Planet Narnia (III)
The Discarded Image
In 1937, C. S. Lewis, reviewing Tolkien's The Hobbit for The Times Literary Supplement , noted how it resembled Alice in being the work of "a professor at play". Thirteen years later Lewis added his own contribution to the shelf of playful professorial tales when he published The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe , the first of his seven Chronicles of Narnia. Their Christian symbolism has often been remarked on and sometimes objected to - most notably of late by Philip Pullman. What no one has noticed before is that Lewis intended the Chronicles as an embodiment of medieval astrology.
Lewis was a medieval specialist. His posthumous work, The Discarded Image , which presents an introduction to the medieval world-view, was the fruit of his many courses of lectures on the subject, first at Oxford, where he was Fellow and Tutor at Magdalen College for twenty-nine years, and then at Cambridge, where he was the first occupant of the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature. A central part of the medieval world-view (at least for Lewis) was an understanding of the heavens.
The seven planets of their astrology (Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter,
Saturn) were held to influence people and events and even the metals in the earth in seven distinct ways. Lewis wrote this about Jupiter:
Jupiter, the King ... The character he produces in men would now be very imperfectly expressed by the word "jovial", and is not very easy to grasp; it is no longer, like the saturnine character, one of our archetypes. We may say it is Kingly ; but we must think of a King at peace, enthroned, taking his leisure, serene. The Jovial character is cheerful, festive, yet temperate, tranquil, magnanimous. When this planet dominates we may expect halcyon days and prosperity. In Dante wise and just princes go to his sphere when they die. He is the best planet, and is called The Greater Fortune, Fortuna Major.
C.S. Lewis - The Discarded Image (1964)
Lewis had not only an academic interest in this cosmology; he responded to it imaginatively and wove "baptised astrology", as he called it, into much of his fiction and poetry. Hence his chapter entitled "The Descent of the Gods" in That Hideous Strength (1945), in which five planetary intelligences (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter) come to earth to help bring about the denouement of the story. And of course also his alliterative poem, "The Planets", published in 1935, which he introduced with these words: the characters of the planets, as conceived by medieval astrology, seem to me to have a permanent value as spiritual symbols - to provide a Phanomenologie des Geistes which is specially worth while in our own generation. Of Saturn we know more than enough. But who does not need to be reminded of Jove?
C.S. Lewis The Alliterative Metre, Selected Literary Essays (1969)
(Next Posting - Jupiter & The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
Posted by Arborfield at 9:08 am