The Narnia Code

I suppose it is time to stop mulling over this book and write something of a review. I’ve been prolonging it because, quite frankly, I didn’t want to confuse my response to the content and style with any feelings I have about the format in which I purchased and read his book.

The Narnia Code: C.S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens  by Michael Ward supposes that author C.S. Lewis based his work, The Chronicles of Narnia, on a pre-Copernican view of the planets (and so, if nothing else, we may say that Ward has aptly titled his work).

In regards to style, I am about to offer Ward perhaps the greatest compliment I own: His style feels comfortable, familiar, and easy—much like Lewis. When I read Lewis, I feel as if we’re sitting in his office and he is talking with me. Ward has a more concise manner of speaking with his audience (unlike Lewis, who sometimes wrote around and around and around in circles to finally come to a point), but it feels influenced by Lewis in this manner. I am very fond of it (in both cases).

When picking up a book of this nature, I often have a moment of hesitation: Will the academia of the content and the writing be so far over my head that I will have to literally suffer through the pages? In this case, the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ While Ward’s work draws from Lewis and other sources heavily (rightly so) and boasts an academic perspective, Ward has written a book that is very soluble. No Ph.D. required.

It’s also interesting. You know, my greatest concern with literature today is that much of it sounds the same. It becomes droll. The Narnia Code, whether truth or fancy, is a new, intriguing idea. The result of such writing is that it causes the reader to think critically about something, rather than simply consume the latest literary fad until she’s intoxicated with it.

But enough about Ward’s general style; let’s talk about the good stuff—The Secret of the Seven Heavens!

Ward’s premise is simple: There’s something more going on here than a children’s fairy tale. An honest reader must—I think—step away from The Chronicles of Narnia with a bit of a furrowed brow, realizing that Lewis has given us a puzzle. Let’s be real with each other: With the number of people who’ve been exposed to Narnia, I know Ward and I aren’t the only ones who found it strange that Father Christmas made a cameo in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s alright to admit it. As an academic, as a literary scholar and professor at Oxford, a thrown-together fairy tale seems unlikely.

I digress a moment to offer a similar example. Consider an episode of NCIS, titled Frame Up, where a disgruntled forensic lab monkey tries to frame Agent DiNozzo for murder. They find a torn latex glove at the crime scene, and when DiNozzo is interrogating himself in his cell, he responds to himself by saying, “A ripped glove at the scene of the crime? I know it seems a little sloppy for a trained investigator, but those are the breaks when you’re a homicidal maniac!” That is probably the best description I can offer of my feelings toward the alleged randomness of the Chronicles. Neither DiNozzo nor Lewis is a perfect character, but we expect a character to be consistent with himself. It is unusual that a man with a mind like Lewis’, whose other writings all depict a brilliant, logical mind, would throw a bunch of random, unrelated ideas together to write a kids book. Ward says it best here:

            “As I got older and began to read his other writings, I became ever more intrigued by the seemingly random aspects to the Chronicles. They were not what you would expect of a man like Lewis with a highly trained mind. In his younger days he was tutored by a rigorous, logical thinker, William Kirkpatrick, who taught him that he should always have reasons for anything he said.” (p. 18)

For this much, I am in strong agreement with Ward. I don’t want to share the details of The Narnia Code, because I think it’s a book any Lewis fan should read and weigh herself. The idea is that the Chronicles are representative of a pre-Copernican view of the planets. All of those seemingly random pieces of the stories that we thought Lewis incorporated just for fun—were there for a reason. Each book is aligned to a planet, takes on that planet’s history and mystery, emotion and mythology.

I know, right? Your head just exploded. It’s a fascinating premise. You must believe me when I tell you that I (in something akin to desperation) want  Ward to be right. I’ve never read another piece about the Chronicles that seemed to fit so well with what I already know of Jack and his writing. Wanting something to be true, however, does not make it so. And my only real contention with Ward’s book is this: Sometimes if you’re looking for a particular piece of evidence, you can be guilty of evidence bias. You find what you’re looking for and unknowingly ignore the pieces that might contradict your theory.

Please understand me. I am not accusing Ward of evidence bias. After reading his work, there is one thing I’m quite certain of, and that’s the fact that Ward has studied this a great deal. As his audience, however, I cannot (and will not) accept his theory without digging deeper myself. And yes—I have a plan to do so, beginning with a re-reading of The Chronicles of Narnia, a journey through Lewis’ poem, The Planets, and purchasing (in hard copy) Ward’s lengthier volume on the matter, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis. I am also on a journey to find someone who staunchly disagrees with Ward to read some criticism of his theory.

Before I make my recommendation, let me say one final thing: The idea of C.S. Lewis doing something as devious as this—to write an entire 7-volume fairy tale with something of a secret meaning—fits exactly my impression of Lewis. It is mischievous and whimsical, to say the very least. It harms nobody (face it—we’ve all loved and enjoyed the Chronicles for years; very few seem bothered enough to dislike his tale, other than his good friend J.R.R. Tolkien and a few other sourpusses!), but makes you shake your head and chuckle when you think about it. That’s Jack for you! That, in itself, lends credibility to Ward’s theory of a Narnia Code.

Overall, I was pleased with this book and with Ward’s writing. I would recommend The Narnia Code: C.S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens to any reader of Lewis, any student of astronomy, anyone interested in medieval literature, and anyone looking for something a bit fresher than most of our current literature.

Book Review: Finding Your Roots

One of the blessings of my journal-making habit is that it forces me into St. Vincent de Paul’s to look for books I can recycle. I am often amazed at the books others throw away, and how such treasures can resell for the lesser half of a quarter.

