism should be, but very rarely is.

A thorough working knowledge of both the Narnian Chronicles and the Ransom Trilogy are prerequisite.
Profile Image for Anne White.
Author 30 books193 followers
March 2, 2023
I had avoided this book because it sounded too Dan-Brown-ish, but Tammy Glaser's chapter-by-chapter enthusiastic notes here convinced me to try it. I found the connections between Lewis's academic work and poetry, the Space Trilogy, and the Narnia books almost as interesting as the central argument about the use of the mythical planetary figures that "inhabit" each of the volumes. The book is well-organized and logical, and also quite educational for those of us whose knowledge of Jupiter and Sol is not what it could be. The one less star is not because of poor writing but because I think the book's specialized language and detailed analysis won't appeal to everyone.
Profile Image for Ben De Bono.
453 reviews79 followers
August 3, 2015
Planet Narnia is quite an interesting failure, but a failure nonetheless. Michael Ward makes the fatal error of becoming far too enamored with his conclusions and, as a result, misses the far more interesting things his research points to.

The premise of the book is that C.S. Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia with the intention of having each volume take on the character of one of the seven spheres of medieval cosmology. Thus The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe reflects the medieval understanding of Jupiter, Prince Caspian follows Mars, etc.

It's an interesting idea and one that makes for a fascinating way to read the series. The problem is that Ward isn't proposing this as a sort of alternate reading, but as THE reading - the hidden key to deciphering what Lewis was writing about. The evidence for this is - to put it kindly - highly, highly circumstantial.

I love alternate readings, but when they go from being fun, literary thought experiments to being a true search for hidden authorial intent they get really weird really fast. It's quite telling that Ward's simpler version of Planet Narnia is called The Narnia Code - a title that immediately recalls The DaVinci Code. Indeed, Ward seems like he's trying to pull a Dan Brown on Narnia, and I don't mean that as a compliment.

In many places the work reads less like scholarship and more like conspiracy theory pesudo-scholarship. I found myself wondering if I should have made a tinfoil hat before I started reading.

This conspiratorial tone is seen most clearly when Ward presents his evidence for why each novel lines up with its respective planet. Like all good conspiracy theories, the evidence on the surface seems convincing. It accomplishes this by ignoring context and more logical interpretations.

Let me provide a few examples. As I mentioned, Ward claims TLTWTW is written in the style of Jupiter. As such, it, according to him, as a jovial character unique to the series. In evidence of these he cites the romp that Lucy and Susan enjoy with Aslan upon his resurrection. The evidence fits fine until we look closer. First, the romp in question pales in comparison to the far more jovial one the two again enjoy in the final act of Prince Caspian. If romps are evidence joviality - and thus the influence of Jupiter - TLTWTW comes in at least second place in the series. Second, the better fit for what Lewis is alluding to in the post resurrection scene is Jesus' meeting with the women in the garden after his resurrection. Medieval allusions are rampant in Narnia, but in this case it's in Scripture, not medieval literature, that we find our best answer.

A second example comes in his discussion of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is said to take on the character of Sol. Although Sol - the sun - was recognized by the medievals as a planet, they still saw it as a source of light. As such, Ward wants to make sure we note any allusions to light in the novel. A major one comes at the end when, nearing the end of the world, the crew of the Dawn Treader tastes the water they are sailing in and find it inexplicably nourishing. They describe it repeatedly as drinkable light.

That seems to be a major point for Ward's theory, but, again, it collapses upon closer inspection. The allusion is almost certainly not to Sol but to a scene at the end of Dante's Paradiso in which Dante, nearing the beatific vision, drinks from a river of - you guessed it - light. Drinkable light. The parallels are even more stunning when we consider the effects of the two scenes. In Dawn Treader the crew is made better able to bear the overwhelming glory of the end of the world. The exact same thing happens to Dante when by drinking the light he is made able to bear the glory of Paradise and is prepared for his final ascent to God.

The scene also is part of a long series of Eucharistic moments in Dawn Treader that begin at Ramandu's table and end with the Lamb at the end of the world.

I could go on with more examples, but the point has been made. This pattern repeats itself over and over again in the book.

It's a shame because Ward has a lot of fascinating research. In fact, if we abstract his conclusion and say that Narnia is meant to be read in light of medieval thought and is full of medieval allusions then he's spot on. However, that's not a hidden code long missed in the series, but a fact that's obvious to anyone even slightly versed in medieval literature.

Thus Ward's error is in both proving too much and too little: too much because he forces an overly specific conclusion that collapses under a mountain of contrary evidence; too little because in focusing on this conclusion he misses the far richer context his research points to.

I won't say the book is a complete loss. The research is truly excellent. It's simply a shame that it's been used to reach such an ephemeral and unconvincing conclusion.
Profile Image for Melinda.
746 reviews53 followers
November 8, 2020
Am re-reading this book. Such a delight to read!

