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Jacques

Planet Narnia

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Heres a briefer take and the full website to a book that despite its odd hook of a title... might very well add to an even far deeper evaluation 'futher up and further in' to Lewis's Narnia series, his often over-looked space trilogy and his own favorite..Till We have Faces. I just got this book yesterday smuggled via amazon hidden amidst the Little Golden Books of Wall-E for my boy... alas i was found out. But reading so far... this book is proving to be not just good--but truly an excellent and scholarly take on Lewis's work. Thus the thread. Published by Oxford University Press...it has copious notes, both a scriptural index and a general , with also a vast bibliography that testifies to some legit research on the part of the author, Michael Ward. Good inspiration to be found do check it out.

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of great worth always thanks Peter!! i should have been more thorough in my search...so much for my multitasking when enthused so ::pinch::

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the iPlayer is UK-only - unless you have a UK-based proxy server.

Oh, the rotters. You'll have to get the book then.

I have it! It's worth the investment. Or at least worth a trip to the library. Really.

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Can you fill us in a bit? I have to admit that I feel a little skeptical, if only because I can't stand That Hideous Strength. ;)

:blink:

...the book? Or some adaptation I'm missing?

Tom Howard's book on Lewis's fiction (currently available from Ignatius Press as Narnia and Beyond, previously known as The Achievement of C. S. Lewis and C. S. Lewis: Man of Letters) has a good chapter on That Hideous Strength.

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The book. The only part of it that's ever appealed to me is the section where the planetary spirits show up, but even that feels forced.

I don't think I'm alone in saying that That Hideous Strength is a pastiche of a Charles Williams novel. Compare it with any of Williams novels and you will see the same story elements: heroine in jeopardy, supernatural forces breaking into reality, etc. I once had the chance to discuss this with Madeleine L'Engle and she agreed as well. (We attended the same church in NYC and I became one of her many writing students.)

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I've avoided Williams for years.

And to be honest, I think That Hideous Strength is one of the worst novels I've ever read.

It's my least favorite Lewis novel. I much prefer Perelandra and Til We Have Faces. But I did really like Charles Williams' novels when I read through them in college, especially All Hallows Eve. I think Williams is much better at being Williams than Lewis. :)

For what its worth, I see them as sort of literary paranormal novels with a lot of interesting ideas. In terms of characterization, they seem sort of genre-ish in a good way, kind of like Tarrantino's film characters. Interestingly the one Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials book I read, The Subtle Knife, seemed very Williams-ish in feel. He's certainly not everyone's taste. Much too strange for that. He did have a big influence on Bruce Cockburn about the time he recorded Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws.

However, based on what you're saying, if I were you, I'd keep avoiding.

Tom Howard's book on Lewis's fiction (currently available from Ignatius Press as Narnia and Beyond, previously known as The Achievement of C. S. Lewis and C. S. Lewis: Man of Letters) has a good chapter on That Hideous Strength.

Some day, somewhere, I'll have to read this. Thanks for the recommendation SDG!

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I much prefer Perelandra and Til We Have Faces.

We're very much in agreement, H-S! I've read both many times, but I think Til We Have Faces is my favorite - am not even sure I can explain why.

TWHF is a very "realistic" novel, I think, even if it is set in an ancient-Greek-type land, and several main characters, including the narrator, are female. Misogynistic? I don't think so.

...

Edited to add: There are two things about That Hideous Strength that bother me a lot. Number 1:

the submissive wife thing, especially given the fact that the husband is a real jerk

.

Yes, the husband is a real jerk--at the beginning--that's sort of the point. She's kind of caught up in herself, too. They both have to go through some changes. Mark is quite different by the end of the novel.

And then, the characterization of

a lesbian character as sadistic - as if somehow her sexual orientation is responsible for her sadism. That's not outrightly stated, but it might as well be - the implications are certainly there

.

Certainly the character is a stereotype, but I think you're asking a lot of a novel written by a oldish WASP male in the mid-1940s (publication date 1946).

Overall, I think there's an unusual amount of

misogyny

in the novel. It's as if Lewis could deal more fairly with female characters in fantasy/non-contemporary settings, but in supposed "real life" - not so much.

Would you consider THS an example of "real life" fiction? It's subtitled "a modern fairy tale for grown-ups," crammed with mystic dreams, allusions to Arthurian legend, angels, demons, and mythic beasts! And what about other female characters: Grace Ironwood, Mrs. Dimble, Ivy Maggs, Camilla Denniston? They may be "types," but they aren't portrayed negatively.

