Planet Narnia (I)


[Michael Ward]

Amongst the speakers at the Wycliffe Hall Summer School in Oxford in July 2006 was Revd Dr Michael Ward, Chaplain of Peterhouse, University of Cambridge. A former President of the Oxford Lewis Society and resident warden of The Kilns, Lewis's Oxford home, Dr Ward has an MA in English from Oxford and another in Theology from Cambridge.

His St Andrews University doctoral dissertation examined Lewis's theological and imaginative engagement with the seven heavens of medieval cosmology. In February 2003, Ward was reading Lewis' poem, 'The Planets', published in 1935. As he read the poem, he noticed something that no previous reader had seen.

He was reading the section of 'The Planets' that deals with Jove, or Jupiter, when he was struck by its resonance with 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe'. The poem speaks of "winter passed / And guilt forgiven" and goes on to give what is, Ward opines, "essentially a plot summary" of the first book in the Narnia Chronicles:

Joy and jubilee. It is JOVE's orbit,
Filled and festal, faster turning
With arc ampler. From the Isles of Tin
Tyrian traders, in trouble steering
Came with his cargoes; the Cornish treasure
That his ray ripens. Of wrath ended
And woes mended, of winter passed
And guilt forgiven, and good fortune
Jove is master; and of jocund revel,
Laughter of ladies. The lion-hearted,
The myriad-minded, men like the gods,
Helps and heroes, helms of nations
Just and gentle, are Jove's children,
Work his wonders. On his white forehead
Calm and kingly, no care darkens
Nor wrath wrinkles: but righteous power
And leisure and largess their loose splendours
Have wrapped around him--a rich mantle
Of ease and empire. Up far beyond

C. S. Lewis, The Planets (1937)

Read in conjunction with the Jupiter passage in 'That Hideous Strength', it seems certain that the Ptolemaic universe held a particular and continuing fascination for that Professorial Medievalist, C. S. Lewis:

Jupiter
Upstairs his mighty beam turned the Blue Room into a blaze of lights. Before the other angels a man might sink: before this he might die, but if he lived at all, he would laugh. If you had caught one breath of the air that came from him, you would have felt yourself taller than before... Kingship and power and festal pomp and courtesy shot from him as sparks fly from an anvil. The pealing of bells, the blowing of trumpets, the spreading out of banners, are means used on earth to make a faint symbol of his quality. It was like a long sunlit wave, creamy-crested and arched with emerald, that comes on nine feet tall, with roaring and with terror and unquenchable laughter. It was like the first beginning of music in the halls of some King so high and at some festival so solemn that a tremor akin to fear runs through young hearts when they hear it. For this was great Glund-Oyarsa, King of Kings, through whom the joy of creation principally blows across these fields of Arbol, known to men in old times as Jove...

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, Chapter 15: Descent of the Gods (1945)

Was it possible, Ward wondered, that each of the seven Narnia books was written under the sign of a different planet in the Ptolemaic universe?

Each planet, in a greatly simplified summary of the medieval understanding, represented a certain set of linked emotions and images, a temper, a disposition, along the spectrum -- we are all familiar with 'jovial', 'martial', 'saturnine' or 'mercurial' dispositions -- and these are reflected, Ward postulates, in the Narnia books, both in the big arc of each story and in countless fine touches throughout each volume.

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4 comments:

Iambic Admonit said...

Everywhere I turn for all things Lewisian these days, there is the name of Michael Ward. I look forward to the publication of his book with great anticipation, hopeful for new insights and greater depths. I'm beginning a study that involves the Medieval roots of Lewis's Joy, and perhaps his work will intersect with this.

Roger R. said...

Dear IA,
I wish you every joy in your study. I think the best place to start is the 1964 book "The Discarded Image". Neglected, but a very useful introduction.

Iambic Admonit said...

and The Allegory of Love and his volume of "OHEL," I assume. Thanks very much.

~ Admonit

Iambic Admonit said...

By the way, Roger R., who are you? And how do you have access to all this glorious information? Have you read Michael Ward's MS? Thanks.