2008 review

If you love CS Lewis and his Chronicles of Narnia (deeply, not just casually, but DEEPLY), then you'll find this book very wonderful. Michael Ward, the author, brings in many of Lewis' other works and poetry, to explain his discovery (he says) of the underlying and unifying "theme" or "kappa element" in the Chronicles of Narnia -- the medieval cosmology of the planets. This cosmological theme in each book is the "kappa element" according to Lewis, which explains the atmospheric essence of a story. It is not explicitly stated "this book reflects Jupiter from medieval cosmology", but the atmosphere of the book reflects that in every conversation and setting in the book.

After reading the book, I have come to agree that Ward has hit the nail on the head. Lewis had a lifelong interest in medieval cosmology, and the examples taken from the books to support Ward's premise are very strong supporters of his premise.

Jupiter -- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Mars -- Prince Caspian
Sol -- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Luna -- The Silver Chair
Mercury -- The Horse and His Boy
Venus -- The Magician's Nephew
Saturn -- The Last Battle

This is a book for people who have read Lewis over and over again, and wondered about similarities of themes between "That Hideous Strength" from the Space Trilogy and discussions from "The Discarded Image" and back into Narnian lands. If you are not familiar with as much of Lewis' work, it may be a bit difficult to follow, but I still would recommend reading the book!
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 19 books117 followers
December 30, 2020
Self-praise is no recommendation, so the proverb goes. That being the case, all I will say is that Goodreads should change their five-star rating system to a more heptarchically friendly seven-star system. Whether I would then give Planet Narnia six stars, seven stars, or just stick with the present five . . . well, I don't suppose I will ever know . . . !
Profile Image for Clay Davis.
Author 3 books113 followers
December 25, 2019
The book cover looks like it could be on a book about the solar system.
Profile Image for Chad.
Author 22 books287 followers
November 26, 2022
This book's basic premise is that Lewis patterned the seven Narnia novels around the medieval geocentric view of the universe, with the seven planets circling the earth (Moon [Luna], Mercury, Venus, etc.). Each of the novels is linked with a different planet, with implicit and explicit nods to that planetary influence, including on how Aslan is presented.

I found the arguments not only convincing but brilliantly argued.

I can imagine that Michael Ward's study would appeal to readers who are coming from several different directions (maybe, for some of us, multiple directions simultaneously).

To the casual reader of the Narnia novels, the book demonstrates that, even though the stories often seem rather loosely connected, there is an underlying bond that joins all seven. It would be fun to reread the novels with Ward's argument in mind, to ferret out the planetary language while enjoying the story.

For the serious student of Lewis, Planet Narnia is an obvious must-read. Not only is the narrative unity of the works exposed, but Ward demonstrates how Lewis wove the planetary theme into the Space Trilogy as well as his other works, poetry especially.

For readers like myself, who are at home in the biblical world, with its intertextuality and web of connections between the OT and NT, this book serves as a handy example of how this same intertextuality is at work in other literature. Lewis masterfully yet often obliquely kneaded together myth, history, Bible, and current events into a coherent whole in the Narnia series. Planet Narnia provides the key that unlocks that coherence. Likewise, when Christ is discovered to be the key that unlocks the unity of the OT and NT, one can begin with Genesis and perceive how masterfully and yet often obliquely Christ is present in the salvation story.

Thanks to Michael Ward for giving us such a gem!
Profile Image for Tim Michiemo.
216 reviews30 followers
October 18, 2022
4.4 Stars

“Planet Narnia” by Michael Ward is a book that traces the central theme throughout C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books. Wards argument is that Lewis was influential by medieval cosmology, the seven planets, and that each book centers around the “donegality” or “character trait” of each of the planets. Ward also argues that Lewis believed that the medieval cosmological planets, Venus, Jupiter, Mars, Luna, Sol, Saturn, and Mercury, all reveal certain characteristics of the Divine. So in tracing and emphasizing each of these “donegalities” in each book Lewis was showing us more of the Divine nature, particularly in Christ.

This book was remarkably enlightening and engaging. The greatest gift of this book was being introduced to Lewis’a enchanted view of the world. That Lewis believed that the premodern view of the cosmos was more true than the modern materialistic one. And the through Ward’s book we see more of the beauty and order that Lewis saw in all things. The beauty in all things that displays Gods glory.

Yet, the weakness of this book is that Ward’s argument is extremely difficult to comprehend. The central theme of the seven cosmological entities is difficult to see simply because of our unfamiliarity with them. Ward does a good job describing each one of them but you almost need a whole another book explaining each of the seven cosmological entities before tracing the themes.

