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Tom Shippey

Planetary Influences

The hidden meaning of the Chronicles of Narnia.

In this book, Michael Ward makes the rather astonishing claim that he has discovered the "hidden inner meaning" of C. S. Lewis' famous seven-volume sequence, the Chronicles of Narnia. It is reassuring to the reader that Ward sees and states at once the obvious skeptical responses to such a claim. If the "Narniad" has had a hundred million readers, as by now it probably has, what are the odds on the hundred-million-and-first suddenly stumbling on the truth? And if scores of millions of readers have taken delight in the books already—The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was rated by British readers among the ten most popular novels of all time, and that was before the movie came out—would finding its "secret imaginative key" make any difference? Does it need one? And why did Lewis hide it? He has no reputation as a secretive person, or as a poor communicator.

Ward considers all these objections in the course of an argument which is at once subtle and sensible, a combination not often found in modern academic writing. As regards secretiveness, he points out that in spite of Lewis' deliberate front of frank openness, exemplified in his downmarket nickname "Jack," he was quite capable of concealing matters personally important to him: one of his close friends remarked jokingly that his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, would have been more aptly titled Suppressed by Jack. In any case, the "hidden key" to the "Narniad" is extremely prominent in Lewis' works, both academic and fictional. It is perfectly clear that from an early age he was fascinated by what would be called, in the title of one of his posthumously published works, "the discarded image": the old geocentric universe, with the Earth encircled by Sun, Moon, and the five planets known to the ancients: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. These seven heavenly bodies still determine our days of the week (though some unknown mind long ago converted four of them, in the Germanic world, to their counterparts ...

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