OTOH, this is a one-off, and I wouldn't want to use this book as a lens through which to view the rest of his fiction.

THS stands alone all right, but is actually the final book in the "space trilogy," following Out of the Silent Planet & Perelandra.

But... the same kind of thing crops up in the

later Narnia books, with Susan - especially in The Last Battle, where two under-12 kids more or less get the last word on Susan in late adolescence. *Of course* they're going to see a lot of what she does as self-absorbed and silly - because they haven't hit puberty yet and aren't anywhere close to trying to figure out how they fit into the "grown-up" world. IMO, It's one of many wrong notes in the Narnia books - and definitely one that I wish Lewis had reworked a bit. I don't think Susan got a fair shake, and judging from discussions on this board and elsewhere, a lot of people seem to share this kind of condemning view of her

It's a real missed opportunity, to my mind.

I really do not agree on this so-called "problem of Susan." We're talking about children's books here, so yes, with children as the primary audience the term "grown-up" often=silly, boring, not-wanted. But consider, too--many of the characters in that final scene of Last Battle have become, in fact, grownups themselves--Polly (now an adult "Lady Polly", not the child she was in The Magician's Nephew), Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Tirian. Nothing wrong with them. And it's not the youngest--Eustace & Jill--who have the last word on Susan. King Tirian asks Peter:

"...Has not your Majesty two sisters? Where is Queen Susan?"

"My sister Susan," answered Peter shortly and gravely, "is no longer a friend of Narnia."

"Yes," said Eustace, "and whenever you've tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says, 'What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.'"

"Oh Susan," said Jill. "She's interest in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up."

"Grown-up, indeed," said the Lady Polly. "I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she'll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one's life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can." (The Last Battle, 126-27, emphasis added)

The point of the passage is not that Susan has "grown up" to be a woman who's interested in what "nylons and lipstick and invitations" symbolize--romance, sex, and/or marriage. Marriage exists in Narnia--Caspian falls in love & marries--but again, it's a children's book--most child readers are not interested in the specifics of that? The point is that Susan is "no longer a friend of Narnia." She could be connected to Narnia in spirit, at least, at any age, but she's decided it's a children's pretend game and chosen to focus on an apparently materialistic social life. But the kind of woman Polly is describing still exists today--pick any one of the "real housewives" of wherever, or the starlets of "The Hills". She's the one living in a fantasy world. Compare the words of Jesus:

1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

2He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 18)

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One more thing about Susan that Lewis really didn't (IMO) think through:

Her

entire family dies. She's the only one left. To lose one or two family members in an accident is devastating enough, but all of them - it's hard for me to imagine how it could possibly be worse for her, marooned here, alone.

That's truly heartbreaking - and maybe worth a novel or two on its own. One thing's for sure: it's not a "fantasy world," unless by that you mean a kind of waking nightmare.

I've found the Narnia books, so far, to be pretty worshipful at the altar of childhood. Narnia is a place that only allows children to visit and as children age, they grow more towards...well, not being allowed back. Yeah, they are kids books, but it is not a good thing that they merely re-inforce or instill a fear of growing up.

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e2c wrote:

: Only the very young - and the elderly - get to enter Lewis' version of Never-never Land...

Not quite true. Only the very young get to VISIT Narnia. (I don't believe the elderly ever do; you're probably thinking of the people in The Last Battle who meet our Narnian heroes in the afterlife, but not in Narnia itself.) But regular adults get to enter Narnia all the time (the King and Queen in The Magician's Nephew, the ancestors in Prince Caspian); the catch is, they tend to have to STAY there.

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I've found the Narnia books, so far, to be pretty worshipful at the altar of childhood. Narnia is a place that only allows children to visit and as children age, they grow more towards...well, not being allowed back. Yeah, they are kids books, but it is not a good thing that they merely re-inforce or instill a fear of growing up.

Um, I'm going to have to disagree on this one. "worshipful at the altar of childhood"? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see any of the Narnia characters as especially childish or even child-like. Throughout the series the kids solve some pretty adult problems and in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, they actually grow up as part of the plot, though they lose that partly when they're returned to their own world. Nor do I see ANY fear of growing up in the books anywhere. But it has been awhile since I've read them, so if I'm missing something, I'd honestly love to read more of your thoughts on this. :) Also, I don't know of anywhere in Lewis's substantial body of nonfiction where he discusses remaining in childlike as some kind of supreme virtue. But once again, I'm no Lewis scholar.