Overall, this was a spectacular book and grew my love and appreciation for Lewis. It made me long to embrace Lewis’s enchanted view of the world and appreciate God’s beauty in all things. I would highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
Author 2 books216 followers
Want to read
February 16, 2022
Michael Ward signed a copy on September 20, 2013, at Houston Baptist University, where he gave the keynote address for a CCL. I also heard him at Baylor on April 4, 2016.

Touchstone summary here.

More information about Lewis's "Planets" poem here.

Eric Metaxas interviews Ward on the book here, and it appears on Plodcast, Episode #5. Pilgrim Faith podcast interview here.

The Narnia Code is the popular-level version.

For some reconsiderations of the thesis (not by Ward), see here.
Profile Image for M.G. Bianco.
Author 1 book113 followers
May 20, 2013
I finished this book having read it as part of my vacation in Narnia. I read through the entire Chronicles of Narnia septet in seven days, followed by a few days for Douglas Wilson's What I Learned in Narnia, then this.

This book took my a couple of weeks to read. It was much more scholarly than I expected. I understand that author Michael Ward has another version of the book, Narnia Code, that is intended to be more accessible popularly. I probably should have read that book.

I really did enjoy the book, though. I think he makes a compelling case for the idea that Lewis incarnated the seven heavens into each of the seven Chronicles. The seven heavens are the seven planets of the pre-Copernican revolution, the seven planets that revolved around the earth: Jupiter, Mars, Sol (the Sun), Luna (the Moon), Mercury, Venus, and Saturn--corresponding to the seven Chronicles in their original order.

He presents his argument by identifying the medieval characteristics of each of the heavens, and by revealing Lewis's thoughts on the planets first from his scholarship and poetry, then from the Ransom Trilogy. Finally, he exposes those characteristics in each of the seven books.

The Chronicles need to have been read once through (at least) before undertaking a reading of this book, and probably of his other book on the subject, Narnia Code. I also found it helpful that I had read the Ransom Trilogy. It would probably be helpful to have read some of Lewis's poetry, especially The Discarded Image and The Planets, but I had not read them...yet.

Having read Planet Narnia, I now want to re-read the Chronicles (which I just read a couple of weeks ago) and the Ransom Trilogy and his poetry. If you love Lewis, and especially the Chronicles of Narnia, you should read this book, or the Narnia Code. You will likely find it as eye-opening as I did.

I must admit, however, that I had been recommended this book by a friend who spoke very positively of it. So I read it open to his arguments. If you are skeptical going into the book, you might not find it (and rightly so? I don't know) as convincing as I did.

It is also worth mentioning that I read it after having read Wilson's book on Narnia, in which he mentions Ward's book approvingly--further preparing me to read it acceptingly, acceptingly--not necessarily without criticism.

Profile Image for Carol Bakker.
1,145 reviews75 followers
April 2, 2018
How is it that seven such stories, authored by an unlikely novice and possessing little apparent coherence in design, should have become some of the best-selling and most influential fables in the world?

Planet Narnia is Michael Ward's answer to three questions:
of occasion (Why were they written?),
of composition (Why is the series not uniformly allegorical?) and
of reception (Why have they become so successful?)

Each Chronicle is associated by plot and ornamental detail with a planet (pre-Copernican system);
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with Jupiter
Prince Caspian with Mars
Voyage of the Dawn Treader with Sol
The Silver Chair with Luna
The Horse and His Boy with Mercury
The Magician's Nephew with Venus
The Last Battle with Saturn

Ward convinced me. I have no doubt that Lewis had a hidden plan. The evidence is compelling. The scholarship is astounding.

But I am uneasy.

Lewis 'baptises' pagan gods and makes them, via Aslan, a type of Christ. How is this not syncretism? The basis for this is astrology (which before the seventeenth century was not distinguished from astronomy). So dire were warnings about astrology in my youth, that to this day I've never read a horoscope and don't know what my 'sign' is.

When I read The Discarded Image twenty years back, I was bowled over by the beauty and overwhelmed by the order. So neat. So tidy. So lovely. Lewis and Norman Cantor make me want to be a medievalist.

Fortunately, I am reading this near the beginning of my C.S. Lewis Reading Project (to read through the published works). I'm suspending my unease while I continue to read and learn. I will consider these things. [consider ← from Latin, con- with + sidus-star ← to regard in a particular light]

Ward's writing was wrought with wonder. The closing paragraphs of each of his seven chapters on the planets were extraordinarily wonderful, containing a captivating zinger. I copied each paragraph in full into my commonplace book.
Profile Image for G.M. Burrow.
Author 1 book105 followers
January 8, 2019
Reading Michael Ward’s book Planet Narnia is like reading Jim Jordan's Through New Eyes for C. S. Lewis. Ward shows how the planets, which, as conceived by medieval astrology, had for Lewis “a permanent value as spiritual symbols," are a major driving force behind The Chronicles of Narnia. We have the complete set: Jupiter (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), Mars (Prince Caspian), the sun (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), the moon (The Silver Chair), Mercury (The Horse and His Boy), Venus (The Magician’s Nephew), Saturn (The Last Battle).

