Planet Narnia

On Monday, Covenant welcomed Dr. Michael Ward, an apologist and leading expert on the life and works of C.S. Lewis, to chapel and special afternoon lecture. The author of four books, including Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis, Ward’s greatest claim to fame is his appearance in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, in which he can be seen holding a pair of X-ray spectacles next to Pierce Brosnan’s Bond.

Dr. Ward is a Senior Research Fellow at Blackfriars Hall in the University of Oxford and is based in Oxford, and he also teaches one course a semester as a professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University. Ward studied English at Oxford, Theology at Cambridge, and received his PhD in Divinity from St. Andrews. He is a writer, speaker, and Christian.

To call Ward a C.S. Lewis enthusiast would be an understatement; he has written three books on Lewis along with numerous essays and articles. In a talk taken from his book Planet Narnia, on Monday afternoon, Ward explained the thinking of the man who preferred the unassuming name “Jack,” kept his marriage secret from everyone but the men officiating, and possessed extensive knowledge of history, literature, and culture, creating entire fictional worlds based on his knowledge of history and mythology. According to Ward, understanding Lewis’s personality is the key to unraveling the complex tapestry of his writing.

The Chronicles of Narnia are some of the best-selling and most influential books of the past century, especially within the Christian community. Surprising to some Inklings lovers may be the fact that Lewis’ friend and fellow writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, despised Narnia. While Lewis loved Middle Earth, Tolkien thought that Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia books were a jumbled mish-mash of themes and ideas. Contrary to Tolkien, Ward insists that Lewis’ writings are actually quite complex--full of intricate, thoughtfully-created worlds. Lewis himself said that the series was all about Christ, and the parallels seem fairly obvious in works such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle. But what about the other four books?

According to Ward, Lewis’ works have a deep theological, historical, and classical background. Lewis was primarily an academic, and his main work was the extensive English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, from which sprang the other works he called the “twiddly-bits.” His investment in understanding the writing and thinking of the 16th century brought him, according to Ward, to an interest in Copernicus and the geocentric model of the universe. How did conceptualizing Earth as the center of the solar system influence culture? In his talk, Ward described the ways in which human conception of the solar system brought about complex mythologies based around the idea of the seven heavens—and how Lewis responded intellectually and imaginatively, assuming that the planets have “some kind of permanent spiritual significance.” Ward’s “eureka moment” was discovering how Lewis had spun the mythology associated with Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, Venus, the moon, and the sun into plots, books with tone and atmosphere entirely consistent with the personality and characteristics of the associated deity in the seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia.

Ward’s talk revealed how Lewis created intricate plots and worked his stories out down to the minute details. Through the unraveling of Lewis’ work and the discovery of his deep meanings and research, the plan of his work is revealed, and it is brilliant and beautiful, in some ways mirroring the work of God the Father himself in His great plan for the cosmos. Ward insists that despite the complexity of Lewis’ work the books in their simplest form are meant to be enjoyed for the sake of the story. In Planet Narnia, Ward seeks only to reveal what he thinks is the pattern of inspiration for Lewis’ works. “It’s Lewis’ understanding of the planets that illuminates these books,” he said. “Literary criticism is not an end in itself, I don’t want readers to look at the book as an allegory.”