By Bernie Bell
I first read the ’Narnia’ books when I was about …eight years old. I loved them then, and still do. I don’t know how many times I’ve read them. Aslan is one of my all-time heroes. We’re all in the paws of Aslan. I’ve had discussions/arguments with people about it being a very heavy Christian allegory, as some people slam C.S. Lewis for this. And it is there, no doubt about it, as he was a deeply religious man. I never saw it that way when I was younger – I simply loved the magic, the stories, and the characters – the ‘goodies’ and the ‘baddies’ and seeing that some of the ‘baddies’, kind-of couldn’t help it. When I was older, I came to see the Christian allegory, and I could also see how some folk might react against this. I don’t mind either way, I just love the books, the characters, and some of the ideas.
There’s so much else about him, and his work, which is great, that I just accept the religious aspect of his work, as part of him. ‘Narnia’ has so much else in it, as well as the Christian ‘angle’.
Though, when you read his work, generally, there are also some strong over-tones of the Old Ways.
One thing which I’m not keen on, is that the ‘baddies’ in the Narnia books, are the swarthy people from the South! Struck me as a bit racist! It’s the same in Tolkien, the blond, fair-skins are always the good-guys, and the swarthy, dark skins tend to be the dodgy ones. C.S.Lewis and Tolkien were friends, and part of a group known as ‘The Inklings’, so, I suppose some ideas would be shared, or it could be said to be a sign of their times. I can go along with the Christian allegory in the ‘Narnia’ books, but the “Blond=good, Dark=bad” gets up my nose!
The books stand as what they are, though. A lot of good ideas, and some dodgy ones, can’t win ’em all.
It never occurred to me, to link them to the planets, I just liked them, for many reasons, then, a few years ago, I saw a television programme about a book called ‘Planet Narnia’ by Michael Ward, and came across a completely new idea in relation to the ‘Narnia’ books – or, new to me, anyway.
It’s not just that Michael Ward puts his case well, which he does. It’s one of those things, which you don’t see, then, as soon as you see it, it’s so obvious. It isn’t too surprising, when you consider C.S. Lewis’ interest in Medieval cosmology, and approach the ‘Narnia’ books, with the cosmos and planets, in mind.
In his book, Michael Ward proposes that each ‘Narnia’ book, is based on a planet, on the essential characteristics of a planet. I wondered why the television programme didn’t include C.S. Lewis’ ‘Cosmic Trilogy’, as that’s very much about the planets, and how they can influence our lives. I read ‘Planet Narnia’, and, basically, wondered why I hadn’t noticed the ‘planets’ idea, before. It’s all there, each book’s connection with a planet, and it’s associations, and, of course, it then flows out from there, to many other ideas and connections.
I then read C.S. Lewis’ poem ”The Planets’ . I’m ashamed to say, I wasn’t aware of his poetry, just his stories, and he is an excellent poet. ‘The Planets’, captures the ‘characters’ of the planets, as perfectly as Gustav Holst’s ‘Planets’ suite does. Each piece of music isn’t just about the planet, it is the planet, the essential being of the planet. Maybe a case of different people expressing in different forms, how they ‘see’ the planets and their relationship to each other, and us.
C.S.Lewis was a Shakespeare scholar. King Lear comes to mind, and the all-pervading idea of the stars and planets and how they do (or do not according to Edmund), affect our behaviour. It’s all there.
The idea of each planet having a ‘character’, and how this can influence us, isn’t new – it’s the basis of Astrology. Thinking about the 7 Narnia books, and the 7 planets, in relation to us, and the earth we inhabit…….
If each planet reflects a part of Earth’s development, for example, ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ – Venus – beginnings, fruitfulness. ‘The Lion, the Witch & The Wardrobe’ – Jupiter – learning, beginning to be truly aware, learning how to be. And we go through to ‘The Last Battle’ – Saturn – huge changes, what could be seen as catastrophic change, if people want to see it that way, but it’s a huge change, upheaval, from which a new way of being emerges. Except, of course, for the Dwarves in their shed – there are, and will always be, people doing that. What’s happening can be pointed out to them, and others can try to help them to see more clearly, but if they want to see it that way, and won’t see it any other way, we can only leave them to it, in their shed. Climate change denial comes to mind. “You can take a horse to water, but you canna make him drink”.
Sometimes something has to ‘die’ or change drastically for new birth to happen. Are we approaching the death-throes of Earth as it is? But here is where the message of hope comes in. Maybe the course of the Narnia books, tracks the development of mankind on Earth, and this includes a huge shake-up at the end, but then what follows?