But the symbolism isn’t true for Narnia alone. Ward demonstrates how it is behind much of Lewis’ poetry and the three books of the space trilogy. In so doing, Ward makes an unassailable case for the Narnia series by showing it to be a favorite paradigm. Thus, behind much of Lewis’ fictional work is the “discarded image” he loved so well.

There will be skeptics who insist that the branches here are simply too skinny, but in Ward’s defense is Lewis himself: If a person comes to you with a new piece of music and tells you it is the central passage of a well-known symphony, the only test you can conduct is to set the new music in the center and see what it does to the rest of the work. If the symphony makes even grander sense than before, you conclude the discovery must be authentic. "If it constantly brought out new meanings from the whole of the rest of the work, if it made you notice things in the rest of the work which you had not noticed before, then I think you would decide that it was authentic" ("The Grand Miracle"). Planet Narnia reveals the center of the Narnian symphony, and suddenly all the sounds not only make more sense, but are more beautiful than ever.
Profile Image for Ryan Reeves.
20 reviews45 followers
October 1, 2012
I will say from the start a bit about my history with this book's author. Michael Ward (Spud to his friends) was a friend and colleague at Cambridge University. In fact, he was more than a friend; he was a scotch-drinking friend, and those are the best sorts of friends to have. I say this not to give my review any particular weight, but merely to say that I am prejudiced towards seeing all good and light and truth in Michael's work.

But the reader of "Planet Narnia" will, I think, find that I am right in my prejudice. This is a wonderful book, a book in need of a large audience outside the regular Lewisian scholars who will read anything on Lewis, dull or profound. Michael has found the vital link to interpret Lewis' "Narnia Series", or Narniad, and answered the vital question: why are some of Lewis' tales more allegorical than others, some more obviously biblical and others without any singular reference at all?

The answer, it seems, reveals a depth to Lewis' mind that is often ignored by those who view "Narnia" as an imaginative flight of fancy from a man nearing the dotage of his twilight years, or worse still, as a work of reactionary Romanticism after Lewis' previous forays into the cold logic of books like "Miracles", or "Mere Christianity".

