Despite being modern classics beloved by children, laymen adults, and critics alike, the Chronicles of Narnia are admittedly somewhat of a literary hodge-podge. Or so most believed. Many have attempted to build a comprehensive interpretive framework for them, but none have received wide acceptance. Michael Ward, Oxford scholar and C.S. Lewis aficionado, presents his own framework, arguing that the classic Ptolemaic solar system (not the modern Copernican) holds the key to understanding the series. Ward’s research of the Chronicles and its author is impressively extensive. He shows how Lewis was steeped in the cosmological mythology of medieval literature, and he illustrates the heavy influence wielded by a particular planet throughout each book.
In one of his essays, Lewis reflected on the concept of being in a dark wood shed, illuminated by a single beam of light coming in through a crack in the door. Most of the time we don’t actually seethe beam of light; rather, we see along it as it illuminates something else. The cosmological content that bursts from each book in the Chronicles is, Ward argues, like the beam of light. Even if we don’t recognize its presence or understand the full depth (or any) of its meaning to the books, we are still influenced by it. And once seen, the presence of the cosmological influence is undeniable.
Ward argues that Lewis wrote the Chronicles as the literary embodiment of his most profound and serious apologetic, his book Miracles. Ward writes:
‘What kind of mind was it that could switch from rigorous theological argument to children’s fantasy?’ And the answer is: a mind that thought both rationally and imaginatively. Lewis, I submit, turned to romance not as a retreat from apologetics after [a debate loss], but precisely as a way of explaining his case to himself in imaginative form. […]
In turning from apologetics to romance, he did not exchange a more complex for a simpler genre. If anything, the change was from simpler to more complex. Lewis was of the opinion that rational argumentation was too rudimentary for the task of conveying Christian truths, that there were ‘great disadvantages under which the Christian apologist labours. Apologetics is controversy. You cannot conduct a controversy in those poetical expressions which alone convey the concrete….And this means that the thing we are really talking about can never appear in the discussion at all.’ But the genre of romance allowed, indeed required, ‘poetical expressions.’ So he transported his ideas about human reasoning and the Divine Reasoner into the imaginative architectonics of the [Chronicles] of Narnia. (219)
Much of Ward’s content was above my head due of the breadth and depth of the medieval literature he referenced. There was much I did not fully grasp, but I understood enough to find his book persuasive and rewarding to read.