Saturday, December 26, 2009

Parting Thoughts on Narnia

Traveling through Narnia the past few months has been an exciting journey. I enjoyed it so much more than I did upon first reading 25 years ago. One reason is that knowing the end of the story at the beginning allowed me to pick up on several connections between the books I hadn’t seen before. Another major reason for the enjoyment is that I have read the chronicles after reading 14 other C.S. Lewis books. Themes and insights from those books are interwoven in the narrative of the Narnian Chronicles, which has deepened my appreciation for the books as mature literature (not just children’s stories).

In addition to the Lewis books, I have read several articles on the Internet written by Lewis scholars. (My favorite scholarly web site is “Into the Wardrobe,” and can be accessed at The scholars’ interpretations and explanations have added greatly to my understanding and appreciation of all things Narnia. In addition to Lewis web sites, there are some very creative and informative blogs dedicated to Narnia.

I want to wrap up my Narnian adventure by sharing two ideas I discovered in my Internet reading. One is that each book in the chronicles correlates to one of the seven planets circling the earth, as was believed until Copernicus’s sun-centered hypothesis in the mid 1500s. The other is that each of the seven books in the chronicles corresponds to one of the seven deadly sins. There are several other analyses, including each chronicle matching one of the seven Catholic sacraments, or the three theological virtues (faith, hope, charity) and the four cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice), but the aforementioned two are my favorites.

I had to smile when I learned of these ideas, and thought Lewis himself might chuckle to see how man had changed so little since Medieval times in his effort to categorize and order his world. I was reminded of what Lewis wrote in The Discarded Image, a book that provides a complete and complex picture of history, science, and theology that served as the foundation for literature in the Western world from the turn of the first millennium A.D. up until around the early 1600s. Lewis describes medieval man:

“At his most characteristic, medieval man was not a dreamer nor a wanderer. He was an organizer, a codifier, a builder of systems. He wanted ‘a place for everything, and everything in the right place.’ …There was nothing which medieval people liked better, or did better, than sorting out and tidying up. Of all our modern inventions, I suspect that they would most have admired the card index.”

When I read about the Narnian books focusing on a planet or a deadly sin, I felt there was a bit of “sorting out and tidying up” taking place in our modern world.

Narnia and the Planets

Michael Ward wrote a book entitled Planet Narnia—The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis. The idea of seven heavens comes from the Medieval concept that earth was the center of the universe and seven planets circled it. A review of the book by Times Online explains how Ward matched the books and planets. (See Note #1.)

The Lion, the Witch and the WardrobeJupiter – Qualities of Jupiter include kingliness, magnanimity, festal joy, tragic splendor, summertime tranquility.

Prince CaspianMars – Qualities of mars include vegetative growth, military strength and knightly discipline, courage and orderliness or cruelty and lawlessness.

The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderSun – Qualities of the sun include wisdom, liberality, generosity, freedom, riches, enlightenment, opposition to greed.

The Silver ChairLuna – Qualities of the moon include envy, confusion, boundary between certainty and mutability, sponsor of hunting and wandering.

The Horse and his BoyMercury – Qualities of mercury include swiftness, heraldry, skill in speech and learning, ability to divide and recombine.

The Magician’s Nephew - Venus – Qualities of Venus include sweetness, warmth, beauty, laughter, motherliness, sexuality, fertility, vitality, creativity.

The Last BattleSaturn - Qualities of Saturn (the planet of old age) include pestilence, treachery, disaster and death, godly sorrow, penitence and contemplation. “Here, however, there is a new turn. Once deception and decay have done their depressing work, Jupiter returns with the new creation of Narnia and its loyal inhabitants. The cosmos is after all a comedy, albeit dark and deep, not a tragedy.”

If this topic is of interest to you, you might want to check out the official website for Planet Narnia: It is wonderfully informative. Ward includes musical selections from Gustav Holst’s “music of the heavens” or the Planets Suite as he describes the attributes of each planet. The paperback edition of Planet Narnia is scheduled for release in early 2010; I can’t wait to read it.

Narnia and the Seven Deadly Sins

The other cataloging of the chronicles I found fascinating is matching each Narnian story with one of the seven deadly sins. My favorite explanation comes from an article written by Dr. Don W. King of the Montreat College Department of English (See Note #2.).

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - Gluttony - Personified by Edmund Pevensie's desire for the White Witch's Turkish Delight, which turned him traitor to his brother and sisters, and eventually was the precipitating cause of Aslan's death. Dr. King explains that "over indulgence blinds us to the truth, turning us inward, making us slaves to our own insatiable desires.”

Prince Caspian - Lust – Personified by Caspian’s uncle, Miraz, who lusted after power, position and wealth. According to Dr. King, corruption in leadership can be expected when the lust for personal gain takes precedence over the general welfare of the people.

The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderGreed – Personified by obnoxious cousin Eustace Scrubb who was egocentric and selfish. A main part of the story revolved around Eustace’s desire for gold which turned him into a dragon, and the painful process he went through before becoming a boy again. Dr. King explains that this adventure shows the negative effect greed has on the individual.

The Silver ChairSloth (“a disgust with the spiritual because of the physical effort involved” – Personified by Jill Pole who, through laziness, forgets the signs Aslan has asked her to follow, resulting in numerous missteps and situations for Eustace Scrubb and her. Dr. King says that Jill “portrays all who fail to persevere, who fail to keep the vision,” but that we are capable of breaking the chains of sloth and regain spiritual vision.

The Horse and His BoyPride – Personified by the talking Narnian horse Bree who is obsessed with how he looks, the escaped princess of Calormene who holds a high opinion of herself, and evil Prince Rabadash, heir of Calormene whose prideful actions and conversation with Aslan results in him being turned into an ass. Dr. King quotes Proverbs 16:18 “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.

The Magician’s NephewAnger – Personified in various actions of the quick tempered Digory Ketterley, Digory’s mad magician Uncle Andrew, and opinionated friend Polly Plummer. It was an argument between Digory and Polly that unleashed evil in Narnia in the form of Jadis (the White Witch), who herself is a picture of anger or “devilish temper.” Dr. King explains that “anger, uncontrolled rage, is another form of blindness. It turns us away from a right and whole vision of the truth, and instead leads us towards egoism, expressed by choler and revenge.”

The Last BattleEnvy – Personified by the great ape Shift, who usurps the power of Aslan by dressing a dim-witted donkey in a lion skin and manipulating all the inhabitants through the donkey. Dr. King explains that “Shift’s envy of Aslan’s power leads to breakdowns in the social fabric of Narnian society.” Dr. King goes on to explain that even more destructive is the “spiritual upheaval caused by Shift’s envious power grab.”

Dr. King summarizes: "[C.S. Lewis] has taken the seven deadly sins into Narnia, shown their destructive power, and set before us examples to avoid. Although each book highlights a particular sin and illustrates its specific effect on characters, the message in each case is the same: the grip of sin is deadly.”

Note #1: The full text of the Times Online article about Planet Narnia can be accessed at:

Note #2: The full text of the article on Narnia and the seven deadly sins can be accessed at: