Evidence of Astrology in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia

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EVIDENCE of ASTROLOGY in C.S. LEWIS’S CHRONICLES OF NARNIA By Carol A. Tebbs, MA March 29, 2009 Kepler College Webinar

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Background for The Narnia Chronicles Upon Michael Ward’s 2008 thesis publication of Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis, new controversy has arisen about the Lewis’s hidden design for the chronicles. Others disagree and refute Ward’s claim, which leads us to ask and answer four basic questions of Lewis, and indeed any author using astrology in literature:

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Background for The Narnia Chronicles 1) What is the author’s view of astrology? 2) How has the author used astrology in the works? 3) How good is the author’s astrology? 4) Why has astrology as an influence not been seriously considered by scholars and critics?

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What is Lewis’s View of Astrology? In making his case that Lewis based his seven Chronicles on the seven medieval planets, Ward quotes Lewis saying that, “…if you have religion, it must be cosmic.”[1] Lewis was a “died in the wool” medievalist. The modern distinction between astronomy and astrology did not exist before the end of the sixteenth century, which Lewis well knew. [1] Lewis, C. S., Unreal Estates”, Essay Collection, Harper Collins, London, 2000, p. 533

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What is Lewis’s View of Astrology? Lewis was an avid astronomer who had a telescope on the balcony of his bedroom, and he often visited the Oxford observatory.[1] As for astrology, Lewis’s fascination with the subject was life-long and deep. He had a strong teenage interest in Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Guy Mannering that was piqued only because of the book’s sub-title, The Astrologer, and even then Lewis complained about how badly Scott described the planets.[1] [1] Lewis, C. S., “Letter to Arthur Greaves, 25 October 1916, cf. ‘Sir Walter Scott’, Selected Literary Essays, ed. Walter Hooper, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1980, p. 215 [1] Brewer, Derek, C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Remembrances, Harper Collins, London, 1980, p. 48

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What is Lewis’s View of Astrology? There is some doubt that Lewis entertained a literal belief in astrology. Rather, his mind was creative and open to the wonderful metaphor suggested by the heavens. Lewis admits that, “…and who knows, perhaps in this [astrology] as in so many things the ancients knew more than we.”[1] [1] Lewis, C. S., Spenser’s Images of Life, p. 129

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What is Lewis’s View of Astrology? Lewis’s views on astrology are contradictory when he states “…the stars lost their divinity as astronomy developed, …Little scientists, and little unscientific followers of science, may think so.”[1] (in astrology’s defense) On the other hand, Lewis calls astrology “an aberration of the human mind”[1], possibly to rein in the overt enthusiasm of his friend, Mr. Anderson for the subject. (his denial of it) [1] Lewis, C. S., Letter to Francis Anderson, Letters of C. S. Lewis, 23 September 1963 [1] Lewis, C. S., Letter to Laurence Harwood, Letters of C. S. Lewis, 26 January 1963

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How has Lewis used Astrology? Lewis’s poem, The Planets, inspired Michael Ward’s thesis: that the seven Narnia books were written to represent the influence of each of the seven medieval planets: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter & Saturn. (Remember the earth was at the center and these 7 planets revolved around it) Lewis uses the planets themselves “…both in the big arc of each story and in countless fine touches throughout each volume….But what Ward has discovered is entirely consistent with Lewis’s Christian humanism”[1] [1] Wilson, John, Why There Are Seven Chronicles of Narnia, posted on the “Books and Culture” section of the Christianity Today website, April 25, 2003

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How has Lewis used Astrology? The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – Jupiter Jupiter was the best planet and Lewis’s favorite. Jupiter was the planet of kingship, and this story is a clash between the children’s destiny as kings and queens of Narnia, under the King of the Wood, Aslan, and Edmund’s selfish attempt to become king alone under the Evil White Witch. Jupiter brought about “winter past and guilt forgiven”, according to Lewis’s poem, The Planets. The White Witch’s winter passes and Edmund’s transgression is forgiven. Even Santa Claus is a jovial, Jupiterian character.

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C. S. Lewis Poem, The Planets Soft breathes the air Mild, and meadowy, as we mount further Where rippled radiance rolls about us Moved with music – measureless the waves’ Joy and jubilee. It is JOVE’s orbit, Filled and festal, faster turning With arc ampler. From the Isles of Tin Tyrian traders, in trouble steering Came with his cargoes; the Cornish treasure That his ray ripens. Of wrath ended And woes mended, of winter passed And guilt forgiven, and good fortune Jove is master; and of jocund revel, Laughter of ladies. The lion-hearted, The myriad-minded, men like the gods, Helps and heroes, helms of nations Just and gentle, are Jove’s children, Work his wonders. On his wide forehead Calm and kingly, no care darkens Nor wrath wrinkles: but righteous power And leisure and largess their loose splendours Have wrapped around him – a rich mantle Of ease and empire.

