April 6, 2008


Planetary Influences: The hidden meaning of the Chronicles of Narnia. (Tom Shippey, Books & Culture)

[T]he "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 in his own mythology), and Lewis considered them and their traditional attributes with great care on many occasions. A good guide to his thinking is his 1935 poem, "The Planets," written in the old native English alliterative meter. In his 1938 novel Out of the Silent Planet, the hero, Ransom, kidnapped and taken on a spaceship to Mars, and so very clearly not in the old geocentric universe, nevertheless finds the experience of "space" so different from what he had been taught to expect that "he found it night by night more difficult to disbelieve in old astrology." Seven years later, in That Hideous Strength, Lewis has the presiding demiurges of the five planets come down to Earth to destroy the schemes of the devil-worshippers: Earth is "the silent planet" because it alone does not join in the heavenly "music of the spheres," and its presiding demiurge, princeps huius mundi, the prince of this world, is Satan.

In the old view, carefully and concisely expressed in "The Planets," each of the heavenly bodies, with the quasi-deity for whom it is named, had its own set of characteristics, including a particular metal: silver for the Moon, gold for the Sun, copper for Venus (whose traditional home was Cyprus, the copper-isle), iron for Mars, lead for Saturn, mercury, obviously, for Mercury, and—to modern minds rather disappointingly—tin for Jupiter or Jove. Ward's belief, very concisely expressed, is that each of the seven volumes of the "Narniad" belongs to a particular planet/deity, and that these determine its atmosphere, its individuality, even its Christological significance.

...that there was that brief mental spasm where even normally sensible folks disbelieved in the geocentric universe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 6, 2008 7:57 AM

Maybe that explains why, no matter how big they put the number "2" on the newer versions of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe", I still grumpily insist on ordering them "correctly", with "The Magician's Nephew" as #6, not #1.

Posted by: Just John at April 6, 2008 2:41 PM

The author of the book, Mr. Ward, wrote an article-length summary of his thesis in Touchstone magazine last year:


Posted by: Random Lawyer at April 6, 2008 4:38 PM