Thursday, May 14, 2009

Is Planet Narnia Out of Orbit?

In 2008 Oxford University Press published a book called Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Michael Ward. His basic premise is that Lewis has hidden within the seven Narnia books a hitherto undiscovered pattern that unifies the Chronicles of Narnia.

I was first alerted to the book shortly after it was released and discussed it briefly with a C.S. Lewis scholar, in passing, and soon thereafter began receiving some inquiries about it. My book on ethics in Narnia was reissued in 2008, thus resulting in some further inquiries (The Heart of Narnia, originally published as The Lion, the Witch, and the Bible).

At the time I responded to people by letting them know that I had not read Ward's book, but from what I had heard about it, I remained skeptical. In fact, I recently was in touch with Ward and expressed my skepticism to him directly, but assured him that I would read it at some point and let him know my thoughts on the matter.

The recent airing of a BBC special titled, "The Narnia Code," about Ward's book has once again spurred attention on the subject. Although I still have not read Ward's book, thus remaining largely silent on this subject, two recent C.S. Lewis scholars have posted responses to Ward.

The first is by Devin Brown, author of two books about Narnia, and is posted at the C.S. Lewis blog. The second is by my friend, Will Vaus, author of Mere Theology and The Professor of Narnia. I commend both articles to interested readers.

One of the most useful courses I took as a grad student at Denver Seminary was biblical hermeneutics. It's all about interpretation. One of the first things I learned is to study passages in context. Another important principle is not to read into a text what is not there. To this I might add the caution against looking for hidden meanings, because such an approach usually results in more trouble than it is worth.

I suspect Planet Narnia may indeed be somewhat out of orbit, so to speak, based perhaps on too much wishful reading into the text rather than drawing out from it what it says at face value. Nevertheless, I appreciate Ward's efforts and I believe they demonstrate the richness that remains, decades later, in studying the Chronicles of Narnia. May we interact with the related ideas charitably and thoughtfully.

Is there an overarching theme unifying the Narnia books? I think Aslan unifies the books, as does the continuing tapestry of vice and virtue found in each of the books. Ethical choices, however small, matter, and this comes through strongly in the series.

Have you read Planet Narnia? What did you think?


Michael said...

I'm glad you say I can chime in! All I wish to say is to urge you to read 'Planet Narnia' for yourself. If you don't have time in the foreseeable future to do that, I would encourage you to consider the opinions of those who think I'm onto something as well as sceptical opinions. For a selection, take a look here:

Robert Velarde said...

Thanks, Michael. To interested readers, yes, do indeed read Michael's work for yourselves as well as the comments he has linked to. I think it is very exciting that the Narnia books continue to generate such interest and interaction.

Jonathan said...

no, but on NRO last year there was an interview I listened to with the author about it. Can probably find it in the archives.

Douglas wilson has pushed that book as a 'must read' on his blog

WILL VAUS, said...

Thanks for linking to my blog Robert! I would also urge your readers to buy Planet Narnia and decide for themselves what they think about its thesis. Whatever one decides after reading the book, the reading itself is worthwhile.

Davey said...

Heya, thanks for posting about Planet Narnia. I won't sing Michael Ward's praises because, unless my ear to the ground is deceived, he is basking in plenty of praises these days. But I do submit two comments. First, even if Devin Brown says he's finally read the book, I remain skeptical of that claim. His linked article is full of the same belaboured and oysterish objections that were thoroughly handled elsewhere (NarniaWeb) where his admitting to having not read the book did not inhibit him from criticizing Planet Narnia at length. Professor Brown's powers of argumentation are hindered by his proof-proofness. He keeps parroting the same things seemingly oblivious to the rebuttals he's been offered. Second, regarding the importance of not reading into a text a message that was not intended by the author. If Michael Ward's account of his discovery is true, then there were no Procrustean exercises involved. He didn't go fishing. The fish caught him. So yes, hermeneutics are essential. Ward's are legitimate, clearly and artfully communicated, and now are an academic bestseller.