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.

My favorite book is…

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My favorite book is…

To say I have a favorite book is akin to saying I have a favorite chord on the piano. I hesitate to confess it because there are so many beautiful chords, so many that I cherish and thank God for (and if you’ve never thanked God for a chord because it resonated deep within your guts, you need to spend more time with your piano). Both are true, however: I have a favorite chord and I have a favorite book, but that certainly does not diminish[1] (a little chord humor for you) my love of other chords or books.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”[2]

It sounds like a romance novel, doesn’t it? Okay, okay—Pride and Prejudice is a love story, but that’s certainly not all it is. Many have commented that Jane Austen’s work is brilliant for depicting the societal expectations of women during her lifetime, but she also shows us how men were expected to behave. She crafts a beautiful (and bizarre) tale about the Bennet family—two sisters who are young and flirtatious, a sister who is awkward and unsocial, two elder sisters who are rational beyond their years, a mother who strives to see them all safely married, and a father who always planned on having a son to provide for any of his unmarried daughters.

Further, it is a story of how these and other characters relate to one another, how they behave, why they behave, and how it affects their choices. Jane Austen was a brilliant observer of human nature, as evidenced by her crafting of the Bennets and all who encounter them!

She was also incredibly witty (perhaps more witty than a novelist ought to be), which I love, and is one of the few authors I’ve read more than once. In fact, C. S. Lewis (another favorite author of mine—sometime, we’ll talk about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and why it has the perfect first sentence) once wrote:

“I’ve been reading Pride and Prejudice on and off all my life and it doesn’t wear out a bit.” [3]

It’s so true. You know, usually when I read a book a second or third time, I come away feeling like it wasn’t as good as the first time. For that reason (and because I am already in my thirties and don’t have an eternity to read all the books I want to have read before I die), I don’t usually read books more than once. Austen is different. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I learn something new about the characters and their behavior. My most recent read-through, I was astounded to realize that Mr. Darcy exhibited feelings for Elizabeth from almost the beginning—and then the recognition that all of his actions and behaviors toward Elizabeth and others coincide with those feelings.

Austen really is my favorite author, and Pride and Prejudice really is my favorite book. I love many authors with a geeky sort of love, and I cherish their books and words as if they were my own; but Austen is different somehow.

I suppose she has the same affect on me as a D2. Something inside of me resonates with what she writes.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah


[1] A diminished chord has a flattened third and fifth.

[2] Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc, 1945) 3

[3] Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead, C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children (New York: Touchstone, 1995) 37

Journals & Salvation

I have finally done what I have been avoiding for weeks: the destruction of the books that will become journals for my nieces and nephews at Christmastime. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken apart a book. It’s not that difficult, I suppose. It feels difficult when you are working on several at a time! I made it through the first three books without event, but the fourth book was stubborn. Layers of paper stuck to the book board like warts on a toad. And each attempt to remove a snippet of the cover left my fingers raw right under my fingernails.

I was happy to finish all nine books in one afternoon, to be honest. My poor little fingers ached so badly by the time I was done. I think I can handle a lot, but when it comes to my fingers and toes, friends, I’m a baby.

But as I was struggling with that fourth book, the one who wouldn’t let go of its cover, I thought about how often we cling to our past when Christ is trying to free us of it and make us into something new. There are some, I’m sure, who think it sufficient to simply put a new cover on an old book. If you do this, any damage to the book, any scratch or spilled coffee, will reveal what is underneath. It’s not enough to put on new skin; we have to be removed of our old skin.

And this, of course, made me think of my number two favorite character in all of fiction (second only to Elizabeth Bennet), Eustace Clarence Scrubb. Eustace first appears in C.S. Lewis’ book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In this adventure, Eustace is turned into a dragon. He meets with Aslan, who tells him to “undress.” Eustace begins peeling away at his scales, shedding his skin like a snake, so he can rest in the pool in Aslan’s garden. Three times he tries to rid himself of himself, and he is unable to go deep enough. In the end, it is only Aslan who is able to remove the scales and make Eustace a boy again.

That’s what our salvation is like. We have a Savior who knows that we cannot be made new on our own effort, who waits patiently for us to stop trying so He can do the work necessary to redeem us, and who deals gently with us (even as it hurts) as He removes all that we once were.

I’m so thankful that we do not serve a God who is frustrated by the fourth journal, who never complains of the pain He endured to make us new, and who (quite unlike myself) leaves no trace of the old book.

May your day be filled with God’s grace, His love, and the peace of His rest.