Critics' Reviews

Read what the critics are saying about Planet Narnia

"With Planet Narnia, Michael Ward has established himself not only as the foremost living Lewis scholar, but also as a brilliant writer . . . His cumulative case for reading the Narnia books in terms of the planets is overwhelming . . . This introduction to a masterpiece is something of a masterpiece in its own right."

Times Literary Supplement

Click here to read the full review in the TLS by N.T. Wright

 

"[Planet Narnia] is, to all appearances, a gamble of presumptuous proportions; but it pays off powerfully and persuasively . . . [Ward] makes a marvellous case . . . profound . . . striking . . . brilliant."

The Independent on Sunday 

Click here to read the full review in The Independent on Sunday by Murrough O'Brien

 

"An argument which is at once subtle and sensible, a combination not often found in modern academic writing. . . . This is an outstanding guide not only to Narnia, but also to Lewis's thinking as a whole, and to the 'genial' medieval world-view which he so much loved."

Books & Culture 

Click here to read the full review in Books & Culture by Tom Shippey 

 

"Planet Narnia is one of the most creative works of scholarship I have read. . . . Ward has made a brilliant discovery. . . . [B]y thinking seriously about Lewis's life-long interest in the medieval imagination, Ward has uncovered a symbolic structure in the seven books that deepens both their literary and theological significance.  He also reveals Lewis to be a better writer than we knew . . . [A]n important work of scholarship . . . absorbing . . . serious . . . rich . . . a brilliant work to be savoured, read often and kept at hand when re-reading Lewis's novels."

The Catholic Register

Click here to read the full review in The Catholic Register by Dorothy Cummings

 

"Brilliantly conceived.  Intellectually provocative.  Rhetorically convincing.  A panegyric is not the usual way to begin a book review, but Michael Ward's Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis is worthy of such praise.  I do not mean to suggest it is a perfect book, yet what Ward attempts - the first rigorously comprehensive reading of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia - is magisterial . . . stimulating and engaging . . . important . . . thoughtful, informed, perceptive. . . . [E]very serious student of Lewis should buy Planet Narnia.  In effect, it is the starting point from now forward for all serious scholarly discussions of the Chronicles of Narnia."

Christianity and Literature

Click here for details of the review in Christianity & Literature by Don W. King

 

"[M]eticulously lays out how the Narnia stories were designed to express the characteristics of the seven planets. . . . Lewis 'secretly' framed the seven Chronicles so that the story-line in each book reflects this pre-Copernican medieval cosmological framework. . . . Why secretly?  Because Ward excellently shows how Lewis was adept at constructing smoke-screens in his private life and public work to refract and deflect peering eyes away from what was in effect a highly private and sensitive man, and Lewis enjoyed creating mysteries. . . . [T]his is an excellent, seminal volume, well-researched and well-constructed; Ward puts to shame what we may consider to be the genre of the average, thin, lightly researched, often American, book on Lewis, of which there are perhaps too many published each year.  Planet Narnia is a substantial, balanced and nuanced work. . . . Ward extrapolates how the numerous cosmological and astrological threads are woven into the Narnia books, without distracting from the inner core of Lewis's work.  Planet Narnia is also a highly readable book (though inevitably cosmologically complex).  Ward's is a painstaking, scrupulously researched and analysed thesis, in all cases he has studied the primary material himself, he has not taken the conclusion and comments (often inaccurate) of lesser Lewsian scholars and he has shown a mastery of medieval cosmology that would surely have impressed even Lewis.  It is of no surprise that the Anglican Lewis should have used such an underlying inner structure - but it took a fellow Anglican to identify it!"