I'll leave the answer to the Great Mystery out of this review so as not to spoil the conclusion. Needless to say, buy and read this book at your earliest convenience.
Profile Image for Fonch.
347 reviews280 followers
October 19, 2022
Ladies and gentlemen after having written the review of "The Captive" by Victoria Holt https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ("Planet Narnia" was one of the books that I never thought would be published in Spanish. There are still wonders to edit as you can see in my review of Eduardo Mendoza's "King receives" https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... I wrote precisely for that to raise awareness among Spanish publishers of the great novels, and authors who are being lost) I have finally been able to read "Planet of Narnia" " which has been wonderfully edited by CEU Ediciones, which edited brilliant abstracts of conference papers around the figures of G.K. Chesterton, https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... (this is certainly my favorite although Tolkien's is not bad) C.S. Lewis https://www.goodreads.com/author/show...
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... , and J.R.R. Tolkien https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... . The first thing is to express my sympathy for Mr Michael Ward https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... . Personally I did not have the opportunity to meet him, but I remember that when my admired Don Juan Manuel de Pra https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... da was giving a series of lectures in Oxford he could not attend, but he posted an ad on his Facebook wall so that people could go to the conferences of my admired Don Juan Manuel de Prada. This book is a bit arduous but interesting, and is not a guide to Narnia as my admired Joseph Pearce wrote https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3..., Walter Hooper https://www.goodreads.com/author/show..., Thomas Howard https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1... James T. As https://www.goodreads.com/author/show..., Alan Jacobs https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6... https://www.goodreads.com/author/show..., David C. Downing https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8..., Richard L. Purtill https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3... https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4... . My friend at Goodreads Sorina Higgins https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3..., although I know that her specialty is Charles Williams, https://www.goodreads.com/author/show..., Colin Duriez https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1... . Nor is it a biography, like the one written by the friends of C.S. Lewis Walter Hooper himself, or Alastair McGrath https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1.... Ward himself in his book will mention many more authors. I don't want to stun you with an infinite list of names, as my father says I don't want to cause you a perpetual brain arrhythmia :-).
But what this book is about is what led C.S. Lewis to write his famous Chronicles of Narnia, and after discarding a lot of theories Ward argues that Lewis being a person fascinated by the Late, Full, Late Middle Ages, and Renaissance was influenced by the planets, and astrology, despite the rejection that this discipline has among the Fathers of the Church including St. Augustine https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... perhaps one of the most beautiful elements of "The City of God" is not to be slaves of the stars, nor of a predeterminism, and it should be noted, that although a person has bad luck, Or a fateful fate does not mean that this person is going to hell. I am sure that Mr. Ward as a priest will understand. That does not mean that alchemy, and astrology have not had their peak in much of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Baroque, and now it has returned with horoscopes, because as my admired G.K. Chesterton says "When you do not believe in God you are able to believe in anything", or if "We eliminate God we will not obtain the natural, but the unnatural." It is curious that instead Francisco de Quevedo is so obsessed by his hatred of astrology, alchemy, and magic almost to consider it as one of the worst sins, only below heresy, as happened in "Los sueños" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6... https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... . But we are deviating from the discussion, and it is necessary to pick up the thread to find the way out of the labyrinth of the minotaur, or of the great work of Daedalus. According to Ward he relies on the pre-Copernican Ptolemaic system to analyze the influence of the stars on his work as if he were a Louis de Wohl https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1..., or Valentin Tomberg. https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... According to Ward, the five planets plus the sun, and the moon would have been key in the preparation of his work, specifically Ransom's trilogy (this seems more plausible to me), and The Chronicles of Narnia. He talks about what he dedicated in his work of fiction to each star (moon, and sun included). According to Ward "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" would be jovial, https://www.goodreads.com/series/4907... (under the influence of Jupiter), Prince Caspian Martial (Mars), The Solar Dawn Treader, The Moon Silver Chair, The Horse and His Mercurial Boy, The Nephew of the Venusian Wizard, and The Last Battle Saturn. The advantages of the book the study of the cosmic trilogy (in fact this book has aroused a new interest in this work, and has shown me that I had forgotten many things. After this book I think I will see this Lewisian trilogy with different eyes https://www.goodreads.com/series/4357... (my favorite is the second, and I never got me to like "That Hideous Strenght"), talk about the planets in Lewis's work, Lewis's love for astronomy (something that should not surprise us, since Lewis himself expressed his fascination with the occult, and the esoteric, specifically "Surprised by Joy" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1... . Lewis himself commented that he would have liked to write something related to the occult, perhaps that is why he was so fond of the work of Charles Williams. In this field I asked myself two things: Did C.S. Lewis hear about Robert Hugh Benson. https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... either his fame had darkened, or did he not alternate with papists, except with Tolkien? The latter is difficult for me to believe, because although as George Sayer https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... commented, or Christopher Derrick https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... "In someone from Ulster Divine grace finds a very hard bone to crack" but in his letters there were many Catholic admirers, not to mention some Catholics like Gervase Mathew https://www.goodreads.com/author/show..., Dundass, or Doctor Havard. So I find it difficult that I haven't paid attention to a play like "The Necromancers" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2..., or that I haven't tried to write something like W. Somerset Maugham's "The Magician" https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... , but these are disquisitions, and my speculations, and it is important to return to the review at hand.
