Did CS Lewis have a grand plan in mind as he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia? Was there some underlying theme that guided him as he created characters, scenes and details? And why did he have Father Christmas appear in a world that would not know the nativity story?
Intriguing questions, all of them; some pondered by Lewis scholars, others by fans of the series. Michael Ward, in his book The Narnia Code: CS Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens, offers fascinating answers. Written as “the little brother” of Planet Narnia, Ward takes his doctoral dissertation and condenses it into a very readable and informative book.
Ward explains that Lewis, as a scholar of medieval literature, was well versed in classical mythology. Lewis loved the idea of the planets as influencers over men, each with its own character and images. Ward proposed that each of the Chronicles are inspired by one of the planets included in the ancient understanding of our solar system: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the sun and the moon.
Chapter after chapter, Ward makes his case. It is a compelling one. The writer in me delights in learning that seemingly meaningless details, like the redness of a robin’s breast, ties into the symbolism of the planet inspiring that particular chronicle (in this case, red being the color associated with Jupiter.)
Some might think that use of classical mythology can hardly be fitting for a Christian author. Lewis takes the old myths and uses them for his own purpose. Each Chronicle either shows a different aspect or facet of God, or teaches a lesson about faith in Him.
As I see it, then, The Chronicles of Narnia are stories with at least three layers. The first, and uppermost, is of course the stories themselves, stories that tell of the adventures children from our world have in another one. The second layer is the obvious Biblical connection, with Aslan as a Jesus-like figure, for example. The third deeper layer of meaning is the connection with the classical symbols related to the planets, all pointing to God and our life of faith in Him.
As a reader who has long loved The Chronicles of Narnia, I was fascinated by The Narnia Code and read nearly all of it in one sitting. As a writer, I was stunned by the layers Lewis used to construct the Narnian world and the stories he told, all working in harmony with the myths and images from classical and medieval literature. Understanding the meaning behind some of Lewis’ images add even more to an already rich and enjoyable series.