The Astrology of Aslan
Murrough O'brien, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
Were the seven Narnia Chronicles based on the seven planets of medieval cosmology? It's a fascinating thesis
Planet Narnia By Michael Ward Oxford Pounds 16.99
Endlessly generous though he was, C S Lewis, the author of the Narnia chronicles, found it hard to suppress a lively scorn for those critics who attempted to uncover the roots of his labours. So it's not difficult to conjecture what he would have made of this, a study of Narnia that claims to have exposed a secret hidden from his closest acquaintances, his generations of fans and his detractors. He had no patience with attempts to reveal "truths" about people from the past who were strangely opaque to those who actually knew them. This book does precisely that, in great depth, and on the basis of two "tantalising hints" in Lewis's letters. That's right, just two. Alternative Shakespeares, "real" Atlantises and "historical" Christs have been built on more. It is, to all appearances, a gamble of presumptuous proportions; but it pays off, powerfully and persuasively.
Much has been made of the theological concerns apparent in the seven chronicles of Narnia: how Aslan represents Christ or how The Last Battle anticipates the Coming of the Antichrist. But Michael Ward has identified another element: the influence of the planets. The Narniad (as he terms it) is not just a charming and moving saga for children, nor is it a simplistic Christological allegory. It was designed on the model of the seven spheres of Ptolemaic cosmology. As Ward puts it: "He had translated the planets into plots, and the music of the spheres could be heard silently sounding... in each work."
He makes a marvellous case for this. "In The Lion [the Pevensie children] become monarchs under sovereign Jove; in The Dawn Treader they drink light under searching Sol; in Prince Caspian they harden under strong Mars; in The Silver Chair they learn obedience under subordinate Luna; in The Horse and His Boy they come to love poetry under eloquent Mercury; in The Magician's Nephew they gain life- giving fruit under fertile Venus; and in The Last Battle they suffer and die under chilling Saturn." It is an interpretation painfully vulnerable to mockery, yet with logic, eloquence and learning, Ward convinces you that his discovery is, at the very least, a valuable analytical key.
So how did he come to this conclusion? Simply put, because it all fits: Lewis's love of medieval and Renaissance cosmology; his understanding of the principle of hiddenness; his specific understanding of "atmosphere" in fiction; the overwhelming influence of the planets in his science fiction; his belief that astrological and even pagan beliefs can serve the Christian writer better than mere allegory; his refusal to patronise the past even when its notions have been superseded; the stars as God's choir; Jovial Jupiter as his own star sign, cruel, cold Saturn as his imaginative nemesis. Aslan is not the only type of Christ in Narnia: the planets themselves carry aspects of the Christlike, and are Aslan's ministers. …