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How has Lewis used Astrology? Prince Caspian – Mars In mythology, Mars is the god of war, and this is a story of war – a civil war to drive out the usurping King Miraz. According to Roman mythology, Mars is also god of the woods and forests, known by the name of Silvanus. In this book is the continual use of arboreal imagery and the appearance of “silvans” at the final battle, who never appear in another of the books. Reepicheep is a martial mouse; Miraz frets over his martial policy, and the chess piece found at the story’s beginning is a knight.

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C. S. Lewis Poem, The Planets A haughty god MARS mercenary, makes there his camp And flies his flag; flaunts laughingly The graceless beauty, grey-eyed and keen, --Blond insolence – of his blithe visage Which is hard and happy. He hews the act, The indifferent deed with dint of his mallet And his chisel of choice; achievement comes not Unhelped by him; -- hired gladiator Of evil and good. All’s one to Mars, The wrong righted, rescued meekness, Or trouble in trenches, with trees splintered And birds banished, banks fill’d with gold And the liar made Lord. Like handiwork He offers to all – earns his wages And whistles the while. White-feathered dread Mars has mastered. His metal’s iron That was hammered through hands into holy cross, Cruel carpentry. He is cold and strong, Necessity’s son.

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How has Lewis used Astrology? The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – Sun Dawn Treader is a story of a journey toward the rising sun. Aslan flies out of the sunbeam as an albatross aimed at Lucy. He appears in the room when she gives the incantation to make invisible things visible. Aslan is seen shining as in bright sunlight, though the sun has already gone down on Goldwater Island. Gold in mythology is the sun’s metal. The killing of dragons on Dragon Island is drawn from Homer’s Hymn to Apollo, where the sun-god is Sauroctonus, the lizard-slayer.

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C. S. Lewis Poem, The Planets Far beyond her The heaven’s highway hums and trembles, Drums and dindles, to the driv’n thunder Of SOL’s chariot, whose sword of light Hurts and humbles; beheld only Of eagle’s eye. When his arrow glances Through mortal mind, mists are parted And mild as morning the mellow wisdom Breathes o’er the breast, broadening eastward Clear and cloudless. In a clos’d garden (Unbound her burden) his beams foster Soul in secret, where the soil puts forth Paradisal palm, and pure fountains Turn and re-temper, touching coolly The uncomely common to cordial gold; Whose ore also, in earth’s matrix, Is print and pressure of his proud signet On the wax of the world. He is the worshipp’d male, The earth’s husband, all-beholding, Arch-chemic eye. But other country Dark with discord dins beyond him, With noise of nakers, neighing of horses, Hammering of harness.

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How has Lewis used Astrology? The Silver Chair – Moon Aslan only appears in person in his own high country above the clouds and has to be remembered by way of signs and in dreams below in Narnia where the air is thick. The book’s structure mirrors the great lunar divide that existed in medieval cosmology between the “translunary realm of certitude and the sublunary realm of confusion.”[1] The lost Prince Rilian is a “lunatic”, bound to a chair made out of the Moon’s metal from mythology, silver. The horses Coalblack and Snowflake are derived from the steeds that pull the Moon’s chariot in Edmund Spenser’s allegorical epic poem, The Faerie Queen. [1] Ward, Michael, C. S. Lewis blog, January 8, 2008, Narnia and the Seven Heavens

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C. S. Lewis Poem, The Planets Lady LUNA, in light canoe, By friths and shallows of fretted cloudland Cruises monthly; with chrism of dews And drench of dream, a drizzling glamour, Enchants us – the cheat! changing sometime A mind to madness, melancholy pale, Bleached with gazing on her blank count’nance Orb’d and ageless. In earth’s bosom The shower of her rays, sharp-feathered light Reaching downward, ripens silver, Forming and fashioning female brightness, --Metal maidenlike. Her moist circle Is nearest earth.