Another virtue of this book is that it refutes the critics of Lewis Franzen, https://www.goodreads.com/author/show..., Pullman https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... (in fact I think I read a very good article to Michael Ward. On this subject I, and it is very possible that my friend Professor Manuel Alfonseca https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... are very concerned about the harmful effect that Pullman's work of fiction makes without denying his quality as a writer. That is why I was especially pleased that Ward dealt with Pullman's hostility to C.S. Lewis in this book), Angus Wilson https://www.goodreads.com/author/show..., and the overrated Humphrey Carpenter (here I must tell an anecdote, which I could not tell on Facebook, and I apologize for telling my battles, but I think it is necessary. My first disagreements with the Spanish Society of Tolkien in Spain on Facebook began, when I commented my displeasure towards Humphrey Carpenter, who for me, despite having the confidence of the family was not the right biographer for J.R.R. Tolkien I showed his errors, inaccuracies, and hostility towards the Inklings. Something that made me clash with Mr. Eduardo Segura https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... and other things that made me clash with him were his hostility to my beloved Joseph Pearce, for him a fanatical convert, and also minimized the number of times G.K. Chesterton appeared in his Essay on Fairy Tales. Not to mention that at Christmas we had a terrible fight on account of an article by Joseph Pearce that I posted in the Spanish Society of Tolkien in particular with Monica Finduriel, or Eduardo Segura. Another thing I didn't like is that they attack writers who don't write about Tolkien, but don't bow to the guidelines of Tolkien's Spanish Society. After the Christmas battle I left with everything I forgave, and I decided to return, but they deleted some article that I uploaded to his Facebook wall, and when due to the admiration that Tolkien felt for the novels of Mary Renault https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... tried to present Tolkien as an LGTBI standard-bearer I already told myself that I could not take it anymore, And I stopped liking the group without telling anyone. Not to mention that I do not know what it looks like to mess with Queen Letizia, and he doubted very much that J.R.R. Tolkien would have approved Fernando Savater https://www.goodreads.com/author/show.... That's why I was especially delighted that Ward put Humphrey Carpenter in his place, just like Joseph Pearce did.
Some ideas that Pearce explores such as greed-dragon, or the idea of the masculine feminine nature of God on Venus are interesting. As for the defects. One of them is that the thesis of the book of the influence of the planets has not interested me, I can even be agnostic about this subject. Maybe yes, or maybe not. Actually, (as I said before) it is not a guide to Narnia, but a theory of what Lewis relied on to write it. Sometimes it's a bit arid. Nor do I agree with Tolkien's vision despite his predilection I think he read current works, and I think that, although he did not like the Chronicles of Narnia, if he liked the first two books of the Cosmic Trilogy, and apart from preferring works of antiquity I think that if Ward could erase something from his book this would erase it, and more after the excellent work that her friend Holly Ordway has done https://www.goodreads.com/author/show.... https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5... (we have the work of Douglas A. Anderson to prove it https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5... ). The case of Lewis's affair with Mrs. Moore is not a matter of adultery, but a case of fornication because she is a widow, and the bachelor, apart from the fact that I do not understand why so much importance is given to this question, whether Lewis had any sexual relationship with Mrs. Moore is none of our business, nor does it annul Lewis's writings. Let us respect people's private lives, and this is said not only by Ward, but by many of his biographers, who sometimes sin of marujas, and gossip. This is not a criticism of Ward, but Lewis disagrees with Lewis' critical view of T.S. Eliot, https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... and Donne https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... (in fact I think although he never liked the work of T.S. Eliot. At the end of his life Lewis overcame the enormous aversion he felt towards the person of T.S. Eliot. I think, because they looked so similar. In part it was because he was one of the few, who did admit Lewis' relationship with Joy Davitzman) and his saturnalism. Also on the subject of Lewis's debate with Anscombe, the conclusion has https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... been greatly exaggerated. I don't think it was so much the loss of his mother, the war, the death of his wife, the cooling of his friendship with the inklings are worse things than losing a debate (on the subject of the debate I recommend Antony Flew's book There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1... . There is a report by Elizabeth Anscombe in Religion in Freedom and how she also evolves from her theories of Wittgenstein https://www.goodreads.com/author/show.... Not to mention that the changes in "Milagros" made https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3... the book more confusing, as my friend, and teacher Manuel Alfonseca, said. I really liked Ward's analysis of "The Dawn Traveler", and "The Silver Chair", also about the Cosmic trilogy that I will have to review again. I liked Lewis's relationship with astronomy more than astrology. Lewis's correspondence with Anthony Boucher https://www.goodreads.com/author/show..., and Arthur C. Clarke https://www.goodreads.com/author/show.... May Ward recognize the contribution of Father Millward https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... (whom i admired), and that of David C. Downing (hopefully these authors will be translated into Spanish one day). My grade is (4/5).
Profile Image for Katherine Reay.
Author 13 books2,729 followers
May 22, 2017
Fascinating! It's more enjoyable, I suspect, if you've read Lewis's Silent Planet books too -- especially That Hideous Strength. The title doesn't imply that, but it pulls a lot from those books too. If you have both series covered, dive into this. It's remarkable.
Profile Image for Phil.
384 reviews10 followers
October 6, 2020
Is there a secret code embedded in the Chronicles of Narnia? Is there really been an overarching structure to the hugely popular Narnia books that has escaped discovery by everyone for over half a century? Michael Ward makes the extraordinary claim that the answer to these questions is yes, and that he has discovered it. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and that is just what Ward attempts to lay out in Planet Narnia.