The Heythrop Journal

Click here to read the full review in The Heythrop Journal by Paul Brazier

 

"[An] exciting synthesis of mystery story and literary scholarship. . . . Ward is a master code-breaker. . . . He reveals previously overlooked connections by means of both broad brush-strokes and intricate details. . . . This procedure results in a grand literary adventure through the cosmos and through a great writer's mind. . . . Ward's skill dazzles and enchants. . . . [He] deploys his planetary reading of the Narniad to reveal new, rich, thrilling subtleties of meaning. . . . Wedded to his systematizing skill is Ward's mastery of suspense.  He has an excellent sense of timing and refuses to give the punch-line too soon, teasing the reader with hints and suggestions of "the secret imaginative key", and then doling out the evidence in carefully regulated and effective increments . . . . But what of the argument itself? In other words, does Planet Narnia convince the reader that Ward has, indeed, found "the hidden inner meaning of the Chronicles" and that Lewis intended the Narnia Chronicles to "communicate seven ancient archetypes in a manner which is artistically and theologically suggestive"? Ward's argument is extremely convincing . . . The present writer believes that the planetary reading is likely to be correct, and at the very least is profoundly useful and enlightening. . . . Lewis took the heavens and the arrangement of the planets and turned them into a paean to the Christian God, inverting the Ptolemaic orbits so that Christ is circumference and center, goal and starting point. . . . Let us hope that Douglas Gresham and members of the Disney/Walden Media production team sit down to study Planet Narnia before creating the rest of the films. . . . If more scholars wrote such enchanting prose and discovered such compelling secrets, we would take volumes of literary criticism to the beach for summer reading."

Sehnsucht: The C.S. Lewis Journal

 

"Why read a book about C.S. Lewis or his work when one could read the man himself? It is unlikely that anyone writing about Lewis will be able to write as well as Lewis, let alone display his uncanny wit and clarity of thought.  But suppose someone uncovers a secret about C.S. Lewis and his works that Lewis never disclosed, and writes a book (actually, two books) about it?  In my case, I risked disappointment and bought them (in Kindle editions).  I'm glad I did.  The two books are Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis and The Narnia Code: C.S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens by Michael Ward.  Ward writes very well, and explains the "secret" behind the Narnia tales that he has uncovered both thoroughly and eloquently.  Indeed, while reading the books I found myself transported into Narnia, inhaling the atmosphere of the stories and living in them, the same way I do when I revisit the tales themselves . . .

Those of us who appreciate thorough scholarship are richly rewarded, for by the time Ward is finished there is simply no room left to doubt . . . Ward dives deeply into Lewis's poetry, non-Narniad fiction, personal history, and academic works to prove his case, and by the end we are reminded not of Archimedes, but Pythagoras, for this is how proving a hypothesis is supposed to be done.  Ward makes his case so thoroughly and with such exquisite attention to detail that I will, henceforth, never believe any other explanation than this one.

Lewis loved the medieval worldview, and as he constructed "Planet Narnia" he wanted his readers to breathe in the atmosphere, to be enveloped inside the influence of each of the medieval planets. . . . Michael Ward's books put us under the influence of Lewis's eighth medieval planet, Narnia itself.  Because of that, his books are the only ones about C.S. Lewis that I can guarantee I'll read again."

Analog: Science Fiction and Fact

Click here to read the full review in Analog by Jeff Kooistra

 

"This feat of scholarly detective work will absorb your attention from start to finish.  Michael Ward proposes a heretofore unnoticed structure that unifies the Chronicles of Narnia, based on Lewis's lifelong engagement with medieval astrology. . . . The result is both surprising and persuasive."

Christianity Today 

Click here to see the full review on the Christianity Today website by John Wilson

 

"The Chronicles of Narnia have been a puzzle to C. S. Lewis scholars for decades. . . . What is the organizing framework? . . . Tolkien called them a mish-mash . . . and, for this reason, disliked the Chronicles altogether.  Yet in spite of the criticism, Lewis's books continue to delight new generations of readers, both young and old.  So what is their secret?  Planet Narnia has finally proposed an existentially and intellectually satisfying answer.  In Michael Ward's brilliant new book, he contends that Lewis arranged The Chronicles of Narnia through the creative matrix of medieval cosmology. Lewis, after all, was a professor of medieval literature.  So it should not be surprising that the medieval configuration of the planets - one of his favorite subjects of academic study - would be the "imaginative key" that unlocks the secret to his children's stories. . . . In fact, the further one reads, the more apparent it becomes that medieval cosmology was not just a Narnian oddity but a driving spiritual symbol in Lewis's life. . . .Ward handles each successive planet with . . . skill and clarity, . . . precision and humility.  [He] is an excellent writer, and his life-long study of Lewis is evident throughout this fine book. . . . [U]npretentious, he writes with clarity and with content, and his research is thoroughly academic (with almost sixty page of endnotes).  For all who are interested in the mind of C.S. Lewis or who want to enrich their enjoyment of The Chronicles of Narnia, I highly recommend this book."

