Hidden Medieval Symbolism in Narnia

Recently, I discussed how in The Discarded Image, C.S. Lewis elaborates on how Medieval cosmology exerted a profound creative influence on Medieval and Renaissance literature. Lewis worried that the creative aesthetic spark of this worldview had been lost in a utilitarian modern culture. It should not be a surprise that Lewis would incorporate elements of the Medieval worldview, which was both his academic specialty and passion, into his fantasy novels. Yet as Michael Ward points out in his book Planet Narnia, this aspect of Lewis’s work went unnoticed for decades and is only now beginning to be explored.

For anyone like myself who loved the Narnia series as a child, this line of literary exploration opens up whole new levels of richness and depth in each of the seven books. The basic thesis is that each of the seven books represents characteristics of a different “planet” (or heaven) from Medieval cosmology, and communicates the essential aspects of the influences of each planet in the form of a children’s fantasy world. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, for example, exemplifies the kingly virtues of Jupiter. In Lewis’s own words from his poem “The Planets”:

…Of wrath ended
And woes mended, of winter passed
And guilt forgiven, and good fortune
Jove is master; and of jocund revel,
Laughter of ladies.  The lion-hearted,
The myriad-minded, men like the gods,
Helps and heroes, helms of nations
Just and gentle, are Jove’s children,
Work his wonders. On his wide forehead
Calm and kingly, no care darkens
Nor wrath wrinkles: but righteous power
And leisure and largess their loose splendours
Have wrapped around him—a rich mantle
Of ease and empire.

For anyone who has read Narnia, how could we read these lines without thinking of Aslan, having defeated and banished winter, at the coronation of the children at Cair Paravel? While the idea that Lewis had a “secret” structure in mind while writing the Chronicles might initially sound odd, Ward presents a convincing (if not overwhelming) case in his book.  Ward’s views have become increasingly popular since his book was published in 2008, and were the subject of a recent BBC documentary called “The Narnia Code”.  I have attached a YouTube clip for those without the inclination to track down Ward’s book who might be interested in the topic. My caution with the video clip is that Ward’s argument is much more detailed than can be explained in a 6 minute video clip…there is a huge amount of corroborating evidence provided in Planet Narnia. It will be particularly interesting to see if any of this interpretation makes its way into the new movie, Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  Ward was recently part of a group of Lewis scholars, theologians, and pastors who were invited to discuss the script and selected scenes from Treader in an effort to avoid the thematic misfire of Prince Caspian.

More information on the Ward’s thesis can be found at his website, Planet Narnia.


One Response to Hidden Medieval Symbolism in Narnia

  1. William Martin says:

    Interesting. The video clip was a nice synopsis for those of us without the time to read Planet Narnia. Rereading the books does sound like a nice idea…

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