I’m sure that we are building up to something, what, I don’t know, but what will be on the other side of it? In ‘The Last Battle’, every one actually goes through a portal, a doorway, “farther up and farther in”. It’s something I say to people about learning and progressing through life, “ever onward, ever upward”, the next step.
For that matter, how often does an individual have to ‘go through’ a huge upheaval in their life, to ‘come out the other side’ with a clearer idea of themselves and their life. Serious illness, death of someone close, even divorces or redundancy. Sometimes a number of those at once! It happens to a lot of people. Not just ‘as above, so below’ with planets, but within ourselves too. The planets working with us, as well as the Earth, maybe?
Life, Death, Re-birth, the age-old cycle of life. But, in this case, a parallel between what’s happening in the planets in the sky, what they mean, what they represent, and what develops on Earth.
I can also see its relevance to the dig at the Ness of Brodgar, here on Orkney https://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/trust/ and what the priestly folk there, may have been up to. C.S. Lewis’ interest in Medieval cosmology, and his ‘Narnia’ books in light of the new light which Michael Ward’s book shines on them – to me, all these things, link and connect. “As above, so below”. The stargazing and sky-watching of the priestly groups, possibly all over the world, over millennia. Possibly, to observe any changes in the ‘behaviour’ of the planets, possibly to link this with what had been known to happen before, when planets deviated in any way in their orbits, such as possible destruction of societies on this planet. Particularly in light of what’s happening on the planet, today, this is of great interest. There was a lot of disruption during the Medieval period, too. Bad weather, bad crops, famines. Sounds familiar?
A very big subject, skimmed over, very briefly, here!
Then I considered the idea of us, humans, going out into space, and changing other planets, ‘greening’ them etc.
In the Narnia books, there are worlds which are dying, and worlds being born, and, creatures and beings from other worlds, affect each other’s worlds, often by accident, or randomly. The only conscious, on-purpose influence, is when Aslan wakes up Narnia. Which is how it should be. Aslan is allowed to do that.
There are presently some ideas of going out there, and ‘greening’ other planets, of “Flying Mother Nature’s silver seed, to a new home in the sun” (Neil Young, ‘After the Goldrush’). But, what if the planets, and how they are, do effect each other, how do we know what might happen, if we interfere with that balance? Mars is Mars, and will have its influence, as Mars, until it changes itself in some way, over the years, then it will have its influence, as what it will be then. Should we interfere with the development/progress of other planets, as happens in the ‘Narnia’ books? Sometimes with dire consequences.
At the end of ‘Planet Narnia’, in the chapter headed ‘Coda’ , Michael Ward mentions ‘winter passed/And guilt forgiven’. This made me think of ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’, when Aslan, and Father Christmas (!) return, and winter passes. Does the ‘guilt forgiven’ , go right back to forgiving Digory, for striking the bell, which, let’s face it, started all the trouble. Also, forgiving Edmund for being a snitch. Generally, winter passed, and guilt forgiven, going right back in time. When Digory strikes the bell, Polly thinks something along the lines of, well, he’s a boy, that’s the kind of thing boys do (which is true, though girls are changing, these days). When Edmund is a snitch, and a traitor, it’s as though he can’t help it. He can’t help it, he’s weak, and the Queen is strong. What I’m approaching here, is the idea of the fallibility of humans. We do the things we do, because it’s in us to do them. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. It’s then for us to realise this, and learn to be different. Is that what our time on Earth is for? to learn, and learn to be different, and better, more true, to our selves, and our Gods. Mainly, to be true. We are, what we are, but we can learn to access the better, clearer part of what we are, and focus on that, and become that. And, once we try to do this, and start on that road, we will be endlessly forgiven for what we can’t help, and encouraged to move towards what we can do.
This could be said to be the Christian allegory, again. Well, why not? The teachings of Jesus, would, without doubt, make the world, and the people in it, better – if we followed them. Problem is, mostly, we don’t!
I needn’t labour this, as I’m sure if you read the book, you’ll see all of this, and more. And there is so much more. ‘Planet Narnia’ is a very good, thoughtful book, with much in it, and much food for thought, but it’s only a beginning, it sparks off, or starts off, so much more, so many more ‘leads’ and lines of thought to follow. It puts the case very well, so well, that it’s hard to see why it wasn’t ‘seen’ before. I’m sure that I’ll read it again, as these things aren’t absorbed quickly.