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Monday, January 17, 2011

Planet Narnia

313871: Planet Narnia
Planet Narnia
By Michael Ward
When I read The Narnia Code a month or so ago, I found myself convinced but vaguely unsatisfied. I saw that Michael Ward had a good case on his hands, but it seemed somehow incomplete to me. But I had heard that his earlier book, Planet Narnia, was a "more scholarly" work that covered much of the same ground. That statement is correct... it is more "scholarly" and it does cover a lot of the same ground... but boy oh BOY is it more than just a wordier version of the same thing! Planet Narnia goes places that The Narnia Code wouldn't dream of going.

I covered the basics of Ward's planetary theory about the Chronicles in my review of The Narnia Code, so I won't go through all that again here. Much of the material is exactly the same between the two books; if you read both you will even recognize some of the sentences they have in common (I understand that NC is a revision of PN). But the two books approach the subject from different directions. NC treats the whole thing kind of like a mystery story; the first chapter is actually called "The Mystery," and Ward goes to great lengths making the point that people have wondered about a common theme in the Chronicles but have not been able to figure it out. PN gets right into the meat of the matter, not making a big deal out of the mystery but diving right into the scholarship of the matter. It's not necessarily a better or worse approach; I think the NC approach is probably more appealing to someone who does light reading for pleasure, since it has that air of a good mystery story about it, and the PN approach is going to be more engaging for someone who maybe has a more comprehensive knowledge of Lewis' body of work and who wants all the details.

And if you're looking for details, Planet Narnia certainly delivers! NC touches briefly on the planets in some of Lewis' other writings, but PN covers all of the connections, from Lewis' poem called "The Planets" to his non-fiction work The Discarded Image to his Space Trilogy and even to some more obscure (even unpublished) works. Ward even occasionally takes a look at works from other authors that Lewis was very likely to have been influenced by. The information is much deeper in PN; the chapters are much longer (I would estimate that it took me at least twice as long to read one of the PN chapters about one of the planets as it took me to read the corresponding chapter in NC, and in some cases maybe three times as long) and the vocabulary is more complex as well. Take this sentence from page 45 as an example: "This focus upon the aestival aspect of Jove's influence was derived, in part, from Lewis's observation of the development of the Criseyde story in post-Chaucerian English poetry." Sometimes I had to read a sentence twice or three times to get the point! If you absolutely don't like three-dollar words, you might stick with NC. You certainly won't breeze through PN; it will take you some work to get through it. But I found the effort rewarding; it was worth every "appurtenance" and "ichneutic" to get to the greater wealth of information in the more detailed book.

I've read an awful lot of C.S. Lewis' work. I've read some books about his writings, too, and I even have the book containing the unfinished story fragment called "The Dark Tower" and some other obscure stuff. I'm familiar enough with his corpus that reading this was like seeing for the first time a road through territory with which I was already basically familiar. If you're not as big a fan as I, you may not enjoy it so much. In fact, if you've read the Chronicles but haven't read the Space Trilogy (Out Of The Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) I would recommend taking in the Space Trilogy before tackling Planet Narnia; Ward talks quite a lot about the Space Trilogy in PN, seeing in it some of the seeds of the idea of writing a whole series with the planets as an underlying theme. Taking a look at The Discarded Image might be helpful too, but I would consider that less of a prerequisite than the Space Trilogy. Once you're familiar with the Chronicles and the Space Trilogy, though, if you're ready for a wild ride through the imagination of C.S. Lewis, dive right in! For true C.S. Lewis fans, this book is a real eye-opener and a lot of fun. Give it a look!

Web links:
My review of The Narnia Code, both the book at the DVD - buy the book - buy the book - buy the DVD (the author)

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