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How has Lewis used Astrology? The Horse and His Boy – Mercury Cor and Corwin are based on Castor and Pollux, the twins from mythology, and the horseman and the mighty boxer of Homer’s Iliad, all set in the constellation of Gemini ruled by Mercury. Separated then reunited identical twins, Cor and Corwin represent “meeting selves, same but sundered”, as Lewis claims in the lines about Mercury from his poem, The Planets.[1] Shasta becomes a fleet-footed messenger. A Narnian lord wears a steel cap with little wings on each side, a clear reference to “petasus”, Mercury’s hat in mythology. [1] Lewis, C. S. The Planets, The Collected Poems of C. S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper, Fount Publishing, London, 1994

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C. S. Lewis Poem, The Planets Next beyond her MERCURY marches; -- madcap rover, Patron of pilf’rers. Pert quicksilver His gaze begets, goblin mineral, Merry multitude of meeting selves, Same but sundered. From the soul’s darkness, With wreathed wand, words he marshals, Guides and gathers them – gay bellwether Of flocking fancies. His flint has struck The spark of speech from spirit’s tinder, Lord of language! He leads forever The spangle and splendour, sport that mingles Sound with senses, in subtle pattern, Words in wedlock, and wedding also Of thing with thought.

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How has Lewis used Astrology? The Magician’s Nephew – Venus In mythology, Venus is the fertile planet associated with laughter, motherhood, beauty, warmth, and the apple grove of the Hesperides. This chronicle of the birth of Narnia and the healing of Digory’s mother with a magic apple taken from the Western garden is also known in mythology as “the first joke”. The wicked Jadis is what Lewis elsewhere referred to as “Venus Infernal”, the anti-Venus, based upon the goddess Ishtar especially worshipped in ancient Nineveh.

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C. S. Lewis Poem, The Planets In the third region VENUS voyages . . . but my voice falters; Rude rime-making wrongs her beauty, Whose breasts and brow, and her breath’s sweetness Bewitch the worlds. Wide-spread the reign Of her secret sceptre, in the sea’s caverns, In grass growing, and grain bursting, Flower unfolding, and flesh longing, And shower falling sharp in April. The metal copper in the mine reddens With muffled brightness, like muted gold, By her fingers form’d.

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How has Lewis used Astrology? The Last Battle – Saturn In this last volume Aslan does not appear until all the characters are dead, “…reflecting the nature of Saturn, the planet of (apparent) ill-chance and treachery and death.”[1] Here Aslan is the god felt only in abandonment. Father Time with his scythe is the mythological Saturn. In a surviving Narnian typescript, Father Time is actually named Saturn, but Lewis changed it to “Father Time” before publication most likely to keep his planetary theme more carefully hidden. [1] Ward, Michael, C. S. Lewis blog, January 8, 2008, Narnia and the Seven Heavens

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C. S. Lewis Poem, The Planets Up far beyond Goes SATURN silent in the seventh region, The skirts of the sky. Scant grows the light, Sickly, uncertain (the Sun’s finger Daunted with darkness). Distance hurts us, And the vault severe of vast silence; Where fancy fails us, and fair language, And love leaves us, and light fails us And Mars fails us, and the mirth of Jove Is as tin tinkling. In tattered garment, Weak with winters, he walks forever A weary way, wide round the heav’n, Stoop’d and stumbling, with staff groping, The lord of lead. He is the last planet Old and ugly. His eye fathers Pale pestilence, pain of envy, Remorse and murder. Melancholy drink (For bane or blessing) of bitter wisdom He pours for his people, a perilous draught That the lip loves not. We leave all things To reach the rim of the round welkin, Heaven’s hermitage, high and lonely.

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How has Lewis used Astrology? Scholars, such as Devin Brown, have taken issue with Ward’s broad assumptions about Lewis’s design, ignoring contradictory evidence that symbolic images of nearly all of the planets intertwine throughout the Chronicles. In Prince Caspian, the Mars chronicle, why does Lewis develop extensive lunar detail to describe Lucy “…looking straight up at the Narnian moon, which is larger than ours”? Or, in chapter fifteen of Caspian after the great victory feast, when everyone nods off by the fire and “…all night Aslan and the Moon gazed upon each other with joyful and unblinking eyes.” Nonetheless, Ward maintains that The Silver Chair is the Narnia Chronicle which Lewis gave a special association with the moon.