I picked up Jeane Eddy Westin’s Finding Your Roots on one such adventure. With a 1977 copyright, I honestly did not expect much from this book. I thought the Internet Age had rendered many of the old paths obsolete. What used to require physical digging through piles of paper now needed only a few clicks on some genealogy site. Right? When I found this book, however, I was struggling in particular with the stubborn green root of my Irish family.

I can’t say that I was entirely mistaken about the book being obsolete. Truth be told, the book is full of resources that I’ll never have occasion to use (however, a quick check on the internet would verify whether a particular resource was still current). But it is full of resources, tips, examples and incredible information that I will–and do–use. Each chapter deals with some general topic of ancestry, and is then broken down into nationality, with specific examples of how that topic looks in that culture.

In chapter two, for instance, Westin writes about the importance and heritage of names and the vast clues to be found in a given name or surname. Then in a list of nationalities, under “Scottish,” she writes of an old tradition of the men taking their wives’ surnames when they marry.  If your roots are Scottish, don’t you think this might be an important thing to know?

I was pleasantly surprised with this dusty handbook. What began as a long-shot crack at finding an Irish clue quickly became a fascination not only with my family roots but with genealogy itself. I would encourage anyone interested in her family tree to get her hands on this gem. I am thrilled to add this to my personal library.

I do, however, feel bad that I paid only $0.12 for it. It’s worth at least the $3.50 printed on the cover.

Book Review: Venom and Song by Batson & Hopper

Venom and Song by Wayne Thomas Batson & Christopher Hopper

Being the second book in The Berinfell Prophecies, Venom and Song is the continuing adventure of seven teenagers who are thrust into the warring world of Allyra. These young Elf Lords, each possessing a unique gift, must learn to use their gifts individually and as a team if they are to defeat the Spider King.

Though I had not read the first book, I had no trouble settling into Venom and Song.  Batson and Hopper are a refreshing option in Christian literature, dealing effectively with the issues of individual and corporate strengths (and weaknesses) in any community, but particularly as paralleled with the Body of Christ. With each character so uniquely gifted, and with such a variance of personalities, every reader may find a “kindred spirit” in one of the Elf Lords.

Surprisingly, and quite unlike much of Christian literature, these characters are in no way immune from injury, personal struggles, feelings of insecurity and fear. I saw myself many times in the pages of this book, and was encouraged by the realization that even an Elf Lord who makes a mistake is still an Elf Lord.

I enjoyed this book so much, in fact, that when family visited recently, I began reading it to my pre-teen nephew before he went to sleep at night. I knew he would love it, but what surprised me was when his 17-year-old brother turned off his computer, put his headphones away, and propped himself up on his pillow to listen as I read.  It proved the point to me—that this generation of young people is hungry for good literature, and is willing for that good literature to explore Christian themes.

This young adult book is a great read for any lover of fantasy, and I would recommend it to any friend.

For more information about this book, please visit the Thomas Nelson product page for Venom and Song.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program.

Book Review: Plan B by Pete Wilson

Plan B by Pete Wilson

What do you do when life falls apart? When your deepest desires are unfulfilled or your heart is buried in despair, what can you do? What can you say? When your life plans crumble before each step, how do you find God’s will? And when a friend is dealing with these questions and issues, how can you support and encourage them without offering the typical Christianese answers?

Pete Wilson receives five stars from me on identifying the issues—the loss and grief that life can sometimes cripple our faith, the struggle of growth between pain and faith, etc. But the book itself, like much of our modern Christian sub-culture, left me rolling my eyes.

I am loath to give any writer a poor review—especially one like Wilson, who so obviously sees the needs of people and desires to walk them through the process of simply surviving. I felt several times that what I loved about Wilson was his acknowledgement that sometimes words—even words spoken by those of faith—can be not only unnecessary, but unhelpful.

But it was in that light that I also disliked this book. One moment Wilson is telling us about a moment when his words failed him and his faith; the next, he is repeating those words that can sound not only empty but judgmental toward someone who is struggling: “Don’t be afraid,” and “Trust in God,” and expressions of that nature.

Maybe I read the book from the wrong perspective. Maybe my expectations for this book were unfair. Or maybe—and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit—this is nothing more than a case of me not liking a book. As I said, I really don’t want to give Wilson a poor review, and I hope this review won’t keep anyone from reading the book. Perhaps it is exactly what some need to hear; just…not me.

For more information about this book, please visit the Thomas Nelson product page for Plan B.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program.

Remaking

Do you have those moments when some life situation allows you to suddenly and clearly understand some other matter you’ve been struggling with? I do.

The moment came last night as I was carefully taking apart a book.

Every one of us has the potential to be remade. Though the pages may be stained with spilled beverages or grape jelly, though several different people may have written their names and ideas on the insides, though the spine may be broken and loose, though we have images and ideas bound onto us, and though we find ourselves on a thrift shop shelf for fractions of our worth, we can be remade.

We can be recreated.

That is good news, folks.

Are there any areas of your life you want to remake into something else? Your health? Your relationships? Your habits?

June is a terrible month for me. It always has been. Maybe it always will be. But today, I find myself determined to at least try…to take it apart and make it something new. So my first attempt is to acknowledge something good about June (just like I acknowledge that a broken, beat up, dirty book has a firm cover that can be used for my journals):

I finished the first draft of my novel on June 3rd.

Comments are re-opened, and I hope to hear from some of you. :)

Pax Domini.

Semmie