Modern Reformation

Click here to read the full review in Modern Reformation by Jordan Easley

 

"Ward builds up a painstaking case based on Lewis's other writings, particularly his works on the medieval world-view and his "planetary" trilogy.  And a compelling case it is, too, built on exhaustive evidence of the way in which Lewis the Christian convert still found the imaginative universe of paganism and medieval astrology rich and allusive. . . . Ward's painstaking scholarship should help dispel two critical stereotypes: Lewis the unsubtle Christian propagandist, and Lewis the literary Reliant Robin parked next to the Rolls-Royce that is J.R.R. Tolkien."

Church Times

Click here to read the full review in the Church Times by Mike Starkey 

 

"Compelling. . . . Michael Ward’s stunning work of scholarship has shone a celestial light on the Chronicles of Narnia, and it will undoubtedly send many old friends of Narnia back through the wardrobe to explore the land again with new eyes."

The Church of England Newspaper

 

"The book is based on meticulous research but it is made easily accessible for non-academic readers too as the argument proceeds so smoothly and logically.  It is all too rare that a reader of secondary literature experiences such trembles of joy as one feels reading Ward's book; the author is capable of transferring the style and atmosphere of his subject to the research itself without killing the pleasure of his readers. . . . Ward has clearly written his book under the protection of Jupiter himself."

Teologinen Aikakauskirja (The Finnish Journal of Theology)

 

"Like the Gospels, this is a book that should be either banned or required reading, depending on one's theological point of view.  Some will find it threatening, if not downright dangerous; others will embrace it as the key to a whole new vision of a cherished imaginative world. . . . Some may remain skeptical, unwilling to accept Ward's interpretive insight into the way in which C.S. Lewis structured his stories, in part because they fear that it will lessen their enjoyment of the stories themselves; more likely, because if they accept it, they may be obliged to view more than just the stories this way.  Others, like this reviewer, will rejoice at not only a world, but a theology made new.  Ward's contention, simply stated, is breathtakingly elegant." 

The Journal of Religion

 

"[G]roundbreaking . . . Far from spoiling or seeming to devalue the message and rich beauty of Lewis's works, Ward's revelations serve to deepen one's appreciation for and understanding of them. Ward is a thorough and careful guide who provides an in-depth textual study of how Lewis's fascination with the medieval understanding of the cosmos is found throughout the texts . . . [He] lays out his claims carefully, and with ample textual evidence - sufficient, perhaps, for even the heartiest skeptic."

Anglican and Episcopal History 

 

"From the beginning, the reader is conscious of being in the presence of someone who has thoroughly mastered the entire oeuvre of C.S. Lewis: theological and literary, academic and popular, prose and poetry.  Wearing this learning lightly but skilfully, Michael Ward sets out to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the seven planets of medieval cosmology - the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn - are the secret templates used by C.S. Lewis.  In particular, each [Narnia] volume explores the Christ figure via the characteristics of one of the medieval planets. . . . [W]e have Michael Ward to thank for revealing this, one of the best kept ever literary secrets, to us.  This is a wonderful book.  Tolle, lege!"

Third Way Magazine 

Click here to read the full review in Third Way by Professor Wilson Poon

 

"[S]trong . . . satisfying . . . astonishing . . . Planet Narnia is an important book that calls attention to neglected themes in Lewis's work.  As well as the major thesis that the medieval planets are the organizing theme of the Narniad, the book draws our attention to Lewis's interest in archetypes of the divine.  Because Lewis is the most popular Anglican apologist, focusing our attention on Lewis's attitudes toward the symbolic value of non-Christian religions can be viewed as a separate contribution of note, and one of particular value at this time in history.  Finally, Ward has focused attention on Lewis's theology of God's immanence and raised the possibility that Lewis was presenting in literary fashion the argument he had advanced abstractly in Miracles regarding God's immanence and our inability to see God.  Thus, we can consider our inability to have perceived the underlying and pervasive theme of the Narniad as an immediate experiential example of Lewis's theological point that we do not perceive that which is all around us."

