Culture Books CS Lewis Documentary to lay bare 'Narnia Code' Alison Flood guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 2 December 2008 13.51 GMT Article history
Martial ... Prince Caspian as portrayed in The Chronicles of Narnia
CS Lewis included a secret code in the Chronicles of Narnia linking each story to a planet, according to a BBC documentary to be aired next Easter.
It has long been accepted that the classic children's series features Christian symbolism, but scholars have laboured for years to discover a third level of meaning, trying unsuccessfully to fit the themes of the seven sacraments, the seven deadly sins, and the seven books of Spenser's Faerie Queene to the novels.
Now a documentary from award-winning director Norman Stone, based on a new academic's study of Lewis's writing, says it has uncovered the true hidden layer in the novels. This, it is claimed, is medieval cosmology, with each of the Christian and medieval scholar's books linked to one of the seven planets of the era's cosmology.
"There are three layers of meaning - it's like three-dimensional chess. Instead of wishy-washy fairy tales, in fact this proves they are quite the opposite - he was writing happily on three levels," said Stone, who has interviewed academics and friends of Lewis for the documentary.
Dr Michael Ward, the author of Planet Narnia on which the documentary is based, believes that it was Lewis's scholarship that led him to the idea. He was fascinated with the medieval view of the heavens, which he saw as "tingling with anthropomorphic life, dancing, ceremonial, a festival not a machine".
Rather than being a simple a=b allegory, said Stone, "it is a complete, atmospheric … extra layer you can read into the story, which all double-emphasises this God-centred universe he created in Narnia".
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is written to embody the qualities associated with Jupiter – the "king of the seven heavens" who was connected to the passing of winter and the coming of summer, claimed Ward.
"It's a story of kingship - will Edmund become king under the White Witch or will Peter become High King under Aslan? And it's a story of the defeat of winter: 'winter passed and guilt forgiven', as Lewis put it when describing Jupiter's influence in his long 1935 poem The Planets," Ward said.
Prince Caspian, he claimed, is the Mars story – Mars is the god of war, and the novel is the story of the civil war to drive out the usurping King Miraz. Mars is also the god of woods and forests, he added, "hence the continual use of tree imagery throughout the story and the appearance of "silvans" at the final battle, who never appear in any other Chronicle". Reepicheep, meanwhile, is a "martial" mouse, and Miraz frets over his "martial policy".
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is linked to Sol, or the sun, he said: Aslan is seen flying in a sunbeam, the sun's rising place, "the very eastern end of the world", is the ship's destination, and magical water turns things to gold, the solar metal.
The Silver Chair is linked to Luna, the moon, the planet closest to Earth, according to pre-Copernican astronomers. The Horse and his Boy embodies the qualities of Mercury, Venus is linked to The Magician's Nephew, and Saturn, "the worst planet, the one whose influence could most easily go bad", to The Last Battle.
"It's astonishing that it's taken over fifty years for anyone to spot this hidden inner theme, because it's blindingly obvious once you see it. As Chesterton said, 'If you want to hide something, put it in the open'," Ward said.
He believes that Lewis used the code secretly because he wanted "to communicate to his readers' imaginations … to announce in advance that this was his intention would have been to frustrate the very thing he was trying to achieve."
The Chronicles of Narnia, which Lewis wrote between 1950 and 1956, have sold over 100m copies worldwide. Lewis, who died in 1963 aged 64, was an atheist until he converted to Christianity in 1931. He cited his friendship with JRR Tolkien, and the writings of GK Chesterton, as part of the reason for his conversion.
Stone said the discovery would make the author part of today's debates over religion. "This is a piece of Lewis which has remained untouched for 60 years – it blows the dust off, brings him into the light of day with Dawkins and the neo-atheists Pullman and Hitchens," he said. "It's fresh Lewis, as if he was standing up in the debating chair saying 'this is my worldview'. Lewis's stance was incredibly different to that pushed by [today's] bleak populist view."
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|current||22:08, January 8, 2009||(2 KB)||Samovar||Culture Books CS Lewis Documentary to lay bare 'Narnia Code' Alison Flood guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 2 December 2008 13.51 GMT Article history Martial ... Prince Caspian as portrayed in The Chronicles of Narnia CS Lewis included a secret code in the Chroni|