I know part of Pullman's critique of Lewis is that Lewis is against growing up, but honestly I think that says more about Pullman's issues than Lewis. Growing up actually seems to be a theme of Lewis, but I think he frames it theologically, i.e. growing in love, not growing in worldly sophistication the way Pullman might see it. All of his kid protaganists grow in the books and actually become more mature and adult like as they do. There aren't any Peter Pans here.

As to only children getting into Narnia...um, these books are not theological treatsies, they're British children's literature following in the tradition of E. Nesbit, George MacDonald, etc...so the protagonists are kids. And as Peter points out...adults actually do get into Narnia.

I agree that there is something incomplete in the story of Susan and that it is sad. The other characters in the Last Battle don't seem to feel a great deal of compassion for her. However, the problem with Susan seems to be she loves the wrong things and, in wanting to remain forever twenty one, actually refuses to grow up.

True maturity, it seems to me, means embracing the child and the adult, not one at the expense of the other. To hate the child in one's self is just as serious an error as hating the adult would be. Finally, Lewis's own childhood was full of so much pain -- including the death of his mother, the difficult relationship with his father, and the brutality he endured at a British Public School -- I can't imagine he would have idealized that rather helpless state of living.

Edited by Harris-Stone

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True maturity, it seems to me, means embracing the child and the adult, not one at the expense of the other. To hate the child in one's self is just as serious an error as hating the adult would be.

This is absolutely of the essence of Lewis' thought. There is no more typically Lewisian sentiment than "When I became a man, I put away childish things

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Growing up actually seems to be a theme of Lewis, but I think he frames it theologically, i.e. growing in love, not growing in worldly sophistication the way Pullman might see it. All of his kid protaganists grow in the books and actually become more mature and adult like as they do. There aren't any Peter Pans here.

This is excellent. Thanks for the very constructive perspective.

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Finally, Lewis's own childhood was full of so much pain -- including the death of his mother, the difficult relationship with his father, and the brutality he endured at a British Public School -- I can't imagine he would have idealized that rather helpless state of living.

So he wrote adventure stories in which kids are the principal actors, right? They get to call the shots, in large part.

As you know, Lewis wrote all sorts of books. I may be wrong about this, but I also think he wrote them fast. He wasn't so much of a fiction writer, in the traditional sense. The ONLY books with child protaganists are his books for children -- Narnia. Books for children nearly ALWAYS have child protaganists. If the protaganists face no challenges and have no power, any fiction teacher will tell you, the book won't work.

As far as them calling all the shots? I don't think so. All of his protags, as far as I remember, develop and grow through the course of the stories, act on their own, as good protaganists should, and have to deal with powers far larger than themselves. i.e. White Witch, Aslan, Jadis, King Caspian, Giants, Bree and crossing the desert, etc. The only ones where the characters don't seem to change that much are Prince Caspian and the Last Battle.

I do agree with you that the whole Susan thing could have been more considered. However, I also think one of the charms of Narnia is that its light in tone and substance, yet has such depth in some ways that it haunts readers years later. Also, since Lewis's day, I believe fiction for young adults and children has advanced and become capable of handling much more mature subject matter. This has taken some doing. Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time nearly never was published. Much has changed. Still, I would have preferred more on Susan.

Edited by Harris-Stone

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Y'all know that we do have a regular Narnia thread, linked above, yes? And that the last several posts haven't had anything to do with Michael Ward's thesis (i.e. the narrow topic of this thread)? Just checking.

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H-S, not to backtrack, but I did post earlier about Lewis writing at speed.

You most certainly did. My apologies. I shouldn't post late at night after drinking more beer than I should have at a party.

Also, when I said that the kids get to call the shots, I didn't mean all the shots, though. (I guess I could have been more careful in my wording there! Still, several of the kids get to be monarchs, others go on quests where many life or death decisions are up to them, etc.)

You're right, they aren't helpless or powerless in Narnia. And at the end of the Silver Chair, when Eustace and Jill return to their awful school, they have a new power.

As you said earlier, Lewis' Narnia books belong to the same canon as E Nesbit's childrens' fantasies. Yet they're something apart from that (in the US especially) due to the ways in which adults latch onto the symbolism in the books - almost as if they're some kind of Fifth Gospel. That's part of what I'm addressing here. (Or trying to address, anyway... ;) ) The very fact that there are discussions in this thread (and elsewhere on this board) re. "the problem of Susan" says a lot about how seriously many people take these books. And believe me, I *wish* that we could just allow them to be childrens' lit, free of the theological burdens so many of us place on them. (Something they were never intended to carry.)