Anglican Theological Review

 

"The sensible reader's first reaction to this revelation will be that it is, basically, nutty: Why has it taken someone fifty years to find this?  And why didn't Lewis inform anyone of his secret?  His friend J.R.R. Tolkien, like many others, had criticized Lewis for being a literary magpie, plucking elements from innumerable sources to create a slap-dash mythology for his fictional world.  Who could imagine that a method, in fact, lay hidden in this madness?  For that matter, why should we care?  Most critics consider Lewis's fiction as, at best, an introduction to theology and literature.

"Michael Ward, however, dismantles our initial skepticism with great winsomeness, persistence, and lucidity.  Making his way through each of the Chronicles, he analyzes the deployment of a particular planet's imagery and then assesses the theological messages expressed by that deployment.  In the end, the reader is convinced, or at least intrigued - a major accomplishment given such a surprising beginning . . . 

"If Ward is right, then C.S. Lewis's communication of medieval and renaissance literature to modern audiences, his interest in God's presence in creation, and his articulation of this theology in fiction make him an even more intriguing author and theologian than we thought."

First Things, The Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life

 

"[T]here is something not quite respectable about finding secret codes within literary works. (It is often the leper bell of the obsessive or the charlatan.)  But Ward, who once attempted to map out the Narniad against Shakespeare's plays, meticulously addresses any objections; he is well aware of the audacity of his claim.  And, as he points out, Lewis was hugely interested in both astronomy and pre-Copernican symbolism; he quotes copiously from his adult science-fiction trilogy, and from his own long, alliterative poem 'The Planets'.  Lewis was also secretive, given to laying false trails, and indeed considered it important to his art to have elements which were deeply buried. . . . [T]he whole book is so engagingly written, and so illuminating about medieval symbolism in general, that Planet Narnia is worth reading even if all you are going to do is disagree with it.  It also does much to redress the balance of contemporary Lewis criticism. . . .  [C]onvincing . . . enriching."

The Guardian

Click here to read the full review in The Guardian by Nicholas Lezard

 

"Ward is attempting by an elaborate presentation - and successfully in this reviewer's opinion - to show that the astrological tradition of the seven planets had a deep and long-lasting influence on Lewis's imagination. . . . He has made an excellent - and convincing - case for the astrological planets influencing Lewis's presentations of Narnia."

Mythlore, The Journal of the Mythopoeic Society

Click here to read the full review in Mythlore by Joe R. Christopher

 

"[Ward's] discovery is worthy of comparison with the deductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes or the code-cracking wizardry of Robert Langdon. He writes from inside Lewis's head, quoting effortlessly from Lewis's oeuvre, tying together disparate elements with ease and grace. His memory is prodigious, his writing clear and organized, his interpretation of the Narniad lovely, plausible, scholarly and useful."

Stillpoint, The Magazine of Gordon College  

(The above is excerpted from Sorina Higgins's review of Planet Narnia in the Spring 2008 number of Stillpoint.  To read the full article, click here.)

 

"There is little doubt that with the advent of Michael Ward's new study on C.S. Lewis, the scholarly reading of The Chronicles of Narnia will never be the same . . . Initial incredulity towards Ward's argument is inevitable.  But such skepticism proves very difficult to maintain . . . Ward proceeds to dismantle any objections to his claim that the Chronicles shimmer with the influence of the planets . . . [T]he book is well researched, well written, and well worth the time of all who take interest in the writings of C.S. Lewis."

Religion and Literature

 

"All Narnia specialists should read this book . . . the lengthy footnotes and interesting illustrations paralleling Pauline Baynes's artistry with classical pictures of the gods are further evidence of meticulous research. . . . Ward's discovery is crucial to our appreciation of Narnia."

Christian Librarian: The Journal of the Librarians' Christian Fellowship

 

"One comes away from this study convinced that Ward's theory is believable, particularly given Lewis's knowledge of medieval scholarship and Christianity.  Summing Up: Recommended.  All readers, all levels."