Is he successful? I think he is, and undeniably so. To a certain kind of nerd (and I am just such a kind) this book reads a bit like a slow-moving literary detective story.

This is the kind of book where I closed the back cover with a sense that I had just enjoyed the fruits of decades-worth of learning and thinking. And it is a doubly-so: Not only has Michael Ward rightly earned a very special place among Lewis scholars with this unprecedented contribution, but he has also shined a bright light on the depth and breadth of Lewis' thinking and writing.

The insights found in this book are hardly limited to the Narniad. They extend to every part of the Lewis corpus. Indeed the book reveals a unity and coherence of thought that deepened, if that was even possible, my admiration for Lewis' intellect and imagination, and the unique marriage of those two faculties that made him such a remarkable figure in modern times.

The book tries hard to be accessible to the casual reader, but the fact remains that we are dealing with medieval astrology, some obscure poetry, and the author's necessary interactions with rarified literary criticism. This is not the book to pick up because you saw the movies and got a bit curious about the supposed 'secret code' embedded in the Chronicles of Narnia. But for the person seriously interested in understanding this titanic 20th-century Christian thinker, it is required reading.
Profile Image for Mimi.
1,485 reviews
July 3, 2022
I'm not sure how much I agree with the "nobody discovered this fact until me" genre generally, but this is an interesting framework for the Narnia books and I thought he made his case well. Adds context to "The Discarded Image" as well. A reminder that I should read "That Hideous Strength" and "Miracles "
Profile Image for Anne Hamilton.
Author 35 books145 followers
July 10, 2014
I've read both the Narnia Code and Planet Narnia by Michael Ward and my comments on them are basically the same:

Despite the fact I think Michael Ward caught the ball and then dropped it on this one, I'm still giving it five stars. I think he's almost right. That for a fleeting sentence, he discovered the real code and then forgot that Lewis was self-admittedly 'crazed with Northern-ness'.

The premise - that Lewis deliberately encoded each both in the Narnia series with attributes of the seven medieval planets (not the same as our present solar system) - is an intriguing one.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe according to Ward is encoded around the medieval planet Jupiter. As I read this with an open mind, I thought, 'Possibly.'

Prince Caspian according to Ward is encoded around the medieval planet Mars. As I read this with an open mind, I thought, 'Yes.'

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader according to Ward is encoded around the medieval planet Sun. As I read this with an open mind, I thought, 'Probably.'

The Silver Chair according to Ward is encoded around the medieval planet Moon. As I read this with an open mind, I thought, 'No.' Absolutely, positively, definitely no. It's obvious it's not. You've got the introduction of Jill and her fall into Narnia (so reminiscent of the old Norse fable behind Jack and Jill.) But about forty percent of the story is about giants and the references to the moon are mainly built on evocations of 'silver'.

So Ward's thesis entirely lost its credibility for me at this point.
Unfortunately, of course, in a closed system if there is one mistake, there has to be more than one.

And where I think Ward has gone wrong is that he focussed too heavily on Latin allusions and failed to look at the Norse and Anglo-Saxon. Consequently he made the right connection and then almost immediately dropped it: the medieval planets correspond to the days of the week.

If Ward had examined the days of the week more closely, he would have been on the right track. The Silver Chair is not about the moon, it is about Thursday, named after Thor. But it's way too clever to rely on references to Thor (who in classical times, contrary to the present, was considered as the counterpart of Jupiter) when it can go for a whole heap of games around the word 'thurs' - the giants, the rises and the thurses of Norse mythology.

With the exception of The Horse and His Boy, the series as originally published corresponds to the days of the week in order, starting with Sunday. However if The Horse and His Boy had been published as Lewis originally wanted, there would be perfect congruence.

And I have to say that, to me, the source of Lewis' inspiration for this is absolutely obvious: it's in the work of his friend GK Chesterton and the book The Man Who Was Thursday.

That final scene is an irresistible source of inspiration.
Profile Image for Mariangel.
516 reviews
June 18, 2021
This is a very comprehensive study of the appearance of the planets in Lewis’ work, not only in Narnia but also the Ransom trilogy, his poetry and his scholarly books, and with references to Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare etc. It makes quite a convincing case and it is very interesting to read. I started listening to it for a second time after finishing it, as there is a lot to digest.
Profile Image for David Haines.
Author 10 books76 followers
January 2, 2021
In this book, the author, Michael Ward, presents and defends his excellent and insightful theory, that the Chronicles of Narnia are built upon and around the ancient and medieval ptolemaic cosmology, and the accompanying mythological imagery. He goes through each of the 7 planets, and shows how Lewis built each of the Chronicles upon the characters of one of the planets.

Each chapter looks at a specific planet, explaining (1) how Lewis articulated its mythological and imaginative literary meaning in his academic work, and (2) how Lewis uses that planet in various works, such as the space trilogy, and different poems. Then, Ward goes on to explain how Lewis built one of the Chronicles around that imagery, and incarnated the planet in Aslan as a Christological fulfillment of the planetary imagery.

I think that his thesis is solid, and well argued. Reading this book will open up a sub-level of meaning in these books, which illuminates them, and shows their imaginative power. Definitely a must read for anyone who has read, or wants to read, the Chronicles.
Profile Image for ValeReads Kyriosity.
1,097 reviews143 followers
December 9, 2019
If the theory of the planetary armature of the Narniad were a capital crime of which I were accused, and Michael Ward were the prosecuting attorney, I'd go ahead and grab a Sharpie and mark a dotted line across the back of my neck to help guide the executioner's blade.

Although Ward proposes that his discovery might diminish enjoyment of the Chronicles (the way knowing the trick diminishes enjoyment of the illusionist's act), I can't imagine it having a deleterious effect on mine. Of course it would be a crime deserving its own dotted Sharpie line to lead with this information, to introduce it in some dreadful literature class, but I've lived in Narnia for over four decades, and Ward's thesis is only another turn in the path that leads further up and further in.

