Brenton Dickinson has an interesting post up about his upcoming critique of Michael Ward’s theory that the Narnia books were written to illustrate the ideas of medieval planetary astrology (one book per planet). I read a bit about Planet Narnia when it came out, but have never got around to reading it, partly because I can see that the books have planetary symbolism now that it’s been pointed out, but it is not the main point of the books.
Even if Lewis did not deliberately write the Narnia books as illustrations of planetary principles, he was so steeped in the symbolism of the planets (as is evident from the Ransom trilogy, and his book on medieval thought, The Discarded Image), that the books are applicable (Tolkien’s word) to the planetary symbolism, or vice versa.
As Brenton Dickinson points out, Lewis told us that the books are about what Christ would have been like if he had manifested in a different world.
You can successfully “map” each book to a planetary theme, but then you can map a lot of things to symbolic systems (the spheres of the Tree of Life in Kabbalah have been mapped to the organizational principles of the universe, the human psyche, a car, and many more systems; you could probably map them to Narnia if you tried – regardless of whether Lewis was familiar with the Kabbalah or not).
Bill Darlison makes a fairly convincing argument that the four gospels are an astrological allegory. I suppose they could be. But again, I would argue that because all of these things represent underlying symbolism that wells up from our human responses to the world around us, it’s possible to map one symbol system onto another, without the author having deliberately written their work to represent the symbol system in question – especially if they stem from the same cultural milieu.
I think a lot of the resistance to the idea that things are a deliberate analogy or allegory is because those who resist this notion share Tolkien’s feelings about allegory and applicability:
I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.
Tolkien made it very clear to Lewis that he disliked allegory, and he also disliked the Narnia books (because of their infelicitous juxtaposition of disparate elements; for example, how the heck do Mr and Mrs Beaver know who Father Christmas is?)
But as they had been close friends (Narnia was the final wedge that sundered their closeness, if I recall correctly), one would have thought that Lewis might have taken Tolkien’s views about allegory and applicability into account to some extent. I can’t remember if Lewis wrote his most allegorical book before or after writing Narnia).
Either way, one can read planetary symbolism into Narnia (whether or not Lewis deliberately planted it there), and this provides a fruitful way of interpreting the books, because both stem from the same cultural milieu.
For the purposes of literary analysis, it does matter whether Lewis did it deliberately or not; for the purpose of gaining a different symbolic perspective on the books, it doesn’t matter if it was deliberate or not: if the cap fits, then it fits.
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