Narnia books enhanced with medieval cosmology
BY C.S. MORRISSEY
Planet Narnia is a stunning book. The renowned scholar Michael Ward has written it in order to unveil the secret plan of C.S. Lewis for his Narnia series.
Medieval cosmology looked to the skies and saw seven “planets” orbiting the Earth: namely, Luna (“the Moon”), Mercury, Venus, Sol (“the Sun”), Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Lewis used each planet as a theme for each one of the seven books in his Narnia Chronicles.
The subtitle of Ward’s book is: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis. As it turns out, Lewis’s imagination was even more fertile in the Narnia books than was previously realized. Lewis enhanced his stories with an extra layer of literary symbolism based on the various meanings of the planets for the medieval mind.
Lewis was a scholar of medieval and Renaissance literature. In his book The Discarded Image (1964), Lewis explained what was lost when “the medieval synthesis” was discarded by the modern world. Theology, science, and history had all been organized into one cosmic vision of meaning.
But Lewis’ appreciation for this “single, complex, harmonious mental model of the universe” could not be confined to a lone scholarly book. Instead, he extended it, by making it the hidden inspiration for his Narnia stories.
Beloved by many generations of readers, the stories have even more depth than is first apparent. Each book contains elaborate imagery associated with a hidden theme based on the planet Lewis associated with each story.
Even though we know today that Sol and Luna are not “planets,” to the medieval mind they were “wanderers” through the sky, just like the other five. (“Wanderer” is what the term “planet” means in the original Greek.)
These “wanderers” followed a regular pattern that could be discerned by a trained eye. So too in Narnia, there are patterns discernible by the eye of the mind.
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the theme of Jupiter is found as the theme of kingship. Aslan is the King who defeats winter, who also crowns the Pevensie children as kings and queens of Narnia.
There are additional themes of “joviality,” ideas that are derived from Jupiter, who is also known as “Jove.” Aslan is jovial in many ways in the book. The feeling is understandably associated with the melting of snow and the end of winter.
In Prince Caspian, the theme of Mars is found not only in the theme of a civil war in Narnia. As a deity, Mars was not only a god of war. He was also known for his power over vegetation, and this explains the imagery and themes involving trees and forests in the book.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the imagery and themes involve many dragons, because the Greek sun god, Apollo, was a slayer of dragons. Of course, the notion of Sol, “the Sun,” is announced in the very title of the book.
This title alone (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) is a good example of how everything in Narnia acquires an enhanced meaning in light of Lewis’s planetary scheme. Lewis is deliberately weaving a deeper, unified worldview discernable by the imagination. It is there to be discovered if we think about how everything in the world also has a symbolic meaning.
Luna is the source of themes of madness in The Silver Chair. Mercury explains the fact that The Horse and his Boy is about twins, because in astrology the planet Mercury governs the constellation of Gemini, the Twins. Venus in The Magician’s Nephew is found in the fertile meaning of “The Wood between the Worlds,” which Ward discusses insightfully.
In the Ptolemaic system of medieval cosmology, Saturn has outermost placement, beyond which is the Heaven of Fixed Stars. Hence, in The Last Battle, Lewis has the New Narnia go beyond the “plagues and pestilences” associated with Saturn, thus accomplishing a grand finale for the series.
If you missed it, you can still watch the excellent BBC documentary about Ward’s discovery, The Narnia Code. You’ll learn why Lewis encoded medieval cosmology into his Narnia books.
In short, Lewis was showing how a fresh “medieval synthesis” of unified meaning is what the modern world needs to rediscover. Just as with the Narnia books, it would make everything we already do know even more beautiful.