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.