If I could dare to add anything to Ward's argument, it'd be my own theory as to why Lewis kept his planetary theme a secret. I think he was setting up an elaborate surprise party. Setting up the punchline to a grand and glorious joke. And if those who have passed into eternity can peer over the edge and see back into the mortal plane, I think the ever childlike Jack would be jumping up and down and clapping his hands in delight over Ward's work. I picture a similar scene upon Tolkein's discovery of the truth: Tollers finally gets it and slugs Jack on the shoulder, exclaiming, "You git! How could you let me be so wrong about this for so long?" Jack dissolves into hysterical laughter; his friend shakes his head and rolls his eyes and tries to hide the smile that betrays his agreement that it was a perfectly brilliant joke. (Now someone will take me to task for daring to suggest that people will slug each other on the shoulder or call each other names in Heaven, but they shan't convince me of the inaccuracy of the envisioned scene!)

I wish I'd thought of pausing after each of the central chapters to read the book it discussed, but perhaps I shall do so another time.

The narrator was excellent.
Profile Image for Rick Davis.
820 reviews103 followers
February 12, 2020
Michael Ward's thesis is that C. S. Lewis conveyed the mood and attributes of each of the seven planets of Medieval cosmology through the seven books in the Chronicles of Narnia. He arranges them like this:

Jupiter: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
Mars: Prince Caspian
Sol: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Luna: The Silver Chair
Mercury: The Horse and His Boy
Venus: The Magician's Nephew
Saturn: The Last Battle

He argues that in each of these books, the subject matter, vocabulary, atmosphere, and, importantly, the depiction of Aslan as Christ figure display the influence of their corresponding planets.

I don't know that I'm fully convinced by Ward, but I found his idea highly persuasive. He surveys Lewis's scholarly take on medieval cosmology through The Discarded Image and other sources, Lewis's poetic take on medieval cosmology through his various poems, and Lewis's use of medieval cosmology in his space trilogy. The book is a treasure trove of information about Lewis's thought: aesthetic, philosophical, and theological.

It seems likely to me that Lewis intended to communicate a jovial atmosphere in The Lion the witch and the Wardrobe, but Ward's argument is strongest from the Silver Chair onward. Perhaps in the first three books, Lewis was only tentatively trying out his idea before going all in on the last four. In any case, I highly recommend this book for all Lewis fans. Ward knows his stuff, and this is the best survey of Lewis's imaginative thought I've ever read.
Profile Image for Lisa Nicholas.
Author 2 books14 followers
May 14, 2012
Michael Ward has achieved what many critics have sought to do and failed: he has discovered the hermeneutic key that unlocks a whole level of significance in the seven Narnia novels hitherto undetected by Lewis critics. Ward's is the first theory I've heard that (a) takes seriously into account Lewis's long career as a medievalist, (b) looks at the Narnia stories as an integrated part of L's overall opus (i.e., showed that he did not, by some weird aberration, suddenly turn to writing "children's stories"), and (c) answers Tolkien's famous dismissal of them as an artless hodgepodge of mythic and legendary elements, unworthy of serious attention. Read my discussion of Planet Narnia here:
Profile Image for Michael Kelley.
143 reviews18 followers
December 18, 2020
MUST-READ for Lewis Scholarship and Pleasure Reading

Dr. Michael Ward does an excellent job using his more than thirty years experience in C.S. Lewis scholarship at evincing the long-hidden structure of the Narnia series. This is a scholarly work that is very accessible to layreaders of Lewis. When you finally put this book down, you will have an even deeper appreciation for Lewis and the God he exalted in his works, and will have an increased sense of wonder every time you look at the night sky and see Venus or Jupiter or Mercury or even the Moon shining brightly down on this Silent Planet.
Profile Image for Emily.
499 reviews
February 20, 2020
I was expecting (and hoping for) a crank's conspiracy theory but alas! was actually largely convinced by the central idea of this book. It's written using lots of literary criticism and philosophy terms that I am not familiar with, so I may have missed some nuances, but to a degree these terms felt like window-dressing, the author using them to show he is a Serious Thinker (not a crank), rather than integral to understanding the argument.
Once I had got clear in my head the ideas of the planets - not classical, not modern - I was able to predict both which planet the author was going to 'see' through, or say Lewis wrote through, a particular book, as well as being able to guess what particular plot points or even some details he would quote as examples. Being able to predict like that shows this idea in the book has a logical structure, which itself gives it more credence (the results could be replicated by me, a different reader).
I had more trouble accepting some of the other arguments (mostly about why Lewis did things the way he did, or that an example of his like of the hidden is that sometimes he told lies). I have questions e.g. about a Jovial King Lune in the Horse and his Boy. But the central argument, that Lewis chose ideas around medieval planetary representations to inhabit, colour and make both the books and aspect of Aslan/God, was intellectually appealing and from being a cynic I'm more than halfway to accepting the hypothesis.
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