Choice, the reviews journal of the American Library Association

 

"Michael Ward's Planet Narnia has created something of a sensation. . . . [S]cholarly . . . well documented . . . detailed . . . stimulating. . . . He has also managed to bridge the unfortunate gap often seen in criticism between Lewis the medievalist and Lewis the creative writer . . . [A] valuable contribution to Lewis studies."

Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review

 

"[A]udacious . . . so tantalizing and so thoroughly examined that one finds oneself hoping that it is true. . . . [V]ery persuasive . . . striking . . . fun . . . simultaneously rigorous and affectionate."

Children's Literature Association

 

"An example of Christian scholarship working at its best, and working in the very way that Lewis himself adopted . . . . Ward's close readings of the Lewis texts remind me of G. Wilson Knight's close readings of Shakespeare, readings which excited me as a student as no other Shakespeare criticism had done before (or since!).  Michael Ward has done a great service not only to Lewis scholarship, but also to Christian scholarship."

The Glass, the Journal of the Christian Literary Studies Group

 

"Michael Ward makes the seemingly preposterous claim that 'Lewis secretly based the Chronicles of Narnia on the seven heavens of the medieval cosmos' . . . Does Ward pull it off? Against all odds, the emerging consensus seems to be yes . . . Ward's work is indeed a word in season."

Karl Johnson at Chesterton House, A Center for Christian Studies

(The above is excerpted from Karl Johnson's article about Planet Narnia, the full text of which can be read here.)

 

"[A] book that all adult Narnians will want to read. . . . Deeply immersed in all of Lewis's varied works, Ward in effect solves the great Narnian puzzle and reveals depths to Lewis's fiction that no one has previously discerned. His stunning piece of literary detection demonstrates with near irrefutable conclusiveness the consistency to Lewis's imaginary world, contrary to Tolkien and the rest. . . . Ward's heavily researched study achieves . . . an adult appreciation of Lewis's serious artistic accomplishment."

The Barnes & Noble Editorial Review

(The above is excerpted from an article by Thomas De Pietro, the full text of which can be read here.)

 

"Michael Ward, immensely knowledgeable about everything to do with Lewis, has discovered in [the Narnia Chronicles] a rich, secret seam. . . . Each has a very distinct setting, and Ward . . . lit upon the hypothesis that they each express one of the planetary temperaments, which are a good deal more complex and subtle than appears at first sight.  Planet Narnia is the very thorough exploration and proof of the hypothesis.  And so all Lewis's work, academic as well as imaginative - his poems and novels - is reviewed, and the result is fascinating and enriching. . . . It is not only the Narnia story which is so deepened, though, but one's whole understanding of Lewis's imagination and thought."

The Bulletin of the Dorothy L. Sayers Society

 

"A breathtaking hypothesis . . . groundbreaking . . . remarkable . . . a compelling case."

Mars Hill Audio JournalClick here and here for more. 

 

"[C]onsider Michael Ward's remarkable, and by common consensus major, work Planet Narnia.  As most people will know, the starting point for this brilliant book is Ward’s discovery that the seven Chronicles of Narnia are patterned on the “seven heavens” or planets of medieval cosmology, and that once one understands the “key” presiding deity and sees which book is “Solar,” which “Lunar,” “Martial,” “Mercurial,” “Jovial,” and so forth, then all sorts of individual elements and layers of meaning in each narrative suddenly come into focus and an account can be given of the profound imaginative coherence of the series, a coherence that still preserves the distinctive flavour and essence of each individual narrative . . . . Page after page brings out “new meanings” not only for the Narniad but for much else in Lewis’s work.  Reading Planet Narnia, one discovers that all kinds of knowledge one had about Lewis, and insights into his work that had existed separately in one’s mind, held as it were “in suspension” from one another, are suddenly flowing together and forming a coherent whole.

