Planet Narnia: the seven heavens in the imagination of C.S. Lewis
Oxford and New York; O.U.P., 2008, £16.99, hardback, 347 p., b/w illustrations, ISBN 9780195313871
Michael Ward, a C.S. Lewis scholar, announced his discovery in the TLS, 25 April 2003, and has now published the culmination of his research, which boasts comments on the jacket by Walter Hooper and Derek Brewer. His thesis is that each of the seven Chronicles of Narnia is inspired by one of the seven planets of the medieval cosmos, governing its narrative and recurrent imagery.
At first I thought this too far-fetched, but Ward has accumulated so many parallels that I accept most of his thesis, with the proviso, as he says at the end, that planetary imagery is not exclusive and references to particular planets occur in more than one book, for example Digory notices Jupiter when travelling through magical space, but The Magician’s Nephew, says Ward, is the book of Venus. Lewis scholars and even the well-read lay reader have long recognised the parallels between the description of the planets in The Discarded Image, his poem The Planets which concludes his essay The Alliterative Metre, and the Cosmic Trilogy, especially the descent of the gods at the climax of That Hideous Strength.
It would appear that when writing The Lion, Lewis naturally used imagery from the Jovial section of ‘The Planets’ and most relevant are “winter passed and guilt forgiven”. “lion-hearted” and “just and gentle”, all important concepts in The Lion. Lewis regarded himself, born under Sagittarius, as a jovial personality, as Jupiter is said to govern Sagittarius in traditional astrology (though in astronomy, which also refers to the constellations, the dates are now several weeks behind the conventional dates one sees in newspaper horoscopes, so Lewis was born on 29 November, the Sun now passes through Sagittarius from 18 December for a month). Ward then argues that each of the remaining six Chronicles was assigned its special planet. What supports this is that the Chronicles were written continuously and nearly finished earlier than their actual publication dates a year apart, with The Magician’s Nephew giving the most trouble. It is true that Lewis began the book soon after finishing The Lion and made a false start which he later ditched, and Ward suggests that he also had trouble finding subject-matter to suit Venus: eventually choosing a creation of animals two by two who are born from the ground ready to mate, and be ruled by the married king and queen.
More likely he did not decide on seven fantasies straight away, and so selected the most suitable planet as the stories evolved, gradually reducing the number of planets he could call on. Prince Caspian is obviously ruled by Mars, with plenty of martial and chivalric behaviour: even the chessman Susan finds is a knight. Lewis knew that Mars had a Silvan aspect, and living trees are vital to the plot (though must also have been inspired by Tolkien’s Ents).
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is governed by Sol or the Sun whose metal is gold, and words relating to gold and the sun, including Aslan and his golden image, pervade the book; while the quest itself is towards the rising sun.
The Silver Chair is governed by Luna, the Moon, silver is her metal, and in ‘The Planets’ Lewis writes of her watery nature. This matches the great use of water, tears, boating and marshes in the story, while Rilian has been enchanted to forget his identity and is compared to Hamlet, thus “lunatic”.
The Horse and his Boy is governed by Mercury, but here Ward goes to the zodiac sign of Gemini which lies under Mercury for his main theme, identical twins. In antiquity the Gemini were equated with the Heavenly Twins Castor and Pollux, and Ward has found a perfect quotation from The Iliad Book 3, describing Castor as “tamer of horses” and Pollux as a “fine boxer” which exactly fits the plot and might even have suggested it. Although Lewis could have alluded to Gemini without working through Mercury, Ward footnotes a colleague’s suggestion that as Mercury also governs Virgo, the two menaced virgins in the story, Aravis and Susan, also fit the zodiac theme. Mercury’s role as ruler of language is shown in the contrast between the Narnian and Calormene forms of speech; while his well-known role as a speedy messenger probably inspired the story of Shasta’s urgent message to Archenland.
Ward concludes that The Magician’s Nephew lies under Venus, leaving The Last Battle for Saturn, which is appropriate for its tragic mood. Jadis is an evil Venus, exploiting Uncle Andrew’s deluded passion for her, while good Venus works behind the scenes in the Creation and pairing the Narnian animals. Ward has discovered that the typescript of The Silver Chair has Saturn instead of Father Time, confirming that The Last Battle, when Father Time ends the world of Narnia, is Saturn’s book. However, by the final chapters Jove is once more in the ascendant, at Caldron Pool Eustace swears by Jove, for example.
All Narnia specialists should read this book, and the lengthy footnotes and interesting illustrations paralleling Pauline Baynes’s artistry with classical pictures of the gods are further evidence of meticulous research. Though Ward’s discovery is crucial to our appreciation of Narnia, I still do not believe that the medieval cosmology is the be-all and end-all. Most important is their Christian teaching, sometimes Biblical, sometimes with an everyday morality which children can understand. Then there are the influences from mythology, folklore, and specific authors, for example Milton, Spenser and Tolkien. There are real-world parallels, like the Deplorable Word for the atom bomb (I am glad to see Ward reference the Nazis in his discussion of Prince Caspian); and elements of Lewis’s private life, like his mother’s death, and his devoted care of Mrs. Moore, which has been compared to Rilian’s enslavement to the Queen of Underland, especially in the last years of her life. The Bibliography and Index are excellent, except that I would prefer the original publication dates of Lewis’s works to be set beside the dates of the editions Ward has used: for example “The Silver Chair. Glasgow: Fontana Lions, 1981”. The Essay Collection, (2000) which collected so many essays previously edited by Walter Hooper in smaller volumes, is now out of print, superseded by two paperback volumes in 2002, one for literature etc. and one for theology, the former in print, the latter going out of stock.
Contributed by: Jessica Yates, MA (Oxon.), MCLIP, a school librarian in Enfield and a life-long member of the Tolkien Society. She also belongs to the William Morris Society and the British Science Fiction Association, and has a special interest in C.S. Lewis, Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones among others.