I hear you and certainly agree. There was a thread on the old Image board discussing how American Evangelicals have tended to lionize Lewis, Tolkien and too a lesser extent, Charles Williams, while ignoring other important writers of Christian faith like Flannery O'Connor, Graham Greene, John Updike, etc., etc.

IMHO one of Lewis's gifts was his wonderful ability to communicate older Christian ideas in new, imaginative ways. I'll be forever in his debt for opening my mind. While I've heard him criticized as being too Platonic...i.e., "The Real England" in the Last Battle, etc....for me, he really opened me up to the full import of the doctrine of Creation. Also, when he speaks in Surprised by Joy of reading MacDonald and realizing that goodness (I'm paraphrasing) is a physical thing and not simply moral, well that completely changed how I see the world.

So Children's Literature does offer serious things, (and not only Lewis's). But we do need to guard against not thinking critically about what Lewis writes. We also should be wary of subsituting the image in fiction for the reality. My 2 cents anyway.

Fwiw, I'm a fan of the Narnia books, though that might not be so apparent from my comments in this thread. I've lost count of the number of times I've reread them. (And I'm not very big on rereading.) So please take my previous posts in that spirit. :)

I am too, though coming back to them as an adult I find them a little thin. I'm looking forward to reading them out loud to my son when he's old enough for that.

Edited by Harris-Stone

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Y'all know that we do have a regular Narnia thread, linked above, yes? And that the last several posts haven't had anything to do with Michael Ward's thesis (i.e. the narrow topic of this thread)? Just checking.

Yes, we have drifted way off thread. I'm never sure what to do in these instances, since the converstation originated around Michael Ward. To try to get back some...

As one attempting to write fiction myself, I'm always a bit leery when critics come up with these kind of theories, since in my experience of both my work and of other writers I've talked with over the years, this isn't how one writes -- i.e. coming up with some sort of framework like "I know, I'll write a Narnia book to go with each planet."

Since I haven't been able to see the doc or read Michael Ward's book, I could be wrong. Maybe he deals with this. My own thought would be that something like what he's talking about could happen subconsciously. I think efforts like Michael Ward's are worthwhile in as much as they help us see knew ways to read and engage with a work. But I doubt Lewis himself would have thought that way while writing, especially at first.

Without any kind of evidence in his letters or journals or recollections of conversations, we can never know for sure. But maybe Ward has some of that?

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I think it's rather peculiar to be critiquing a book one has not read, even if one has seen the documentary based on it, which sounds like it was trying to sensationalize the topic with the "Narnia code" tag to capitalize on the "Da Vinci code" fad.

The subtitle of Planet Narnia, which I own and am reading now, actually suggests an approach with more depth and subtlety: "The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis." Ward lays out a foundation for interpreting the series as more than "allegories," using Lewis's own work on literary theory, and also notes how the seven "planets" are used symbolically in Lewis's other fiction, including the "Space Trilogy," Till We Have Faces, and poetry.

For one thing, Ward ably argues that Lewis wrote LW&W partly as a response to his debate with Elizabeth Anscombe regarding Miracles, but

It is important not to overstate, as [A.N.] Wilson does, the emotional depletion which Lewis felt after the Socratic debate. Anscombe herself remembered the occasion as 'sober' and dismissed as 'projection' those accounts from observers who described it as 'a horrible and shocking experience which upset him very much.' ... {Lewis} was prepared publicly to admit that there was a 'serious hitch' in the original edition of Miracles, which 'ought to be rewritten,' and in 1960 he did rewrite it, taking into consideration Anscombe's criticisms. She later commented that the rewrite demonstrated Lewis's 'honesty and seriousness' as a philosopher. Wilson appears to now nothing of it, for nowhere in his biography of Lewis does he mention this second edition. (216-17)

Ward's chapter 12 "Coda," in which he discusses reasons why the planetary pattern has been "overlooked" before, and how he himself sort of stumbled on it, is worth getting to (after you've read the whole book, of course). Basically, his "three explanations":

1. Lewis's good friend Owen Barfield led critics to believe that Lewis was more interested in "God's transcendence" than His "immanence"--the influence expressed in creation.

2. Many assumed they already had the key--the "gospel" allegory--so they weren't looking for anything else. Ward's approach acknowledges Lewis's Christian world-view and goes deeper.[Laura Miller's recent book sort of addresses this limitation, but by attempting to overlook the Christian elements.]