However, the really significant thing about this book is not so much the “discovery” itself as what Ward has chosen to do with it.  Rather than simply “proving” his theory and enumerating all the instances in which clusters of images associated with each “planet” occur in their respective Chronicles, Ward chooses to ask why Lewis went to the trouble of making this arcane arrangement, of organizing his narratives with this hidden “underlay.”  Was it any more than academic game-playing?  Answering this question leads Ward to insights that are in their way much more significant than the mere discovery of the planet sequence itself, for they are insights not just about Lewis but about the nature of imagination and the art of writing.  Ward shows how Lewis used each of the Chronicles to explore the cluster of images, associations and values that had accumulated over centuries in the European imagination around the “gravitational center” of each of the seven planets.  He shows how these planetary clusters of related images have become, in the hands of writers like Dante, Spenser, and Shakespeare, rich and wonderfully embodied symbols of aspects of our own lives and personalities both in their original goodness and in their fallenness and depravity, that there is as it were a good, jovial, and generous “Jupiter” in each of us, and also a corrupt and tyrannical one, and so with the other six deities/planets.  Ward shows how Lewis in each of the books subtly explores the fallen and redeemed possibilities of seven different aspects of human personality.

But he goes further, for he applies the insights embodied in each planetary complex or cluster not only to our humanity but also to Christ in both his humanity and his divinity. So each of the planetary chapters has a section called “Logos” in which Ward shows how Lewis uses symbol and image to explore the “Solar,” “Lunar,” or “Martial” aspect of our understanding of Aslan/ Christ as well as our self-understanding.  In so doing he uncovers what might be called a hidden Christology in the Narniad, much more complex and beautiful then the mere “one to one” allegorical equation of Aslan and Christ that has contented most previous commentators.

In analyzing Lewis’s success in deploying his planetary symbols Ward also reveals what one might see as a theology of imagination.  Shakespeare famously describes the poet’s eye as "glancing from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven; And as imagination bodies forth The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name" (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V.i.13-17).  In this way meaning is not left in a disembodied state of dry abstraction, but constantly “bodied forth” in living symbols.  Ward shows how Lewis drew on his deep knowledge and memory of this “bodying forth” of meaning through the emblems of the seven heavens in the whole network of medieval and Renaissance poetry, and distilled it into the narrative of his Narniad so that it could continue to irrigate deserts and nourish the imaginations of those who might never find the same emblems where Lewis had first found them, in Dante, Spenser, and Milton.  But by opening and tracing Lewis’s sources, Ward is himself making those sources available to a new generation of readers, as Lewis himself had done in his seminal book The Discarded Image.  In some ways what Ward has done is to write a new Discarded Image for the twenty-first century, and the best effect of his book will be not simply that his readers return to the Narniad with new appreciation and understanding but that they will themselves take up the study of Dante, Spenser, and Lewis’s other sources with a sense of excitement and an awareness of their continued relevance in our own time.

Finally, Planet Narnia turns out to be a book not just about the Narniad, or about the seven heavens, or even about the truth of imagination, but also a book about the art of writing.  Ward shows how Lewis relished, and wished to capture in his writing, the intrinsic and distinctive quality of people and places, even of books that he called “donegality,” a private word derived from his sense that there was something distinctive about Donegal that differentiated it from the rest of Ireland.  What Lewis wanted as a writer was to give each of his Chronicles a distinctive “donegality,” a flavor and atmosphere of its own, and through that distinction to make each of the books the “local habitation” for distinctive but elusive spiritual qualities that might otherwise drift past us as “airy nothing.”  What Ward demonstrates is that rather than invent a private language or symbolic system Lewis availed himself of what was already “out there” (quite literally); the discarded image, the long-neglected lore and poetry, the symbolic system of the seven heavens.  By working with these “given,” indeed archetypal symbolic systems, Lewis was essentially working collaboratively.  He was effectively summoning Dante and Spenser to his side, drawing from them, conversing with them, re-tuning their resonance to harmonize his own particular work, and paradoxically it is this very collaboration which set free in Lewis the creative flair and originality which has given his work its distinctive flavor and its staying power.  This approach to the art of writing is entirely consistent with his critical theory, his defence of stock responses against I.A. Richards and his brilliant analysis of how Milton achieved his effects by drawing on what was already “given” in his own sources, the Bible and Virgil.  Lewis is not so much working as a private isolated writer making his own separate creation but more like a medieval mason adding to, enlarging, and gracing with detail a much bigger “cathedral” of poetry and symbol that is the ongoing work of many hands and many generations."

Religious Studies Review (Vol. 37, No. 2, June 2011)

 

 

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