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How has Lewis used Astrology? Continuing in Prince Caspian, chapter eleven, Aslan returns to Narnia with the two most jovial characters in all of literature – Bacchus and Silenus. Their appearance leads to a huge romp that goes on for three pages then starts up again in chapter fourteen for another eight pages. How can one deny Jupiter symbolism and say that the Caspian chronicle is based on Mars alone? Don’t forget that Ward asserts that The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is guided by Jupiter imagery, ignoring the obvious mixed and multiple planetary references in all of the books. “And here lies the main problem with Michael Ward’s thesis: planet-related imagery does not stay rooted in its ‘home’ book, but appears scattered randomly in all seven Chronicles.”[1] [1] Ward, Michael, C. S. Lewis blog, January 8, 2008, Narnia and the Seven Heavens

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How good is Lewis’s Astrology? Lewis is well-documented as a medieval scholar and well-versed in Greek and Roman mythology which is the basis for the planetary names and characteristics. Lewis was specifically interested in the medieval order of the heavens, because that was the system that most influenced the people of that pre-Copernican time and his many stories set in that early period.

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How good is Lewis’s Astrology? However, the Narnia Chronicles were neither written nor published in the Ptolemaic order of the planets, nor the Copernican. Nor does the order of either the written or published Chronicles follow the order of the internal Narnia chronology. Therefore, evidence of astrology in Lewis’s Chronicles supports his symbolic use of astrology as a mixed foundation for his characters, settings and story lines, rather than a unified astrological interpretation.

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How good is Lewis’s Astrology?

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Why has Astrology never been Considered? According to Ward, there are three main reasons: the first has to do with the personal focus of his chief critic, Owen Barfield, by “…repeatedly drawing attention to Lewis’s emphasis upon God’s transcendence…”[1] in light of his gradual conversion from atheism to a firm embrace of Christianity. Even Tolkein publically stated that his friend’s Chronicles were a “mish-mash”. [1] Ward, Michael, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis, Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 244

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Why has Astrology never been Considered? It was always known that the Narniad had more than one level of meaning, and critics and scholars assumed only a second level, the Christian parallels, about which Lewis spoke freely. “They were not looking for a third stratum of significance…even where astrology is explicit in Lewis’s work, it has received surprisingly little attention.”[1] [1] Ward, Michael, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis, Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 245

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Why has Astrology never been Considered? Scholars and critics searching for a third level of meaning were looking in the wrong places, such as attempting to link the chronicles to Shakespeare’s plays, and as moderns, may not have even taken astrology seriously. Ward points out that, “…astrology, a subject disdained by academics, tends to be given a doubly wide berth by Christian academics.”[1] So it is no surprise that astrology as a foundational influence for The Chronicles was never considered at all. Even with direct evidence of Lewis’s use of astrology in his poem, The Planets, the avoidance mentality rears its ugly head again. Ward tells us that, “The pioneering study of Lewis’s poetic legacy by Don W. King repeatedly overlooks astrological symbolism.” [1] Ward, Michael, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis, Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 245

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References Brewer, Derek, C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Remembrances, Harper Collins, London, 1980 Lewis, C. S., Unreal Estates”, Essay Collection, Harper Collins, London, 2000 Lewis, C. S., “Letter to Arthur Greaves, 25 October 1916, cf. ‘Sir Walter Scott’, Selected Literary Essays, ed. Walter Hooper, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1980 Lewis, C. S., Spenser’s Images of Life Lewis, C. S., Letter to Laurence Harwood, Letters of C. S. Lewis, 26 January 1963 Lewis, C. S., Letter to Francis Anderson, Letters of C. S. Lewis, 23 September 1963 Lewis, C. S. The Planets, The Collected Poems of C. S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper, Fount Publishing, London, 1994 Ward, Michael, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis, Oxford University Press, 2008 Ward, Michael, C. S. Lewis blog, January 8, 2008, Narnia and the Seven Heavens Wilson, John, Why There Are Seven Chronicles of Narnia, posted on the “Books and Culture” section of the Christianity Today website, April 25, 2003

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Summing Up the Argument Astrology as a unifying theme in The Chronicles of Narnia “…reveals that the Chronicles are not the hodge-podge that Tolkein thought them to be, but very carefully imagined stories. The Narnia books are built out of the seven symbols which Lewis had studied throughout his professional career, those ‘spiritual symbols of permanent value’ which he considered to be ‘especially worth while in our own generation’.”[1] The planets and their astrological associations, though mixed, are clearly evident in the Narnia Chronicles of C. S. Lewis. [1] Ward, Michael, C. S. Lewis blog, January 8, 2008, Narnia and the Seven Heavens

Summary: (c) 2009 Carol Tebbs

Tags: astrology narnia c.s. lewis literature kepler college

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