3. People who were looking for a "third level" of symbolism didn't take the astrology refs. seriously, because astrology is frowned on in Christian circles, and especially by scholars. But as Ward demonstrates, by using the medieval/Renaissance "discarded image" metaphorical/symbolic solar system, Lewis could use the planets metaphorically/symbolically. He didn't have to actually believe in astrology, any more than J.K. Rowling believes in magic.

I don't think any future serious C.S. Lewis scholarship can ignore this book.

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As one attempting to write fiction myself, I'm always a bit leery when critics come up with these kind of theories, since in my experience of both my work and of other writers I've talked with over the years, this isn't how one writes -- i.e. coming up with some sort of framework like "I know, I'll write a Narnia book to go with each planet."

Since I haven't been able to see the doc or read Michael Ward's book, I could be wrong. Maybe he deals with this. My own thought would be that something like what he's talking about could happen subconsciously. I think efforts like Michael Ward's are worthwhile in as much as they help us see knew ways to read and engage with a work. But I doubt Lewis himself would have thought that way while writing, especially at first.

Without any kind of evidence in his letters or journals or recollections of conversations, we can never know for sure. But maybe Ward has some of that?

Yes, Ward deals with these questions, drawing on evidence from Lewis's letters, journals, and his other work in fiction and literary scholarship. The fact that Lewis was very familiar with Ptolemaic solar system and planetary symbolism, used it in other literary works before Narnia, is part of Ward's case to suggest that Lewis could well have deliberately incorporated it into the books. He also has some good ideas about why CSL would not have advertised the "plan"--if there was a plan.

Read the book.

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These are interesting posts about Susan from Narnia, and I appreciate them. I've actually been thinking of writing something about "the Susan problem." So I won't say too much here, lest I tempt someone to swipe my ideas. :D But seriously, I tend to think that Susan receives more grace than we sometimes realize.

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I've found the Narnia books, so far, to be pretty worshipful at the altar of childhood. Narnia is a place that only allows children to visit and as children age, they grow more towards...well, not being allowed back. Yeah, they are kids books, but it is not a good thing that they merely re-inforce or instill a fear of growing up.

Um, I'm going to have to disagree on this one. "worshipful at the altar of childhood"? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see any of the Narnia characters as especially childish or even child-like. Throughout the series the kids solve some pretty adult problems and in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, they actually grow up as part of the plot, though they lose that partly when they're returned to their own world. Nor do I see ANY fear of growing up in the books anywhere. But it has been awhile since I've read them, so if I'm missing something, I'd honestly love to read more of your thoughts on this. :) Also, I don't know of anywhere in Lewis's substantial body of nonfiction where he discusses remaining in childlike as some kind of supreme virtue. But once again, I'm no Lewis scholar.

It's a praise of the "simple-ness" of childhood, which I confess I find a bit over-rated. It often seems there are rose colored glasses when it comes to the protagonists.

They are perfectly entertaining books, and there are plenty of things I like about them.

As to only children getting into Narnia...um, these books are not theological treatsies, they're British children's literature following in the tradition of E. Nesbit, George MacDonald, etc...so the protagonists are kids. And as Peter points out...adults actually do get into Narnia.

Though, they are not drawn...they stumble in...and their presence is primarily a negative effect. And I did acknowledge they are kids books-but they were not aimed at pre-schoolers here.

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As one attempting to write fiction myself, I'm always a bit leery when critics come up with these kind of theories, since in my experience of both my work and of other writers I've talked with over the years, this isn't how one writes -- i.e. coming up with some sort of framework like "I know, I'll write a Narnia book to go with each planet."

Since I haven't been able to see the doc or read Michael Ward's book, I could be wrong. Maybe he deals with this. My own thought would be that something like what he's talking about could happen subconsciously. I think efforts like Michael Ward's are worthwhile in as much as they help us see knew ways to read and engage with a work. But I doubt Lewis himself would have thought that way while writing, especially at first.

Without any kind of evidence in his letters or journals or recollections of conversations, we can never know for sure. But maybe Ward has some of that?

Yes, Ward deals with these questions, drawing on evidence from Lewis's letters, journals, and his other work in fiction and literary scholarship. The fact that Lewis was very familiar with Ptolemaic solar system and planetary symbolism, used it in other literary works before Narnia, is part of Ward's case to suggest that Lewis could well have deliberately incorporated it into the books. He also has some good ideas about why CSL would not have advertised the "plan"--if there was a plan.

Read the book.

Cool! You've definitely convinced me. It's going on my list!

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